Steam Next Fest – February 2023 Edition – Part Two

I may have been disappointed with my time management during this iteration of Next Fest, but I certainly wasn’t let down by the quantity and quality of demos that were available. If you’ve been checking out these three times a year events, you may notice there’s not a lot of overlap and that’s by design. Steam has decided that each game can only participate in one Next Fest prior to releasing. Somehow, this hasn’t seem to have much impact on the total number of demos available, and despite originally downloading more than twice the number I managed to play during the event, there were still quite a few that caught my eye that I knew I wouldn’t have time for.

Although it’s probably too late to play these demos for yourself, some developers have left their demos up, so it’s worth checking out if something seems right up your alley.

A Guidebook of Babel is a quirky time-manipulation puzzle adventure that looks like it has a lot of potential. Figure out where exactly things go sideways, and then rewind time to set things right. It looks like a fun spin on your classic point-n-click adventure backdrop.

My biggest gripe with Mika and the Witch’s Mountain was that, despite being playable with mouse and keyboard, all the tutorials were for a controller, so there was a lot of trial and error in trying to figure out how to make it work. But this cozy adventure about delivering packages and trying to find your way back to the place where you think you belong looks delightful.

Lakeburg Legacies is a charming little city builder with a twist – your towns need the power of true love in order to run and grow! Study your townsfolk’s likes & dislikes in order to find them the perfect match in a Tinder-inspired interface, and then take your new couple on a date to test their compatibility.

This one went right on my wish list, and may even be a day one purchase for me.

Playing the demo of Horticular brought to mind an old favorite series – Viva Pinata. Although Horicular has a simpler pixel art style, the gameplay is similar. Make over an abandoned garden, figure out how to bring back your animal friends, and make things beautiful and vibrant again.

There are plenty of goals, but also a lot of space to just be creative with the space and tools you’re given. It’s shaping up to be a lovely story-light gardening sandbox.

I wanted to like I Am Future a whole lot more than I did. I found the tutorial seriously lacking, and the humor wasn’t really to my taste. Although the concept of a cozy post-apocalyptic survival game is right up my alley, the actual experience of playing didn’t live up to my expectations.

There’s still a few months before the anticipated release date for the developers to clean up the rough edges (and to seriously rethink the fishing mechanics), but for me, I’ll be waiting for a deep discount or a bundle on this one.

Desynced was – for me – the big hit of this Next Fest. This sci-fi city builder leans heavily into automation and programming mechanics, and while it is admittedly a bit fiddly, even the early game is quite enjoyable.

The developers have said that the Early Access release, which will feature only sandbox gameplay, isn’t too far off now, and multiplayer will be in the game from the start. This one has potential to be a co-op night hit for me.

Steam NextFest – February 2023 Edition – Part One

I was way too ambitious this time around, and I knew it. As soon as the NextFest page went live, I started browsing and downloading demos. Before I knew it, I had racked up an obnoxiously large list of 26 demos – way more than I would have been able to get through no matter how much time I had for the project.

As it turned out, I didn’t have much time for Next Fest this time at all. Still, I managed to poke my head into 11 demos long enough to get a sense of them, most of those in the last 24 hours or so of the event. If you missed any of these games during the festival, it’s worth checking to see if the demo is still available – many developers keep them up for a bit after the end of the event – I’m hoping to play one or two more myself before doing part two!

Three minutes is not a long time to spend on a game. However, Sorted! has a pretty basic premise, but with a more-engaging-than-expected gameplay loop. There’s a conveyor belt with trash, and you need to sort it into the proper bins for recycling or disposal. Sounds easy? Maybe.

The first round I failed miserably, mainly because I struggled to identify the items on the belt. The second round went better, and by the third, I was starting to get the hang of combos. It’s definitely a neat little time waster game, something I’d keep an eye out for on a deep discount or in a bundle.

My time with Sushi for Robots wasn’t much longer, but it gave me a feel for the type of puzzles it would feature, and although it seemed like a neat idea and a competent puzzle game, I realized it probably wasn’t going to be for me.

Using the pieces you’re given, you need to make sure every robot gets the appropriate colored sushi plate in a set amount of moves. Although the store page says it “encourages creative problem solving” the puzzles I played through seemed to have only a single set solution. Still, the graphics were downright adorable, and for an enthusiastic puzzle gamer, this might be a bit hit.

Mineko’s Night Market has been on my wish list for over five years now, and for awhile I’d mostly assumed it was abandoned. So I was super excited to have a shot a playing the demo.

Which made it extra disappointing that I really, really didn’t care for it. I maybe could have gotten past the humor I didn’t find particularly amusing, but the mandatory sneaky puzzle section right near the beginning was very frustrating, and I ended up having to force quit because you could not return to menu once you started it. Thanks, but no thanks.

I’ve been a long time fan of the Cook, Serve, Delicious! franchise, so I was excited to see what they’d come up with next. The demo was quite short, and only featured the core game play (no menu selection or even any hint at the overarching story), and it felt like a huge departure from the previous titles.

Cook, Serve, Forever! seems to have parted ways with the varied preparations, and ingredient shortcut memorizations in favor of using just the arrow keys, presumably to make it even more controller-friendly. Initially, I was disappointed, but the concept grew on me, and I feel like even though it’s quite different, it could still be an enjoyable gameplay loop.

Shumi Come Home is an adorable little 3D platforming adventure that I was completely charmed by. It’s super wholesome, with new friends to meet, some of whom will need your help as you try to find your way to where you belong. I don’t expect most players to find it particularly challenging, but if you like games like A Short Hike or Haven Park with lots of exploring and no fail states, you might want to add Shumi Come Home to your wish list.

The Magical Mixture Mill was the game from this batch that kept me playing the longest. In this slow-paced crafting adventure game, you’ve been rescued by the elderly owner of Griselda’s Magical Mixtures, and she’s asked you to help her get her potion shop up and running again. Gather materials to brew potions, and to build up an automated potion making factory. This is definitely one I’d like to pick up when it comes out later this year.

Steam Next Fest – October 2022 Edition – Part Two

Can’t get enough quick looks at demos? Here’s a bunch more I tried out during Next Fests this year.

Park Story maybe wasn’t going to be up my alley anyway, but the demo for this one really irritated me. The first thing that the game asks you to do is follow a cat, which disappears behind a tree, never to be seen again. At least not by me. I was hoping this one would be great on the Steam Deck, and I love me some puzzles and friendly ghosts, but with its release date right around the corner, I feel like I shouldn’t have gotten soft-locked in the demo in the first couple of minutes.

Pets Hotel is another game I really wanted to like, but the default settings on this one made me motion sick. It’s too bad, because the graphics are pretty good, and I am a sucker for games where you tend to adorable animals.

Aquatico is an absolutely beautiful city builder that takes place entirely underwater. It looks like it might take some time to really get all the mechanics, and I wish the tutorial section gave me a little less freedom and a little more guidance. Still, I can see myself losing a lot of time to this one, especially if it has scenario-based gameplay, and isn’t just a sandbox.

Dredge is a horror fishing game, and that alone earned it a place on my wish list. There’s something weird going on around this tiny island, and your job is to catch enough fish to feed the people, make enough money to improve your boat, and never ever get caught out in the open water after dark. I’ve got mixed feelings about the packing-style inventory puzzle that limits how many fish you can bring back per trip, but everything else about the game so far really appeals to me.

Undecember is an ARPG that looks phenomenal, but everything else just seems a bit bland. Since it is also a mobile game, I’m interested to see if it comes with a purchase price on release, or if not, what monetization strategy it’ll employ. Given that this isn’t my favorite genre, and nothing about the gameplay blew me away, I won’t be rushing to grab this one in a few days when it becomes available.

Post-apocalyptic colony sim Floodland was probably my favorite demo experience this time around. I expect it to be complex, and the learning curve to be steep, and I’m still 100% here for it. Just playing through the tutorial scenario was fantastic, and I had to force myself to stop playing, since full release isn’t too far off now.

Steam Next Fest – October 2022 Edition – Part One

We’re right now in the latter half of the third Steam Next Fest of 2022, and this time around, I’m mostly just wishing that game demos would make more of a comeback outside of these limited time events. I’ve only selected twelve titles to look at this time around, but man, it was a struggle to pare it down so far. However, since I am behind on absolutely everything right now, I knew I had to be selective.

If you’re curious about the other Next Fest posts I’ve made this year, I’ll drop some links for you.

If you mixed up some Dorfromantik with some Islanders, you might end up with something pretty close to Reefland. You get random tiles with which to “paint” your island, and you’ll need to be mindful of what types of buildings you connect with each other, and where your natural resources are located. It’s a neat concept, and very pretty, but I’m not sure that for me it is different enough from other games I already own I haven’t played as much of as I would like.

Right & Down is a super simple dungeon-crawler concept. Each level is a game board, and you can only move either to the right or down to reach the exit on the opposite corner. Sounds simple enough, but different abilities come into play with the correct series of moves. Do you skip that healing potion to the right and move down and complete your spell cast? It’s got an ultra-casual coffee break vibe, but I can see this being a compulsive one-more-run sort of game.

Full disclosure: I backed Wanderlost on Kickstarter, so knowing I was going to be playing this eventually, I didn’t want to spend too long on the demo. This zombie-survival game feels like it still might need some balancing, and it would definitely benefit from an interactive tutorial. The demo goal is to survive for 5 days – I didn’t even make it one before getting eaten by a crocodile!

While I find they’re better suited for mobile gaming than PC, I’ve played (and enjoyed) a bunch of Doodle God games. However, I’m not sure that Doodle God Universe brings anything new to the table – it’s pretty, but it felt awfully familiar. The 3D renders on the planet are pretty, and the little minigames you unlock by creating some resources are kind of fun, but I’ve always felt that this franchise is way overpriced on PC, and I don’t expect this iteration to be any different, so I’m not likely to pick this one up until it shows up in a bundle.

I almost skipped Potionomics entirely, despite the fact that I very much would like to run a magical potion shop. However, this game suffers from the inclusion of a card game haggle system that – for me – added nothing to the game play. I played the demo through to completion, but found it a bit tedious, so I’ll likely be giving this one a pass.

Diluvian Winds was my favorite game of this first half dozen. You step into the role of a lighthouse keeper, who feeds and houses travelers in exchange for work. Each day, you’ll have the opportunity to assign tasks, such a building or gathering, and each night, you’ll need to feed your workers and tend the lighthouse fires. It’s a neat management concept with adorable animal friends, and a charming art style. This one is definitely staying on my wishlist.

Steam Next Fest – June 2022 Edition – Part Three

This iteration of the Steam Next Fest is just about over, and I couldn’t resist sneaking in a couple of extra demos before they disappeared again. I had six left from my original batch of downloads, and nabbed a couple more last minute additions that I missed on my first pass through. This brings my total demos played this time around to 22.

Although I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve played this time around, I can never seem to resist saving quite a few of the best for last. In case you missed the rest of my super quick reviews from the past week, part one is here, and part two is over here. If you were hoping to play any demos yourself, don’t dally – at the time this post goes live, there’ll be just over one day left in the event!

There was a lot of things to like about Dragon Forge, but the actual game play of it is very much not for me. I knew as soon as the game explained that I would continue earning resources while the game was closed, that it was not going to fit the way I play games. It is very pretty, though, and if you don’t mind some real time mechanics & a bit of a mobile game feel to your games, this might turn out to be pretty great.

While I didn’t dislike Dome Keeper, I tend to prefer my games to give me a little more direction than this one did. Since it appears to be a controller-required title, I played the demo on the Steam Deck, and it runs perfectly well. I’m still not sure what my actual goal was, but I like the loop of dig for resources to upgrade your base, and defend your base from the bad guys. It’s not a game I’m going to be in a rush to buy, however.

Farlanders is another game that seems to want to err on the side of explaining too little rather than being overly hand-holdy. It looks great, but it was just a little bit obtuse for me to get a good feel for the gameplay. You’re tasked with setting up a colony on Mars, and believe me when I say the planet’s surface is not inclined to cooperate with you. I like the idea of having terraforming as a key game play component; I just wish it were a little bit more transparent how exactly it works. I think this one might take a little time to warm up to, but I can also see myself losing hours upon hours to it.

I played the demo for The Spirit & the Mouse to completion, and it was everything I wanted it to be. It’s a puzzle adventure game with collectibles, and light platforming mechanics, and it’s highly likely to give you a warm fuzzy feeling. This one recommends a controller, but I didn’t struggle too much on mouse & keyboard. If this game were already available, it’d be in my shopping cart by now.

I can see a lot of potential in Above Snakes, but it definitely feels a bit rough around the edges right now. The core game play of explore, harvest, and build with survival mechanics is great, and the gimmick of building your world one tile at a time is fantastic. However, resource balance is not great in the demo build – one quest requires you gathering three of a specific resource to upgrade your workbench, and I didn’t encounter even one in my play time. Hunger & thirst feel a little overtuned right now as well, but assuming they work those kinks out, the bones of the game are solid.

Colony builders have just gotten adorable with Catizens. The current demo build showcases the objectives based campaign game play, and although it’s feels a little too micro-management heavy, it was enjoyable enough to play. Your starter cats have important jobs, and all your recruits have their own quirks. Right now, it looks like it’s aiming to land on the chiller, more wholesome end of the colony management spectrum, and that might just be enough to set it apart.

Potion Permit may just do for alchemy what Stardew Valley did for farming. Gather ingredients to brew potions to help a small town who’ve had a previous bad experience with chemists from the big city, and maybe make some friends along the way. The potion making mechanic is an untimed packing puzzle, rather than a set list of required ingredients, which I appreciated. Nearly an hour went by in a flash, and the demo feels polished enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if this title drops in a full release rather than early access.

No need to consider if I want to buy Roots of Pacha – I backed this one on Kickstarter! The game is currently already in beta, and is expected to hit full release before the end of the year. The hook for this life sim is that you’re part of a primitive tribe, and the members of your community will come to you for help with their ideas for progress, enabling the player to determine the way the society develops. You won’t be running to the shop for supplies, though, so plan to forage and craft whatever you might need.

I’m fairly sure at this point, my wish list contains more unreleased games that ones that are already out, and Next Fest certainly didn’t help with that problem! Even sticking mainly to my favorite genres, there were just too many great games out there to try out.

Did any of the Next Fest demos blow you away this time around?

Steam Next Fest – June 2022 Edition – Part Two

My main issue with these virtual game conferences being so damned short is that I find I either need to be really particular and miss out on stuff, or I’m going to end up playing some demos when I’m just not feeling them. Which, I suppose, is also an issue with non-virtual game conferences, but it somehow feels worse to miss stuff when you can play at home in your pajamas instead of waiting in line all day.

This batch maybe didn’t get me quite as excited as they might have on a less brain-foggy sort of day, but I also think I was successful at figuring out which ones I would be most likely to enjoy.

Zombie Cure Lab is a game I think I’d really enjoy if I were in the mood to figure things out. As is, the tutorial could use tweaking – it dumps the information, and then you seem to need to close the tutorial box to progress. I got hung up on the early building, and realized I’d probably need to restart, but I liked that it combines both pre-fab buildings you drop down with some you need to actually design & build one wall segment at a time. I’m not 100% sure about the zombie-cure premise, but I’ll keep an eye on it as it gets closer to release.

Paper Trail is every bit as lovely as I had hoped, but it leans far more towards pure puzzle gameplay and away from a compelling story to go alongside the beautiful art. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to get stuck – I’m not sure if I just couldn’t figure the puzzle out at that point, or if I did something to soft-lock my progress. Changing things via folding the background felt great, though.

Alchemia: Creatio Ex Nihilo feels like the next step in the evolution of the deck-building roguelite. Instead of drawing cards, you draw elements from your pouch, and use those elements to craft spells. I played through one run (which ended in my death), and while I’m not sure how much staying power the gimmick is going to have, I was glad to see there’s some meta-progression. I also really liked the spell book mechanic; I feel like there’s probably some benefit to memorizing combos if you play a lot, but you can also just have the game remind you of what the spells you know during a run look like.

Thus far, Spirittea was the biggest let down for me this time. Everything about the control scheme was completely unintuitive, and having to WASD my way through an onscreen keyboard while I was playing with both a mouse and an actual keyboard kind of ruined the character creation for me. The opening was super slow, and when I couldn’t find the destination of my very first task, I gave up in annoyance. This might be a great title for someone with more patience than I have, but the demo experience completely turned me off rather than left me wanting more.

On the other hand, I played the Escape Academy demo right up until the end. I managed to get through the first three escape room puzzles, and I thought they were clever, if not particularly challenging. Price relative to length is probably going to be the biggest factor in whether or not I pick this one up early or wait for a discount as I don’t expect it’ll be very replayable.

Lonesome Village feels like it has a lot of potential, if it can manage to get out of its own way. Everyone has disappeared, and it’s up to you to rescue the whole town from a creepy puzzle tower utilizing a few tools and the power of friendship. I expect the puzzles to become more cerebral as you climb higher, but you’ll need to take frequent breaks from your mission to help out the folks you’ve already rescued, and to find the resources the tower requires of you to progress. It’s a great concept, and the artwork is fantastic, but the controls are a bit clunky, and everything feels like it’s running at half speed.

Steam Next Fest – June 2022 Edition – Part One

For the last two Next Fest events, I made a concerted attempt to keep the number of “must play” demos manageable. I ended up covering only five in October 2021, and eight in February 2022. However, with this most recent iteration coming right on the heels of Wholesome Direct, meaning I already had more than a few demos downloaded, I’ve decided to go all in.

Initially, I had 21 demos downloaded. One I immediately decided was not for me, and another ended up being a VR-required title, so that pared it down for me to 19. That’s still way more games than I wanted to cover in a single post! I realize I have a tendency to get in my own way sometimes, so I may not get through all of them, but I’ve already played through 8 demos, which seems like a good number to post about at once without being overwhelming.

As someone who’s played entirely too much Viscera Cleanup Detail, and Powerwash Simulator, I thought that The Mystery Cleaner would be right up my alley. You’re tasked with cleaning up iconic locations, and you’ll probably discover some secrets while you’re picking up trash. Unfortunately, I found the actual mechanics of cleaning to be rather clunky, and I didn’t feel like that – for me – the “mystery” aspect added anything to the more meditative cleaning gameplay loop I was looking for

Grand Theft Gato: Vice Kitty feels like a proper spiritual successor to Goat Simulator. There’s a bit more structure in this one – there are lots of quests to find and complete – and the physics feel slightly less wacky. I doubt this is going to be anyone’s Game of the Year, but I expect it’ll be a fun romp nonetheless. If you ever wondered what it would feel like to drive a stolen car while being a housecat, you might be a fan of this one.

My lack of significant playtime in the Horror Tycoon demo is a little misleading. Once I closed the game, I spent probably 40 more minutes watching the developer stream. I’m not sure that I am in love with the storyline on this one – you need to build haunted house attractions good enough to scare your patrons to death to fulfill a bloodline contract to collect souls. However, the mechanics of building a haunted house attraction look like something I could lose myself in for days. This one is still a bit rough around the edges, but I like the bones of it quite a bit.

The bit of Garden Simulator I got to try out has nothing egregiously wrong with it. You clean up the small patch of yard available in the demo, buy a pushmower and mow the lawn. Then you can start buying other important gardening tools like a shovel and watering can. Get some plants, keep them watered, harvest them for money to buy more gardening goodies. For me, I felt like I’d played enough in less than 15 minutes, which doesn’t say a whole lot for the game’s staying power.

If Townseek hadn’t been the last demo I played in this batch, it might have enticed me to stick around just a bit longer. The demo really could have benefited from some sort of tutorial, but I muddled my way through. You explore the world in your air ship, visiting different cities to trade goods & complete quests. It feels like the main focus is on buying and selling, but you can also gather materials as well as do some fishing if you need more inventory. It feels super accessible, and the art style is delightful.

The wholesome level is off the charts in Hello Goodboy, but the actual game play is so simplistic it may turn players off. I stuck with it through the entirety of the demo’s available content, but it’s definitely far more story-focused than mechanically interesting. You help people through a series of choice-based conversations & simple minigames, and is potentially a great game to play with younger children.

Fashion Police Squad has been on my wish list for what feels like forever, but as far as I’m aware, this is the first time a demo has been available. This delightfully cheesy FPS tasks you with fixing crimes against fashion with your arsenal of weapons designed for exactly this purpose. Unfortunately for me, I struggled even on the lowest difficulty. Still, I liked the execution of the concept even more than I expected to.

I downloaded the demo for The Fabulous Fear Machine on a whim and with low expectations, and it turned out to be my favorite game of the bunch so far. Plant the seeds of urban legends, send out your operatives to explore, infiltrate, and extract resources, and spread your message before your opponents can. The comic book art-style just seals the deal, and this is probably going to be a day one purchase for me.