If you have an eye for small games, digital showcases like Steam Next Fest are a major part of the discovery process. For people like me, they're also a great opportunity to get an overview of the scene.
I learned a lot from the latest iteration of Next Fest. For one thing, city builders are a fast-growing genre - easy to see why, what with their broad demographic appeal. Deckbuilders are also slowly coming into their own as more developers stake their claim to one of the more lucrative genres around. And there are also a surprising number of games built around the mechanics of chess, and I'm not sure why.
But the main reason one looks into these events is to discover new and exciting titles. Here are a few that I'm going to be keeping my eye on over the next year.
Every so often, fans of RPGs are given a special treat as every critic declares the genre dead, only to be immediately proven wrong.
The next few years are going to see some wonderful JRPGs and TRPGs from developers both large and small, but if I had to pick one standout, it would be Wandering Sword. Sporting a distinct visual style and a novel story inspired by Chinese history, Wandering Sword is very much the kind of game we were all expecting to see after the release of Final Fantasy Tactics. Definitely one of the highlights of this Next Fest.
In retrospect, L.A. Noire was an interesting disaster. We all had hopes that it would kickstart a new genre of detective games, but it was the beginning and the end. More than a decade later, a select group of developers are trying to make the detective genre work again.
Shadows of Doubt is one of the first games from this new wave that is primarily about detection and mystery. Set in a sandbox neo-noir city, the player is tasked with identifying a serial killer before he strikes again. Is this the detective game that I've been waiting for? We'll find out together.
I really can't blame you if you're not familiar with KOEI's Uncharted Waters / Daikoukai Jidai series, because it doesn't seem like KOEI wants us to know about them. Only two games in the series made it out of Asia - Uncharted Waters: New Horizons in 1994 and Uncharted Waters Online in 2010. And frankly, if the only one you're familiar with is New Horizons, the later titles (which shed the narrative elements in favor of MMO-like gameplay) might be a disappointment anyway.
Enter Uncharted Waters Origin, an out-of-nowhere conventional Uncharted Waters game with a full localization. For the first time in 13 years, we in the West are getting a chance to ride the waves of the Age of Discovery yet again. Will this recapture the strange glory of New Horizons, or are we just being set up for a fresh disappointment?
It's no secret that deckbuilders are the hot genre of the moment, with just about every fourth developer trying to make the next Slay the Spire. Some of these games (Nitro Kid, to name one that I've personally reviewed) stand out; others are just variants on the same underlying theme.
Enter HeistGeist, one of many contenders. On the surface, this is just a cyberpunk copy of Slay the Spire, but there's a twist here. While most deckbuilders have very ephemeral stories, HeistGeist has a proper narrative following the trials of a thief-for-hire on the run from some serious bad guys. If they can pull this off, it could open the genre to some brand new directions.
If you're going to go dark, you should go as dark as you possibly can. "Dark fantasy" has been something of a trope among indie games thanks to the success of titles like Darkest Dungeon and Blasphemous, but Greedventory turns the bleakness and gore up to 11 and then makes fun of the whole concept.
Greedventory features an interesting RPG / action hybrid in which the player uses the mouse to parry attacks and direct spells. However, I suspect it is the aesthetics and humor that are going to be the main draw.
One of the dirty little secrets of neo-retro games is that few of them actually look like old games. Something's always off - the animations are too smooth, the sprites too big, the palette just a little bit off.
It's always worth noting when a developer goes the extra mile to capture the aesthetic and design of a specific era. Gestalt is aiming to replicate the 2D platformers on the PSX, an oddly untapped font of nostalgia. Combine that with the combo-based gameplay of more modern platform fighters, and you have something that could be a wonderful synthesis of old and new.
Exploration-focused games are usually not to my tastes, but sometimes you see one that's just so gorgeous that you have to take notice. Enter Mika and The Witch's Mountain, a game definitely inspired by a Studio Ghibli binge.
The protagonist's goal is very simple: To reach the summit of a mountain at the center of her home island. To that end, she has to carry out deliveries in order to upgrade her flying broom enough to make the voyage. The developers are making some lofty promises about the world and characters, and we'll see if they can make it work.
You see a name like 1000xRESIST, and your first thought is bound to be "I bet this is arty and surreal." And you may be right, but hold on before you dismiss it out of hand.
1000xRESIST is set in a dystopian future in which the last true human - the ALLMOTHER - is served by an army of clones. One day, one of those clones learns that her society is built on a lie, and is given the ability to shift back and forth through time in an attempt to separate truth from illusion. It's a game that rests heavily on its aesthetic and story. The first is a given - it is gorgeous and distinctive - but we'll have to see how the plot shakes out.
Finally, a reminder that indie games can take a long time to finish. Arcadian Atlas is not at all new to me - it's been on my wishlist for five years, long enough that I tend to forget that it's there. The sudden appearance in Next Fest has me hoping that it's nearly complete.
If that's the case, then it's an interesting time. Arcadian Atlas is returning to the public eye right as TRPGs are having something of a renaissance. Will it be able to stand out in a field full of strong contenders?
Steam Next Fest always provides a ton of interesting demos, and this year was no exception. Keep your eye on these titles and let us know in the comments which ones you're most excited about and which ones we've missed on our list!
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