Back again for the October version of their 'what's next' barrage, Steam Next Fest gave players access to a horde of demos for upcoming games. The week-long event gave fans around the world the chance to chat with devs as they played through the demos of their latest works in progress. SUPERJUMP's writer team was all over the place during Next Fest and put together this list of some top titles to watch as they move from demo to release date. As usual with this huge assortment of games, there's something here for just about everyone.
Every Next Fest gives me more games than I can possibly play in the span of the festival. My picks are the three games that really shined in terms of aesthetics and gameplay, and of course, being solid demos.
It’s strange how I’ve been finding myself enjoying fishing games as of late, and with Dredge, there's a game that has some depth under the surface. Players arrive at an island chain to be the local fisherman and crash their boat on the rocks within seconds of showing up. In order to pay off the debt and earn some extra cash, they’re going to get their fishing on. Dredge is a happy relaxing game about fishing… until you start pulling up fish with unusual appendages, and no one goes on the water at night, and there are ominous red lights in the darkest corners of the islands.
I really enjoyed the mix between the peace and the terror of the game. When night hits, you’ll have to sail carefully to avoid the “things” that come out to get you. All the while, you’ll be able to upgrade your boat to catch more fish, get more tools to aid you and start solving the quest as to what’s going on here. The upgrades and exploration do a great job of hooking you (pun intended) to keep going out and going further and further with each trip.
This is one of those games where you’re either all in or out on the concept, but for me, a Lovecraftian fishing mystery is a trip worth going on.
People know that I've been dreaming of a spiritual successor to Reccetear for some time now, and while Potionomics doesn’t hit the mark perfectly, it is the closest a game has gotten in some time. You play as a witch who has moved into her uncle’s potion shop after his passing to take it over. Along with your economics expert owl, it’s up to you to turn a profit and win over the locals. Each day is split between going out and talking to people, gathering ingredients, brewing potions, and then opening up the shop and haggling with the people.
This is where Potionomics does things a bit differently, with the haggling taking the form of a deckbuilding fight. Your mission is to build up the customer’s interest in the product to get them to spend more, while not running out of patience or taking stress damage from annoying customers.
By meeting and friending the various people around the island, you’ll be able to unlock more cards you can use when haggling and start to experiment with more interesting potions. At this point, I’m not sure if there will be any additional systems similar to combat in Reccetear. The game does ooze charm and the shop aspect feels crunchy enough without getting too bogged down by the numbers. If you’re like me and you’re looking to try a charming shop sim, then definitely check out this demo.
Dream Tactics from the outside looks very unassuming, but this SRPG has a lot to offer fans of the genre. It’s up to you and your band of heroes to save Dream Land, and to do that, you’re going to have to fight your way across the land. While Dream Tactics may not push the envelope in terms of style, the game smartly combines aspects of SRPG and deckbuilding to produce an original take on the genre.
Each hero is a unique unit with stats and their own set of cards they can use during combat. The different cards all lend themselves to different strategies and will often have secondary effects that you can capitalize on. The main character can put a debuff on friend and foe alike that augments certain cards when played. You can also exchange cards between characters, but there is a limit for the entire party. While you will draw five cards each turn, you can redraw a limited amount which gives you greater control over your tactics. The UI is one of the best I’ve seen from demos this Next Fest, allowing players to view information on all the symbols, enemy attack ranges, and more.
I’m not sure where the game is going to go in terms of difficulty, but everything that I saw from the demo has me itching to play more. If you’re a fan of SRPGs and looking for a new one, I highly recommend checking out Dream Tactics.
Ah, another Steam Next Fest where I can greedily look over my Steam Store and download as many things as my shopaholic's heart desires. It was hard this time around but I was able to narrow it down to exactly three titles that I think are absolutely worth your time to check out. On top of the games that I have listed here, I think that this festival offered a lot in terms of great strategy and simulation titles that I had a blast with. So without further delay, here are my favorite demos and hopefully at least one of these recommendations tickles your fancy.
Rhythm Sprout is a rhythm RPG by SURT about a steezy onion knight that likes to nap and walk sultrily towards objectives, all set to drum and bass music. This game takes advantage of about four keys on your keyboard or controller to move onion knights' left and right legs all the way down the road, occasionally encountering an enemy or two. When he sees enemies he uses his walk buttons to slash at their big noses while dodging the lasers that they shoot out of their eyes. The game's aesthetic falls somewhere in a comfortable pocket dimension between Animal Crossing and Overcooked. The toy-like appearance of everything paired with the lo-fi soundtrack comes together to create a cute adventure in which you are grooving so hard that your nice gaming chair is in mortal danger of being rocked to death.
There are a few things that stand out to me in this demo, other than realizing that maybe perfect games really do exist. The writing is some of the funniest self-aware humor that I’ve seen in a game in quite some time. The developers definitely drafted this dialog specifically for this demo, but if this is any indication of how the story will be presented at full release then we are looking at a hilarious bit of story in between songs. The controls on the keyboard lend themselves really well to the soundtrack of the game. The music from what I can tell in the demo is mostly electronic drum and bass music. Slapping the F and J keys on your keyboard to the beat of these songs makes me feel like I’m playing a real MIDI pad and it feels really authentic to the experience.
I was addicted to this demo as I was going through it, playing the five offered levels a few times each to test most of the features on offer. When I dig into a rhythm game it’s important to me that the songs are fun to play on repeat and that the level of difficulty reaches or exceeds my skill level so that I can work towards mastering songs. The game only offers two difficulties, easy and normal, which are both manageable for anyone that can count to the beat.
Luckily, the extra options under the difficulty on each song add a pretty good challenge. Turbo mode makes each song faster (as advertised); this doesn’t make the game all that much harder, but people who either like faster scroll speeds or are short on time will appreciate that option. Random mode makes every song twice as hard by slowing their progress and making you stay on your toes as each note could be any button. I also heard about an EX mode but couldn’t find out how to turn it on.
Rhythm Sprout has an amazing demo that everyone should check out. The game is slotted for an early 2023 release on PC and all major consoles.
Enchain is an FPS-action Souls-like by mattlawr where you play as this bone person who finds a lantern that doubles as a kunai and chain. They use that lantern to launch enemies into the air, where they can hit them again to start a juggle or latch onto them with the intent of throwing them at a wall until they explode into collectible power-ups.
The game uses a Minecraft-esque pixel art style that is occasionally hard to look at but mostly beautiful. All of the models in this game form some kind of low poly undead creature that looks surprisingly menacing, owing mostly to the incredible atmospheric lighting throughout the game's environments. Enchain uses a level design popularized in Dark Souls, where the main area is seen as a hub for that level and all roads eventually connect back to that location. Enchain manages to keep true to this staple of the genre and allows its geometric rooms to be more easily mapped mentally by the player.
The combat in Enchain is something that takes all of ten minutes to wrap your head around. As soon as you throw an enemy head-first into the concrete wall, you will have subconsciously learned how to do the Doom FPS dance around hordes of undead. If I were to have one gripe it would be that at times the game seems just a bit too easy. Of course, that is hard to gauge from just a 30-minute demo, but even as more challenges were thrown at me in that time frame I was defeating enemy mob spawns in record time after encountering them the first time.
I think the hardest challenge in the demo was a beast that had a crazy leap and was immune to your lantern shots. This limits your attacks to just your guns which have limited ammunition. But on my second time coming across him I was sending him a shotgun shell with express shipping straight to his face with no problems. This would be my biggest complaint, but while learning how to dive-kick zombies off ledges makes the game easier it also makes me feel like John Wick. Enchain's combat is excellent and rivals the thrill you can feel from playing a crazy Doom level, and this game doesn’t even have executions.
To humble the game for just a moment, the movement system is a mixed bag. Enchain wants you to be able to perform certain stunts in order to climb its vertical levels. I think that the only movement in this game that I fully enjoy is its dive double jump. The wall running, wall jumping, and grapple hooking are all difficult to master and caused me some frustration as I could never reliably perform any of these moves.
Enchain is definitely a game to keep your eye on if you need a new arcade FPS. The game is set to launch on PC in early access later this year.
Wavetale is an open-world 3D action platformer developed by Thunderful in which you play as young island girl Sigrid. Her home becomes flooded after a magical tsunami rolls through, introducing her to a shadow creature that helps her walk on water. The game's objective sees you travel from island to island, somewhat in the style of Wind Waker, to collect Sparks which you use to power your generator and unlock more of the map.
The main gameplay of Wavetale reminds me of Sable or ReCore, games which have been keeping innovation in the 3D platformer genre. From what I can tell in the demo, though, this game falls prey to the same shortcomings as Sable with too much open and empty space in its gorgeous world. Wavetale has movement that is fun to watch and control, but between each objective is just water. The stretches between those objective are a lot more manageable than Sable's sea of sand, but it still manages to create the same emptiness that I feel from these other open-world indie titles.
The actual platforming sections are all skill based and see you scaling some type of tower to collect Sparks. This is fun in the same way that I can play the Metropolis jungle gym in Ratchet & Clank fifty times and not get bored. Sigrid’s fishing net doubles as a magic fishing rod (it’s tight) and can attach to objects to pull her up to ledges. The demo also teased some other mechanics like turning on power switches to start up moving platforms. I’m excited to see what kind of direction the developers take this in when the game gets a full release.
The combat feels a little clunky and imprecise but it does its job. From what I can tell in this snapshot, the attack button is used more to activate items and save citizens than to provide engaging fights. That’s fine; not every game has to hinge its merits on how good it feels to smack something.
But after all those things, I’m still in love with this game after the first thirty minutes. The game brings me back to those special moments of nostalgia playing Wind Waker and Ratchet & Clank. The empty travel sections connect me with the gentle waves and give me time to just appreciate the cute island look and feel of the game. Wavetale is what I want from a game that is emulating “how I remember the golden age of 3D platformers” and I think that at full release it will be perfectly serviceable to the audience that is looking for the same type of experience.
Wavetale is coming soon to PC via Steam.
One Many Nobody
You wake up in a futuristic factory that’s churning out human clones. With complete amnesia, you have no memory of what’s happened before, and no idea what’s going on. So begins the indie puzzle platformer, One Many Nobody. Set in a dystopian near future, this is a world in which human reproduction has been severely limited, the population drastically reduced, and the elite have total control over what dwindling resources are left.
With a moody, futuristic soundtrack and nicely animated pixel-art graphics, One Many Nobody certainly does an admirable job of creating an oppressive futuristic atmosphere. Early levels see the main character navigating through an ominous factory that’s pumping out human clones, full of deadly traps and puzzles.
With only a limited move-set, players must create clones of themselves to bypass a variety of obstacles. There are clone machines scattered throughout the levels which create a clone of the main character in a nearby location. A number in the top corner of the screen indicates how many clones can be created per level, which in the early stages is usually two or three.
The claustrophobic corridors are filled with locked doors, traps, and other obstacles to overcome. Players use the clones to carry out tasks like standing on switches, raising platforms, or even ‘taking one for the team’ and sacrificing yourself on some spikes.
This is very much a puzzle game first and platformer second. Every level has a singular puzzle that must be solved before reaching the end. Through a combination of trial & error and logical thinking, players must figure out the correct sequence to complete the objective. Levels can be completed in a semi-linear pattern, with a map view allowing for some freedom over which levels to complete next.
I enjoyed my time with One Many Nobody. It definitely has an 8-bit charm that reminds me of early 90s platformers on PC. The cloning is interesting enough to make the puzzles engaging, and the way the difficulty slowly ramps up ensured that each level was just tricky enough to keep me satisfied when I worked out how to solve it. The dialogue and writing were quite terrible, and I’m not sure how satisfying the story will be in the finished release, but it did pique my curiosity to figure out what exactly was happening. Time will tell if the game’s story is able to create something interesting given its intriguing premise.
With bite-sized levels full of puzzle-based platforming and a slick electronic soundtrack, One Many Nobody would make a great handheld game, particularly on Switch, although it’s still unannounced on Nintendo’s handheld. For those lucky enough to have bagged a Steam Deck, this little puzzler is worth checking out if you want something to noodle away at during a short commute. The clone mechanic is interesting and I have no doubt the complexity will increase during later levels. Let’s hope the devs add some more interesting mechanics and enemies during the late game to keep things spicy.
Releasing on Steam 11 October, 2022, this is one to watch for fans of pixel-art puzzlers and platforming shenanigans.
Anyone who’s played the legendary platformer Celeste will be very familiar with the concept of the ‘wall grab’, as Madeline clings onto walls during her daring ascent of Mount Celeste. In Kick Bot, developer Two Scoop Games has basically taken this concept and created an entire game out of it.
The main character in Kick Bot can ONLY wall grab (no walking). In most levels, the floor itself is usually lava, ice, or (on occasion) spinning saw blades! This is a very hard game - the very first level in Kick Bot is more difficult than the final level in many platformers.
Leaping from wall to wall like a robot Spider Man, you dodge a deadly array of spinning saws, spikes, and lava, all while the game literally laughs and mocks you every time you fail. If it sounds punishingly difficult, it is, but that’s kind of the point. This is a game for seasoned platforming fans who are ready to test their skills. Thankfully, like Celeste, dying will quickly transport you back to the start to begin another attempt.
Finishing a level on the first run-through is a near impossibility given the number of deadly traps awaiting at every turn. Upon completing a level, you’re awarded a score from A to D, along with a bunch of other stats like the number of deaths and stars collected. For those with god-level dexterity, achieving an A on the first try (with all stars) is certainly a possibility, and would make for entertaining viewing on Twitch. I averaged a D on most runs, with nothing higher than the occasional C. Certainly room for improvement!
Aside from being able to wall grab, you also have a double jump which resets every time you cling to a wall. Using this mechanic, it’s possible to make long leaps which often need to be perfectly timed to grab an opposite wall and avoid death. When playing with a controller all movement is handled via just two buttons (the shoulder buttons) which makes the double-jump mechanic satisfying to pull off, and easier than a keyboard.
The visual presentation is nothing fancy but certainly gets the job done with chunky pixel art and animation which isn’t particularly smooth. But the framerate remains rock solid throughout and there’s a satisfying explosion of pixels and robot limbs whenever you impale yourself on some spikes or a saw blade.
The sound effects are punchy and the soundtrack does a decent job of setting a playful but slightly psychopathic mood. This is a game that seems to revel in punishment and enjoys watching you die an endless series of gruesome deaths - each time you die the game emits a cackle of mocking laughter.
The Kick Bot demo provides a dozen-ish levels to pass through and I must say I found it really addictive. I kept playing right through to the end, even finishing the last level which is punishingly difficult, taking me around thirty attempts to clear.
Kick Bot is great for anyone who loves extremely challenging platformers and will be a boon for speedrunners and Celeste veterans who want to show off their abilities. This could be perfect on the Steam Deck for some handheld fun, and will no doubt be a hit with streamers. Kick Bot releases on Steam sometime in late 2022.
Lucas Di Quinzio
There have been a few attempts over the years by indie devs to make their own spin on Pokémon that’s not directly made for children – MMO Temtem and Metroid-flavoured Monster Sanctuary come to mind – but none have truly nailed it so far. The newest attempt, Cassette Beasts from Lenna’s Inception devs Bytten Studio, is extremely promising based on my time with the demo.
In Cassette Beasts, you wash up in a strange land, unsure of how you got there. Quickly you meet someone who gives you the scoop – everyone here arrived the same mysterious way and there are beasts roaming around that you can battle and collect using a cassette player. This person will become your first companion that fights alongside you in this retro music-themed world. There are some twists to the Pokémon formula right off the bat. Firstly, you don’t send out monsters, you become them. And when it comes to catching monsters, you have to turn back into a human to record them onto a blank tape, which leaves you or your companion open to attacks that lower your catching success rate. You can attack or buff with the other beast while doing this to get that success percentage, which is displayed, back up.
There were several other features that divert from the usual Pokémon fare, that help Cassette Beasts stand out as a potential worthy competitor. You can fuse the two beasts you are fighting with to temporarily form a single powerful beast. This seems to take the idea from the website that fuses Pokémon together and makes it into a real game mechanic. This ability was shown off in an encounter at the end of the demo that took a bit of a twist in the horror direction, hinting at a dark secret lurking in the heart of the island.
In terms of mechanical twists, moves require action points that slowly refill as turns progress, instead of a PP system. Hitting a beast with a type that it’s weak to results in a big debuff rather than more damage. There was also a gliding ability that was unlocked when I recorded a particular beast, leading to the possibility of more interesting traversal mechanics in the full game.
The 45 minutes I spent in the demo already convinced me that this is a monster-catching RPG to look forward to when it releases next year on PC, Switch, Xbox, and Game Pass.
There’s more to Pile Up! than your average stacking game.
This vertical city builder might have a mellow soundtrack and adorable visuals but don’t let that trick you. Let your guard down and your city of stacks will literally fall apart. Part of it here, part of it there, and the rest all the way underwater.
Like any good city builder, your citizens have needs that must be fulfilled. Buildings require heating, water, and electricity. Fail to meet these requirements and your city’s happiness level takes a hit, bringing you one step closer to riots. Buildings that generate these resources are the bloodlines of your city.
But these resource generators are also your city’s fault lines. Place generators in the wrong spot and an explosion might take out a couple of houses. That might not sound terrible until you remember that your buildings are stacked on top of one another. Cue explosion chains. Good thing you can replenish your housing real estate with support factories that create housing blocks.
Aesthetics and the happiness of your citizens sit on two sides of a creaky see-saw. Use new blocks to cover up your mistakes and become an armchair architect. Unique buildings like casinos shake things up by randomly altering the mood of your citizens, rewarding you, or forcing you to catch up.
Pile Up!’s blend of strategy with casual visuals is remarkably complete for a demo. It’s definitely worth spending a lazy afternoon reliving your childhood building days, albeit without the explosions. I hope your citizens don’t get too familiar with death.
Pile Up! is scheduled to launch early next year on PC.
Against The Storm
Against The Storm is undoubtedly the game I had the most fun with during this edition of Steam’s Next Fest celebration. A tense deck-based city builder with roguelike elements? This game tosses a lot of genres to the wall and I’m glad that most of it sticks.
You start the game in Smoldering City, the heart of your waning empire. Hexagonal tiles around it indicate where you could head next, each a scenario complete with random map modifiers, resources, and rewards. You also get to pick out a few starting resources.
The gameplay begins with a smart choice: chopping wood helps you get to misty zones that reveal new resources and/or foes. Pairing resource gathering and exploration lends a pinch of strategy to an otherwise mundane task.
Clearing paths in multiple directions mean that your lumberjacks are going to be hauling logs across the map. It's a good thing that buildings can be moved about for no cost. Moving buildings to maximize output like nomads soon becomes second nature. But there’s a reason for the hustle: you’re the Scorched Queen’s viceroy and she’s no gentle leader.
Fail to satisfy her demands quickly and you’ll face her wrath. Appease her desires and you’ll build up your reputation, granting you new cards that expand your gameplay options. And as you face the land’s challenges, you’ll supervise three races, each with unique needs and skills.
Beavers, lizards, and humans coexist and it’s up to you to use their strengths and account for their requirements.
Clearing out the misty areas and the Queen’s tasks is complicated by seasonal conditions and stumbling into crisis events. Cutting down forests triggers hostile effects over time, adding to the challenges you need to juggle. As the world cycles between weather effects, you’ll be reaching for the pause button to plan your strategy and build orders.
Build enough reputation to win, then head into the next map, starting over but not quite. Trading options and Smoldering City upgrades let you take advantage of resources from previous settlements. And you’ll need them because Against The Storm quickly teaches you why it’s a roguelike.
Things can and will go wrong. Just don’t fire citizens because they take breaks during your pursuit to tackle timed challenges. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a genre that takes its time when it comes to building chains and resource management.
Against The Storm has been available on Early Access for a year and is scheduled to fully release on PC sometime this month.
Easily the most impressive city builder on this list, Manor Lord’s claim to fame is its glorious attention to detail. From its striking visuals to the ability to zoom down and witness conversations between villagers, this game takes its medieval rule very seriously. Zoom out and you’ll see neighboring regions, complete with maps that update with time. Seeing fresh roads and buildings show up on paper gave me a sense of fulfillment I haven’t felt in a while.
Drawing inspiration from 14th-century architecture and building chains of the time, Manor Lords feels authentic beyond just its visuals. Resource-based exploration and establishing multiple specialized villages sound just about right for a medieval game.
I’m still in awe that a single developer built this technical marvel. Manor Lords’ attention to detail is more than skin deep. Expand too quickly and the forests react with deer migrations and poorer soil fertility. This forces you to rethink resource buildings and the areas they’re allowed to gather from. Weather changes bring about gorgeous ambiance effects but they also impact how you gather resources, namely food sources. Snow patches fade at the end of winter, a sight I could watch all day.
Traveling merchants help you with surplus goods and there’s a deep diplomacy system that sees you parley with neighboring lords. But diplomacy isn’t the only option on the wooden table. Battles are costly affairs in Manor Lords.
Every fallen soldier represents a tangible loss to your economy. Cut it too close and you’ll be forced to ration food and deal with grumpy subjects. And while mercenaries are a possible option, they don’t come cheap. It’s impressive how Manor Lords lives up to every promise listed on its Steam page. Well done, solo developer Slavic Magic.
The icing on the cake? You can walk around your town as a duke in third-person. Manor Lords can’t take my money, err, doesn’t have a release date yet. But it certainly has my attention.
A game about a South Asian disaster-bi (bisexual) who is having a tumultuous love life and has disappointed her parents? Sign me up for this story. I am totally buying the full version.
Thirsty Suitors follows Jala, a girl returning home after a bad breakup. You get some Night in the Woods vibes as she arrives in town without a ride, and is hesitating about calling her parents or sister for a ride. Her inner voice is judging her for all of her actions, including the fact that she didn’t tell her family that she was arriving. Uber is evidently not an option. Yet Jala remains attractive and irresistible, even while the subject of gossip.
Gameplay changes with each challenge. A personality quiz in a magazine becomes a skateboarding obstacle course set in an abstract world, reminiscent of Geometry Dash without the lack of save points and sheer frustration. Meeting an ex from third grade becomes a tutorial boss fight, and you can even summon Jala’s mother as backup support! I still have to figure out the timing of keyboard button presses to nail the punch-blocking mechanic.
Most importantly, the story rocks. Dialogue shows that Jala has gotten herself in a bad situation, as her inner voice keeps reminding her while stylized as her sister. Rumors abound that she eloped with the mayor’s daughter, and she has to clarify that, while true, the woman was not twice her age as the gossipers say. There was just a ten-year age gap, which does raise questions about the power dynamics in the relationship.
We also don’t know enough of the whole story, while defining Jala’s personality via that quiz and how well she navigates these imaginary obstacle courses. There’s this hook to the story, that whatever Jala did with the elopement was so bad, worse than her being bisexual in the first place. I can confirm that South Asian parents do not understand what it means to be bisexual and have selective memory about your coming out. Thus, being a disaster bi and having a series of failed relationships? That is bound to invite dishonor from the community, especially if the mayor is involved.
My only nitpick is that the health bar is hard to see during battles. In the tutorial, it was difficult to assess when Sergio, your first ex, is close to being knocked down.
On the plus side, the in-story game logic lends to more characterization. When it comes to Jala, why are we fighting her ex? He seems nice enough if a little too obsessed for his own good. We need to get Jala a ride home. Is it meant to denote that she doesn’t make good decisions?
For a demo, the first twenty minutes that I played packed an emotional punch, and I have a lot to learn about this new world. I cannot wait for the full game to come out so that I can give all the love and credit to the creators for nailing the bisexual experience.
Steam Next Fest has become a celebrated event allowing indie devs to highlight their in-progress games and gain a following with fans. Our team worked hard during the week to bring you the best of what was on offer, so if you liked what you saw, make sure to let us know over on SUPERJUMP's Twitter page!
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