Steam's latest new and upcoming game demo showcase has come and gone again, with hundreds of titles made available to the gaming public in the span of a week.
Developer - Vampire Squid
Have you ever wondered to yourself, “you know, I find games like Doom Eternal and Ultrakill so boring, nothing really happens in them, why can’t there be a really exciting first-person shooter?” Well, boys and girls, let me introduce you to Meatgrinder, a combination of the push-forward gameplay seen in Doom, with the penchant for the chaos that was Clustertruck. Your mission is to move across convoys of Mad-Max-inspired vehicles taking out anyone who gets in your way.
Your heart rate at the bottom of the screen is your engine, stand still and get calm and you will die, keep moving around and you will regain your health. Did I forget to mention that your foot is also a grappling hook that lets you pull toward enemies and other vehicles? We could argue that there may be too much going on at one time in this game, but this is just adrenaline personified as a game.
Dungeons of Aether
The indie space is known to have many titles that have attempted AAA design at a smaller scale. Rivals of Aether was an indie version of Smash Brothers, but the higher barrier of entry and lack of brand awareness kept it from growing outside its specific fanbase. For their next game, they may just break into the mainstream with Dungeons of Aether – a dice-based dungeon crawler. Your mission is to go into dungeons and caves looking for proof against an evil company and stop their machinations. The game features incredible 2D animation and pixel art for its characters, but the real winner is the gameplay.
Each turn, you and your opponent will draft dice from the board that you can put into one of several stats. If your opponent goes all in on defense, you may want to focus on dice that can boost your special meter to use a skill that grants you more power on the next turn. The interaction between the dice, your skills, and your opponent, presents an interesting matchup that we haven’t seen from any deck, or dice builders as of late. The team behind Rivals of Aether certainly deserves a mainstream win, and I think that this game could be just that.
Developer - Black Tower Basement
And now for something a bit different after the last game. Greedventory is a “point and punch” action game. You play a lazy bum who gets thrown out of your uncle’s house, ending up with a quest to destroy an ancient group that protects the world from all the cool and dangerous stuff people get from questing. Alongside for the adventure is a smartmouth imp, and the two of you are off to kick butt and take names.
This is not a happy-go-lucky game, with characters routinely cursing and some beautifully disturbing pixel art and animations to set the tone. All combat is handled by your cursor, which you can use to attack and defend. The challenge of the fights is to properly read opponents to block attacks, and use your cursor and environmental hazards to your advantage. There is a full gear system where you can equip items to give you bonuses, but gear can break over time. Like many of the raunchier games, I’m curious to see where it will go with its off-the-wall story, and whether the gameplay can remain engaging from beginning to end.
Radio the Universe
Developer - 6E6E6E
Radio the Universe is a game I heard about from a friend online as one of those “you gotta check it out” titles, and it's as confusing as it is interesting to play. The game occasionally reminds me of the cinematic mysteries that we saw in Signalis. You are alone in a strange world, things are trying to kill you, and you have no idea what’s going on. While the game looks and plays like a Zelda title, there are some very interesting things happening under the surface.
In order to earn experience, which you use to unlock new abilities and raise your stats, you need to “perfect” kill an enemy. This requires you to hit them for the exact amount of damage to take them to 0 health, not -1, not -3, but exactly 0. While it may sound easy, when you’re fighting a nasty boss or surrounded by multiple enemies, this becomes a lot harder. This is a game where you are going to be left with more questions than answers after the demo, but I’m certainly intrigued to see more of it.
Roots of Yggdrasil
Developer - ManaVoid Entertainment
It’s funny how in a few years we’ve gone from no roguelike city builder, to now three and counting with Roots of Yggdrasil. While described as a narrative city builder, the gameplay here feels like a mix of deck building and city building. Your mission on each map is to complete the necessary tasks to grow seeds of the tree of Yggdrasil. Each turn, you can place buildings that will reward you with a resource – money to build more, combat to explore new areas, and research points to unlock bonuses. The general rule is that advanced structures need to have settlements nearby as a requirement and for bonus modifiers, but you can’t have a copy of that building in the same radius.
Completing maps will unlock more of the story and resources that can be used to unlock additional abilities and buildings you can build in future runs. While the demo doesn’t quite show everything the game has to offer, it does manage to present yet another take on this roguelike city-building design that I haven’t seen before, and with a successful Kickstarter happening at the same time, this is one to look at for city building fans.
Meet Your Maker
Developer - Behaviour Interactive Inc.
Meet Your Maker flips the old dungeon raid script by letting you play part-time screenwriter in addition to raiding other players’ Outposts. Your goal – pure Genetic material – lies at the heart of every Outpost. But these mini-heists are made challenging by real players who design them as they see fit. This form of asynchronous gameplay bleeds into every facet of Meet Your Maker, from the maze and trap design to the weapons at your disposal.
Raiding a few Outposts gave me a newfound sense of patience and one of fear, emotions these makers took advantage of with devastating effect. I’d dodge a trap or two, only to step into another. Losing my life to the devilry of others taught me a couple of neat tricks, leading me to reinforce my own Outpost. Heading into an enemy Outpost is a cautious adventure but watching others take on your challenge turns the tables.
I felt like a mastermind at the strings as my sentries and traps sent limbs flying across the game’s gritty corridors. Watching players trip up on different portions of my Outpost made me realize that a challenge for me could either be a breeze or a nightmare for another player. Their abundance or lack of caution made for a rather interesting study of player behaviour. Watching enemies succeed at my maze also served as an opportunity to amp up the difficulty.
Adapting and upgrading your arsenal is one thing. Successful Outpost runs mean you will steadily gain new tools to tackle enemy mazes. And if you find yourself stunned by the devious brilliance of a particular Outpost, you can share it with friends and challenge them to its guarded prize. Dancing to the mind games of your opponent maker will remain one of my highlights from Steam’s latest Next Fest demos.
Developer - Gator Shins
Coven’s intro sent shivers down my spine. It starts with an old man and a torch. You watch as a mob sets you ablaze. Your screams are unheeded as the villagers fold their hands and bow. Their witch hunt has apparently come to an end.
Despite the false accusation, you’re about to become the very thing they thought they killed. A mysterious force resurrects you, filling you with revenge and a hint of bloodlust. In a cavern littered with corpses, a teeth symbol appeared over one of them. One button press later, I had become a cannibal.
Inspired by the relentless combat of retro shooters like DOOM and Unreal, Coven builds on its homages with its unique approach to health pickups. While you can swing an axe to keep your meal whole, armoured foes with guns of their own need shotguns and dual pistol slinging to be met as equals. But bear in mind that bodies riddled in bullet holes don’t drop as much health as relatively unharmed victims.
This balance between sensible violence and blowing people to bits makes for an interesting gameplay loop. Being generous with your shotgun usage makes future encounters difficult as you have to get by with limited health. On the other decapitated hand, swinging an axe isn’t going to cut it when knights throw spells at you from the safety of massive shields. As an undead witch, you also have access to a time-slowing mechanic that lets you shoot axes mid-air and outsmart your foes.
Coven’s pixel-perfect aesthetic isn’t afraid to spray limbs across its medieval village setting. The blurry pixels also minimize the trauma of newfound cannibalism. The devs promise multiple episodes with different protagonists, each with their own time periods, skills, and stories. It’s a promising start that has given me an unhealthy craving for more retro gun-slinging with a hint of vampirism.
Developer - zuza
Full disclosure as of February 11, 2023: I haven’t played this game yet but I’ve watched some of the developers streaming it. After our player-character crash lands on a planet, they solve puzzles while exploring this strange new world. They seem to be nice enough, just mildly curious.
This game is relaxing to watch. Despite a horrendous situation, all you have to do is move a block onto a green button and build bridges. The music makes you want to close your eyes and rest in blissful peace, and there are accessibility controls within the settings. Symbolically, this game is about making the best of a bad situation. We need more reminders of a game like that.
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