Right after the barrage of announcements from the recent publisher conferences, Steam’s 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. Whether you're into monster prom, sewing machine shooters, or relaxed river swimming, there's something here for just about everyone.
Tower defense, deckbuilding, and rogue-lite shenanigans. Orx cooks up a fiery cocktail with just the right mix of genres for ingredients. Its premise isn’t as complex: pick tiles from a deck of cards to create defensive structures and survive waves of orc raiders.
Cards range from roads and villages to castle walls and combat units. Creating a castle is a Tetris-esque endeavor as you hope for the right deck of stone walls to leap into your hand. A small list of cards and the way they build off each other ensure that every decision has consequences.
Watching your geometry of walls and roads come together is a joy that’s worth several rounds of losing your base. Even when the orcs manage to defeat you, one can’t help but try again. Despite its unforgiving difficulty, the “one more round” syndrome is strong with this one. - Antony Terence
Ballads of Hongye
This Chinese city-builder picks season-based goals over the “X lets you build Y and so on,” routines of its established peers. On top of that, Ballads of Hongye offers a limited set of buildings for each challenge and season, keeping fellow builders on their toes.
But those aren’t the only builder tropes flipped by 14-member Seasun Games.
For starters, Ballads of Hongye has spectacular visuals, ever-shifting based on the seasons and time of day. Right from the detailed Chinese architecture to the daily routines of your town’s citizens, the game felt alive in a way few city builders have.
I spent so long admiring the view that I ran out of time on the second mission. That’s when I realized that I should treat this game as if it were as difficult as city-builders Pharoah or Caesar. That pause button sure came in handy. The game’s advisor system didn’t feel essential during the preview but I’m sure later levels could make use of their special abilities. I planned my way through Ballads of Hongye without giving those advisors a second thought.
Beat enough challenges and the map expands, offering new areas with rewards and quests.
Zooming out presents a worldview that makes traditional city-builders blush. The performance hit is noticeable, I’ll admit. But so is the dopamine hit when your risk management pays off. - Antony Terence
Fashion Police Squad
Like most good things in life, Fashion Police Squad entered my life with little warning.
“Attire-enhancing weaponry” makes little sense until you up-color drab suits with a paint gun and suck out the neon from a cyclist’s sports top to restore balance in the city. As the smoothest police officer to grace Trendopolis, your Belt of Justice even lets you swing across stages Indiana Jones-style. Or just beat people silly.
Weapons damage foes only if you use the right weapon against them, adding a pinch of strategy to the run-n-gun action.
Fashion Police Squad pits you against enemies with fashion senses ranging from dull to straight-up vulgar. With mocktails for health and “swag” for armor, it’s your job to bring this city back to life. Clear out the game’s tight arenas and you’ll be presented with a runway filled with citizens you helped reform.
Retro aesthetics paired with a love for fashion lets this FPS gun for your wallet in style. - Antony Terence
Have you ever laid on your back in a pool of water and floated to the top, taken in deep breaths, and just enjoyed the moment? This is what playing Naiad is like. It’s a delightful exploration adventure in which you become a ‘naiad’, a water nymph of Greek mythology, gliding through rivers and pools with a loose set of objectives. But mostly your task is just to enjoy how relaxing it is.
Developed by Spain-based solo developer HiWarp, the game has a vibrant setting and well-implemented water mechanics. They’ve nailed the watery feel with this one: gliding through the game’s pools and rivers has a hypnotic feel, especially with a controller. Effects like bubble trails and ripples that emanate from Naiad as you twirl through the water are very satisfying.
There’s a warmth and wholesomeness to the experience that make this a go-to game for unwinding after a long day. It reminded me of those interactive aquarium screensavers, with little fish darting about, frogs hopping on lily pads, and a soothing soundtrack. The controls are easy to pick up and afford you a few skills such as diving to swim faster, a power boost, and the ability to sing to enchant other animals and plants.
You spend the early levels helping baby ducklings find their mothers, singing to bring flowers to life, and casually twirling around. The biomes are lush and natural, but as you progress, you’ll notice humans on the shoreline, chopping down trees or causing other devastation. I won’t spoil how you deal with these issues, but it’s satisfying to clear them away and preserve the ecosystem.
I was reminded of Broken Rules’ excellent Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, given the game’s nature-based setting and flowing movement system. For anybody who enjoyed that experience, Naiad will be worth diving into. - Ben Cantrell
Despite a rather long intro sequence for a Metroidvania, Nine Sols really gets going once the swords start flying. The combat is precise and brutal, merging Sekiro-style swordplay that emphasizes deflections with a visual style reminiscent of Hollow Knight.
The story focuses on Yi, a cat-like protagonist of mysterious origins who starts his journey in the small village that found and raised him. When a shady high-tech corporation shows up and starts sacrificing the village folk, Yi’s journey of revenge begins.
With the load screen telling me that a controller was the ‘best way to play’, I felt a surge of disappointment when I realized that I would be limited to keyboard play due to some kind of controller driver issues with the demo. Let’s hope that’s fixed up by the time the full release lands - such is the fickle nature of Steam at times.
Nevertheless, the keyboard controls were tight and responsive. Combat consists of the usual jump and dodge mechanics, but also adds the aforementioned deflection which, upon each successive block, charges up a meter that provides a powerful bomb for taking down enemies in one strike. There’s also a bow and arrow for ranged attacks.
The fluid combat had a similar feeling to Dead Cells, without the rogue-lite structure. After dying, Yi returns to a kind of nether realm where he meets a wise teacher who puts him through a tutorial to learn new combat skills. After respawning at a save point, you can put your newly learned skills to use immediately which is very satisfying.
The art style is called ‘Taopunk’ and meshes traditional Chinese culture with a menacing, cyberpunk vibe. Cut scenes are brought to life with hand-drawn artwork and the whole experience is very slick, including the moody electronic soundtrack. The developer, Taipei-based Red Candle Games, has clearly put a lot of work into this and for fans of Sekiro’s combat, Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, or even Katana Zero, this is one to check out. - Ben Cantrell
Frogs seem to really be having a moment in video games. There are no less than five frog-themed demos available at Steam Next Fest. To be fair, they deserve it. The frog game that caught my eye is Frogun from solo dev Molegato, which was announced at the recent Wholesome Direct. Frogun is a cheerful and charming 3D platformer with a low poly aesthetic akin to PS1/N64 era games.
You play as Renata, the daughter of two renowned explorers who have left you behind to go on their latest expedition. When they don’t return, Renata grabs the titular Frogun and sets out on a rescue mission. The Frogun doesn’t shoot bullets but a long, sticky frog tongue that can grab enemies, break boxes and act as a grappling hook. There isn't a problem that can't be solved by shooting a frog tongue at it.
Making the most of the Frogun’s many uses is enjoyable and the platforming seems pretty tight. There are plenty of collectibles for those inclined, as well as rewards for speedrunning and not dying. You can also unlock costumes for Renata and her amphibious weapon. It’s cute and breezy, certainly something for fans of Kirby and the Forgotten World to keep their eye on if they want to continue to scratch that particular itch. There’s no set release date, but Molegato is aiming for a summer 2022 release on PC and consoles. - Lucas di Quinzio
Back in 2012, Polish developer Sos Sosowski released McPixel - a frantic, MacGruber-inspired point-and-click game where you have 20 seconds to save the day, by defusing a bomb, stopping a runaway train, or other such heroic deeds. Where much of the humour – and the tension – came from was the fact that McPixel would often do exactly the opposite of what you want him to do in a life-or-death situation when you choose to interact with something. For starters, McPixel’s default way of interacting with an object or person is to give them a swift kick. He also has a tendency to pee on things.
McPixel 3 (if you’re wondering, the Goat Simulator devs are also doing ‘the long-awaited sequel skips straight to number 3 joke’ and you haven’t missed a generation of comedy games) continues in the same vein as the original but with a slightly bigger scale. Some of the scenes in the demo run longer than 20 seconds and lead to mini-games. There is more to do, but the structure seems similar – you run through a series of scenarios at a breakneck, Warioware-like pace, and you have to keep going until you’ve saved the day in each scene.
From my brief experience, McPixel 3 seems to be everything I want from a sequel to one of my favourite comedy games – that is to say, more of it and just as consistently funny. Sosowski, now with the support of Devolver Digital behind him, is aiming for a 2022 release on PC. - Lucas di Quinzio
Cursed to Golf
If you were to take genres of games I like and put them in a hat, ‘side-scrolling,’ ‘golf’ and ‘roguelike’ would be a likely combination. This is to say that I am absolutely the target audience for Cursed to Golf, a side-scrolling golf-based roguelike that has positioned itself as ‘the Dark Souls of golf games.’
You play as The Cursed Golfer, who needs to drive, pitch, and chip his way out of Golf Purgatory. You have to make your way through the long and winding holes before you run out of shots, and will do so by way of the pseudo-platforming style of golf gameplay you may have seen in Super Stickman Golf or Golf Club Wasteland. Like the former, there are special abilities you can activate during a hole, such as the ability to re-do a shot, make the ball drop straight down in midair, explode nearby TNT crates, and more.
Playing through a hole in Cursed to Golf is tough, and requires precision and forward planning. Despite not being a dungeon per se, it certainly captures the satisfying feel of slugging it out in a tricky dungeon, but with golf. It’s quite a remarkable feat, really. We’ll see if Cursed to Golf remains satisfying throughout all four of its biomes when it releases in summer 2022 on PC and consoles. - Lucas di Quinzio
I’ve been meaning to dive into Poly Vita for a while since it popped on my radar via Twitter. It’s one of those zen-like puzzle games that take inspiration from the mobile classic, Monument Valley.
The game boasts an isometric viewpoint as you guide the protagonist, Maya, on a quest to escape a dream world in which she’s become trapped, and ultimately restore her soul. Each level has a defined path that you must complete across multiple steps using only the directional pieces provided, dodging obstacles and collecting soul fragments along the way.
Early levels start out simple as you get to grips with the mechanics on offer while later levels will require multiple steps across a variety of pathways. There are objectives in each level too, some consisting of the aforementioned soul fragments, all of which need to be collected before heading to the exit.
The increasing complexity is gently ramped up and avoids adding too much too soon, ensuring each new level is fun without being frustrating. Much like any classic of the genre, some levels are real head-scratchers and there’s a deep feeling of satisfaction upon completing them.
The music and sound effects are soothing, and the lack of any timer means you can slow down, soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience. It’s interesting to see this game come to Steam as it’s suited perfectly to mobile, but I have no doubt anyone who loved Monument Valley will be keen to pick this up. Is Steam the best platform for a game like this? Probably not. But it’s nice to see it joining the platform anyway. - Ben Cantrell
Last Command is one of those games that is unassuming by the title alone, but this game hides a very clever take on genres. Combining bullet hell with, of all things, the classic game Snake, your mission is to explore the computerized world as a program. Battles are similar to Undertale in that each one is a set fight with a unique enemy.
Your job is to collect data while dodging the myriad of attacks from the enemy to attack its heart. To lock the damage in, you need to touch the heart all the while avoiding damage or the heart will regenerate. The Snake gameplay comes in as the more data you pick up, the longer your snake gets, making you an easier target, and getting hit will knock your data loose. These patterns, especially on nightmare difficulty, will require your full bullet hell dodging skills. Progression comes in the form of equipping modules with set bonuses for having those of the same color.
This is another fantastic example from an indie team of taking classic gameplay and doing something different with it. Having finished the demo from Next Fest, Last Command certainly ranks as a hidden gem and one I strongly recommend.
- Josh Bycer
Curse Crackers For Whom the Belle Toils
Curse Crackers For Whom the Belle Toils is the next game from Colorgrave, who made Prodigal, one of my favorite games of last year. That one was both an homage and subversive take-off from the Legend of Zelda formula, but with Curse Crackers they are sticking with 2D and moving to the platformer genre.
On one side, you play as Belle, a happy-go-lucky circus performer who is just trying to go on a date when her rival steals her boyfriend. On the other side, there is talk about ancient gods being resurrected, prophecies, and a mysterious battlefield gravesite from ancient times. Similar to some of the best Nintendo platformers, Curse Crackers hides a lot of the challenges off the beaten path for those who go looking. The basic movement tech should be familiar to anyone who has played a 2D platformer, but the game introduces advanced elements such as bouncing off your floating bell, super jumps, and more.
While the demo doesn’t show too much of the hidden stuff, there are definitely signs that there is more than meets the eye to Curse Crackers, and I can’t wait to play more of it. - Josh Bycer
At this point, everyone has probably played or seen a deck-building rogue-like, but Foretales is set to deliver a deck-building choose your own adventure. Under the aesthetics of a tabletop game, you need to make decisions on how to respond to various location and event cards using the abilities of your team. Your choices will come back to haunt you based on sending more enemies to fight you, reducing your resources, or changing the story. Your tactics cards represent your available options, and resting is the only way to get them back at the cost of specific penalties.
The story involves you learning that the apocalypse is coming to the world and you’re the only one who knows what events are going to trigger it. You’ll need to figure out which events to handle in what order and how you accomplish them will change the story going forward. There is a lot going on with Foretales and I’m still not sure how they’re going to handle the “choices matter” portion of the game. If they can pull it off, this will a fantastic take on deck building and narrative storytelling. - Josh Bycer
Monster Prom 3: Monster Roadtrip
The first two games in the Monster Prom series immerse you in their trademark over-the-top high school dramas that find you trying to woo your favorite monster into accompanying you to the school dance. Monster Prom 3: Monster Roadtrip is developer Beautiful Glitch’s first divergence from this formula.
If you are familiar with the series already then you know that there are two ways to play Monster Prom. You either play using gut instincts and hope to have enough points at the end to ask someone to prom, or you dive into the metagame and figure out exactly what you need and how much to ask out the monster of your dreams or get that one ending that you’ve been dying to see.
Monster Roadtrip is different from the first two games in a couple of ways. First, instead of passing time at school or camp, you will be traveling from place to place in a rogue-lite style. Second, unless you have certain events happen to you, the goal of the game is not to romance anybody. Finally, you have to play the meta game because if your stats drop to zero you are packing your bags and going home, which can be frustrating since many of the options are pretty cryptic and it’s never clear whether you are making a good decision in talking with the other characters.
Depending on why and how you like the first two Monster Prom games all three of these things could be glaring red flags to you. This doesn’t feel like the same Monster Prom that you played with your friends, voice acting all of the lines, making fun of someone for revealing a kink on accident, and fist fighting over the chance to ask out certain characters.
But as I tried Monster Prom 3 I was met with event after event that put the hugest smile on my face, even laughing out loud at times. I came to the Monster Prom series for the chance to compete with my friends in a dating sim, but I stuck around until the third game to be told by a succubus that the term “horse girl” is not gender-inclusive and that we should embrace the horse girl in all of us.
The best point of entry here is still one of the two very endearing competitive dating sims that kicked off the series. Monster Prom 3 is different in formula but seems like it will be more brilliant writing and hilarious characters just in a new coat of paint, driving a beater car across the desert with a himbo werewolf and a party ghost with a drug problem. So if you are a fan already, this game will be a no-brainer to buy and you should wishlist it immediately.
Monster Prom 3: Monster Roadtrip is listed to release soon on Steam.
- Nathaniel Kelly
I come from an engineering background. I have a basic understanding of software development but I don’t have the skill set to have a real job in that field. That being said, Backfirewall_ has some of the nerdiest writing and gameplay implementations that I have ever seen in a game outside of Baba Is You.
Backfirewall_ is a first-person puzzle and adventure game in the vein of genre greats such as Portal and The Witness. You play as an update assistant installed onto a smartphone that is host to an operating system named OS9. You find out that it is your job to upload a new operating system called U, but as soon as you do, both you and OS9 will be deleted. To stop the system update you have to wreak havoc across the smartphone and cause a system reboot.
The puzzle system is intuitive for a generation that has used computers every day. Using abilities like delete has you actually press backspace on your keyboard while pointing at an object, or using control V to copy-paste objects in the world. Backfirewall_ as a demo is an excellent proof of concept that I am hoping stays fresh throughout the full release.
Something that grabbed my interest was the writer's ability to layer an engaging story on top of these deep software concepts without having to create a narrative veil over actual development terms and actions. I was absolutely floored by the story concept and I wanted to know everything from the 404 prankster in the basement to the gossipy emails of the user strewn about the levels.
Backfirewall_ left me wanting more by the end of it. I cannot wait for this game to come out and if you have been grinding your teeth waiting for the next good narrative puzzle experience as I have, then this will be something you will want to keep a close eye on.
All In! Games posts that Backfirewall_ will release on Steam and all major consoles in 2022. - Nathaniel Kelly
I just finished playing Slay the Spire about 6 months ago and it left a hole in my heart about the size of an ancient crow god. I briefly filled that hole with excellent tabletop games but I never found a good video game that replaced Slay the Spire's place in my game library. But I think that I just found a game that will.
Beneath Oresa is a deck-building rogue-lite dungeon crawler that has you getting into fights with ghouls in the dank sewers under Oresa. The game's structure is exactly like Slay the Spire, having you travel from stage to stage fighting monsters and seeing random events. You can pick two from what looks to be about 9 possible characters at full release.
When I booted the demo I was wary as the Borderlands 3D cell-shaded graphics and narrated story exposition greeted me. I picked the demo character and entered the dungeon for the first time not really knowing what to expect. I got into my first combat against three scrappy-looking ghouls and played my first card.
My eyes widened as my character leaped into slow motion leaving the ghoul suspended in mid-air like something out of a Warhammer 40,000 video game loading screen. Playing more cards caused the on-screen chaos to continue. Beneath Oresa is a real feast for the eyes.
Whether this is considered a positive or negative, the cards follow pretty similarly in the footsteps of Slay the Spire. This means that fans of the genre won’t need any type of tutorial or lessons to learn this game, but they will have to dive into the new systems to find the real changes that this game made to the foundation. It seems like most of the changes are minimal, however, we’ll have to wait for the full release to see the scope of these updates in the formula.
Beneath Oresa is a challenging deck-builder that continued to impress me with its promised scale and range of cast. But the game feels purely mechanical from what I had gathered in the demo. Most side activities were missing that flavor text that made Slay the Spire's world feel more alive and I am hoping that there is more story to discover in the full release or that I just got unlucky and didn’t have any appear for me.
As an avid player of deck-building games, I’ll be keeping tabs on this game because I want so badly for it to be good. That entirely depends on how much more the game can offer after the full release. I love the aesthetic and the combat system that they have woven together here. But the demo does not give me enough narrative, complexity, or variation to decide whether this is something that I would purchase on day one.
Broken Spear Inc. plans to release Below Oresa on Steam in 2022.
- Nathaniel Kelly
What happens when you combine the fantastic world of Spirited Away with the idea of moving to a new place and befriending all the neighbors to the best of your ability? You get Spirittea. Rather, your character brews it after moving to a small town in the middle of nowhere. A cat spirit appears, revealing that you are the new manager of the spirit bathhouse. I chose to accept immediately because the cat is very persuasive.
The art of the game is great, as is the music. You can vibe with the feel of this small town, where the residents either engage in the art of blacksmithing, bicycle repair, or painting by the sea. I admit I lacked a sense of direction so I was going everywhere to look for the first important person, a woman named Tifa. She gives you the tea leaves that you need to see the ghosts.
The rhythm of washing and drying the towels, cutting wood to put into the fire, and escorting the spirits to the tub was relaxing. I liked chopping the wood best, and hearing the towels sizzle as they heated for the guests. Best of all, you can only displease the spirits by mismanaging their sitting arrangements.
I do find some of the controls unwieldy, and the game is very well aware that it is a demo. If you try talking to any of the characters, after a while they say this is only the demo but they can hang out during the full game. The avatar skins also need a bit of work, but that can be fixed before the release to allow for more skin tones.
- Priya Sridhar
Steam Next Fest has become a celebrated yearly 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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