The latest Steam Game Festival, which are starting to come so quickly they feel like they cover the brief gaps between Steam Sales, is a far more approachable event than any previously. While I completely love the motivation behind these events – to get people interested in smaller games before they’re finished, wishlisting them and following their development – it’s fair to say they’ve suffered from the same issues that plague Steam on every level: noise.
Steam is a miserably noisy place, with upward of fifty (50!) games a day being released, to say nothing of DLC, demos, software and so on. Finding anything that isn’t already well known is such a tortuous process that… well, that this site needs to exist. The same was becoming increasingly a problem in these Game Festivals, with over 1,000 demos available for barely a week, and only the store’s abysmal algorithms to “curate” them for you. So I’m really impressed to see a response to that: this February’s Festival features just (just?) 500 demos. Still so many that it can feel overwhelming, but a number that becomes much more manageable when broken down by genre.
So I encourage you to go have a sniff around in there yourself. Pick a genre, then scroll down to a sub-genre you enjoy, then scroll through the dozen or so games you’ll have narrowed it down to by then. There’s bound to be a fair few things that’ll grab you.
That’s still a lot of work, of course. So I’ve gone through it too, played a whole bunch of what’s there, and offer you a few suggestions for what’s definitely worth downloading before the week is over. And if it’s already too late, think of them as mini-previews, games worth a click on that Wishlist button. There aren’t so many here, despite my playing a lot, because my standards are pretty high, and, well, yeah – extrapolate as you will. But by far and away Beacon Pines is my top recommendation.
I’d not seen anything of this game before, and goodness me, I’m so glad I’ve seen it now. Far too many games use a book as their framing device, turning pages at new chapters or what have you. Beacon Pines embraces the idea entirely, played out within the book’s illustrations. As you play you find “Turning Points”, moments where you can choose a word to enter into the book’s story, selected from charms you’ve gathered. The more you have, the more options you have for how you influence the story. You’re writing the book as you play it, as it shifts beautifully between the pages and the fullscreen illustrations themselves.
However, it’s a story you can turn back through, and change that decision to see how a different words would have led to different situations – something that is so intriguing as a mechanic, rather than a save-cheesed cheat. So as you play you’ll reach endings, even see characters die, but the charms you might gather in the process can then be applied to earlier points, taking things off in a new direction. Man that sounds so good. The examples in the demo certainly prove it. The first time you go through the early moments, your friend is unable to come with you on your adventure, and… let’s say it goes badly. The second time, with the new word gathered, he can come with you, and so everything changes.
This demo is to support a Kickstarter, which is already two-thirds toward its goal. And it’s a damned effective demo too – this already feels extremely solid, the art is just storybook perfect, it’s charmingly written, and the idea of repeatedly rewriting a story as a gaming mechanic absolutely intrigues me. And wow, yeah, keep playing after the demo tells you it’s over. Oh, and I should add, despite initial appearances, this is no children’s picture book. It’s a grown up game for grown ups, for reasons I shall not give away.
- Developer: Hiding Spot Games
- Release Date: 2021
Osteoblasts gets something right that too many games (and indeed all mediums) get wrong. Cats are the goodies, dogs are the baddies. Don’t @ me. So on the side of Right for once, you play as a skeletal feline raised from the dead by Witch Cat. You are tasked to descend into the unnatural burrows of dog-kind, fighting their canine minions, and – crucially – recovering your stolen tomatoes.
I mean, if you need more than the last four words of the previous sentence, I’m afraid we’re never going to understand each other. But it’s worth adding that this is a cutely presented pixel RPG, with JRPG-style battles, and promises of a stat system that should get fairly complicated in the full game. Here it throws a lot of information about them at you, but honestly, you don’t need to read any of it yet – just hit and hope and you’ll get through all the fights in the demo.
It’s very funny, with some lovely writing throughout, including even extra bits written to reference its demo status. It’ll definitely need to get a bit more complex in terms of the nature of its dungeons to keep my attention, but the promise of a complicated set of stats to influence battles – including six different gods to pledge each gained level to – suggests it’s going places.
- Developer: Moonana
- Release Date: 12 Feb 2021
I’m pretty much bringing this one to your attention for the art at the moment, since this Another World-esque platformer currently needs a lot of work on its controller controls.
Because what art. It’s all pixel loveliness, but not just in the side-scrolling levels – the cutscenes are gorgeous pieces of animation too. The camera swoops through the sky, over hills, and revealing new locations. There are close-up scenes of your character interacting with items that even further evoke the Another World associations, but the overall art is a much chunkier affair.
Playing with a controller is far too clumsy right now, and jumping is ludicrously on pressing “up”, for which it has a rather unique understanding. Holding the analogue to the right is as likely to have crouch or leap as run, which leads to far too many accidental deaths. But when that’s all tidied up, I really look forward to digging further into this.
- Developer: Canari Games
- Release Date: 2021
Here’s a phrase I love to say when starting a new game: “Oh, look at that!” These were the words I uttered out loud to an empty house when I saw how Tiny Room drops in and pulls out walls when rotating the scenes. It’s a lovely touch, in what plays out as a fairly standard post-room-escape adventure. A genre name I’ve just made up, but bear with me.
Gaming does seem to keep evolving its way back the point-and-click adventures, in the previous decade via hidden object games, and in the last decade via room escape games. A generation that’s enjoyed clicking all over a screen to get out of a bunker naturally, now free, wants to explore the outside world. Thus games like Tiny Room Stories, which apply similar principles of object gathering and keycode solving to larger situations. Here you’re a detective, visiting an apparently abandoned town after a call from your now-missing father. Through exploring each location and solving the very room-escapy puzzles, you dig further into the mystery.
This needs a lot of work on its English translation, and that worries me a little given it’s supposed to be out at the end of this month. But I really like the art, and I’m a sucker for these sorts of clicky point-and-clickers, especially now they’re expanding into full-length stories.
- Kiary Games
- 26 February 2021