It’s that time of the season, where every indie in the universe scrambles to get a demo put together for Steam’s ever-more bloated Next Fest. A seemingly good idea, the endeavour encourages indies to better promote their games, and potential customers to add them to their Wishlists. And if you’re wondering how you can best help an indie out, it’s Wishlisting: that teaches Steam’s wayward algorithms that it should want to push the game in front of more people.
Here’s a selection of interesting demos I’ve discovered while poking around at the 700-odd on offer this week.
Wow, this is properly brill. A turn-based battler, played out in manuscript-style illustrations. Each team has a Tiny Inkulinati, their team leader, who can draw new characters to be in their army. Perhaps a swordsrabbit, spear-weilding dog, or archer-donkey. Then, each turn you must hand out instructions to each unit, calculating the best moves to better take out the enemy. Think 2D Advance Wars, but with more finger-poking. There’s a lot to it, but thankfully the demo contains meticulous instructions, and even a thicko like me was able to pick it up pretty quickly. This is definitely one to watch. Although I really hope it picks a more memorable name before release. My suggestions: Manuscription, Codex, or simply, Marginalia.
- Yaza Games
This is a very short demo, but indicative of a game I really would like to play. It’s presented like a colourful Inside, but thankfully plays like an adventure. You’re a girl at college who is having deeply peculiar dreams, seeemingly centered around some sort of car crash. And if you’re not sure you’re dreaming at the start, the enormous whale that swims through the sky should be something of a giveaway.
The demo teases a mixture of playing her real-life times at college, and the peculiarities of her dreams, all while solving puzzles, gathering inventory items, and running away from the horrible monsters.
- Tiny Dodo
With publishing by Raw Fury, Superfuse feels like a good-old-fashioned hack-n-slasher, with plenty of loot, stats to tweak, and clothing items to incessantly replace. The cartoony presentation is lovely, and this demo gives you 15 minutes a time with two possible characters, set at level 10 with a bunch of extra abilities thrown in so you can enjoy yourself.
- Stitch Heads / Raw Fury
Undecember asks the question: what if you took Diablo, but set it somewhere more interesting? This is a very established, fully-fledged hack-n-slash, arriving from a previous existence as a mobile game. The demo begins with a prologue in which you play a gloriously OP character, before then reseting things to a more sensible place some ten years later. Beyond that, this is fairly standard Diablo-like fare, but for a really interesting skills setup where arranging the hexagonal abilities affects how each is beefed up by various boosts. With voice acting, cutscenes, and at no point the suggestion of an in-app purchase, this has got my attention.
- Needs Games / LINE Games
This is a very by-the-numbers point-n-click, but oftentimes that’s exactly what I want. I find them comforting, like a cosy blanket, just methodically clicking inventory items in the inventory items-shaped hole. The short demo starts you off in Chapter 6, with no real explanation of what’s going on, except that you, a young woman, and some guy, appear trapped in some underground rooms. You need a bolt cutter, and to get it you’ll need the fuse, and to get it you’ll need the paperclip, and… You know the deal. There’s really nice cartoon art to go with it all.
- Early 2023
This is SUCH an interesting approach to an adventure game. Big, bright, cartoony graphics, belying a game about Gen-Z malaise, featuring a young man struggling to find work to pay the rent. Except, when he gets stressed, he grows enormously tall. The demo shows off how frequently the game changes how it’s played, featuring point-n-click puzzles, a peculiar keyboard-tapping bicycling mini-game, and best of all, a series of calming breathing exercises that visualise floating through space. The Spanish translations need another pass, but this is shaping up to be a really interesting project.
- Dead Pixel Games