2022-10-27: Steam Next Fest 2022 highlights, feat. Vacant Kingdom

Valve did something quite unexpected recently. They said that you can only submit your game to Next Fest, the demo bonanza Steam runs three times a year, once EVER. I can imagine this might suck for devs who accidentally put out a broken demo, or who have to struggle to decide when the best time to publish is, but it's a godsend for freaks like me who used to sift through hundreds of the same fuckin demos they'd already seen five times before, in search of some actual new shit to play. Having played a fraction of the demos I actually downloaded, and going up like two full weeks after Next Fest ended, here are some choice picks from this brand new batch of demos.

But before we get into that, a shout out to Vacant Kingdom, a demo I played during the last Next Fest, and which actually came out! Part bullet hell, part puzzler, and part talk-to-quirky-characters-'em-up, this game is ridiculously cheap for how much content there is. Great music, tight and fleshed out mechanics clearly developed by someone with a passion for the genre, some genuinely witty dialogue, Vacant Kingdom is a great time from start to end, except for those tricky puzzle bits that I usually brute force because I'm too stupid to logic my way through. But wait, are you a seasoned "danmakan" who needs to be stuck in a hailstorm of bullets to even break a sweat? Do you have two left hands and can barely navigate a text document, let alone a bullet hell? Fortunately for you, the game has three difficulty settings that go from extremely forgiving, to normiecore, to "I got stuck on the first boss in the game". There really is, something for everyone.

Vacant Kingdom screenshot

With that honourable mention out of the way, here are some actual demos you can go play RIGHT NOW, even though NEXT FEST IS OVER, because they DIDN'T ACTUALLY TAKE THEM DOWN. Legends.

Retro Gadgets

Starting off with an interesting Shenzhen IO style gadget creation kit, which is as deep as it is opaque (right now, owing to the lack of any real tutorials). Lots of components to mess around with, from simple LEDs to programmable processors, with a burgeoning Steam Workshop scene to make you feel totally inadequate about your basic inventions. Not my sort of game, but I do love to test other players' weird creations.
Retro Gadgets screenshot


This game is literally playable Tombi rule 63. The controls are tight (but kinda finger-twisty), the low poly visuals are cute and vibrant and just generally fun to look at, and there's plenty of family-friendly fanservice to give the horndogs something to appreciate. The demo's remarkably polished, as far as these things go.
Doubleshake screenshot


The pixel art is slick and the music is enjoyable, but the real highlight here is the super fluid and varied movement. There's a lot of potential here, but now they have the job of actually making funky levels to exploit the movement mechanics as much as possible. Can they do it? I hope so.
Gunbrella screenshot

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider

Amazing music, great pixel art, but otherwise a fairly conventional difficult Ninja Gaiden-style platformer. It's fun, but I don't have much to say about it, you know?
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider screenshot

Rhythm Quest

This is a rhythm game with FANTASTIC chiptune/electronic music and very addictive gameplay. It's only two buttons, a la Muse Dash, but there's quite a lot of effort put into making the levels feel varied and engaging. I'm not sure how much mileage you can get out of such a simple control scheme, but if Muse Dash is any indication then it might be a lot more than I would expect.
Rhythm Quest screenshot

Blue June

A Playdeadlike, to be somewhat uncharitable. It sets up an interesting mystery, but the demo doesn't show off much more than the art and some simple puzzles.
Blue June screenshot

Out Of Hands

What is it with deck builders and having bombass aesthetics? I don't particularly care for the gameplay (which seems like it might be a bit simplistic for deckbuilding connoisseurs), but the style and atmosphere and narrative are very compelling. Most of the pictures in the game seem to have been taken by the developer - and in many cases, are of the developer - which makes the visuals equal parts charming, unsettling, and remarkably consistent.
Out Of Hands screenshot

LOUD: My Road to Fame

Another rhythm game, this time with SIX buttons rather than two. Not sure if that means it's three times better, but the punk rock soundtrack is solid and the controls are mapped intuitively to controller buttons. The main character talks too much though.
LOUD screenshot

Master of Earth

The demo doesn't make it clear what to expect. Platforming? Puzzles? Combat? Exploration? The atmosphere is solid and the demo's boss fight is fun in a janky "is this how I was meant to pull it off?" sort of way, but the demo is so short that the full game really could be anything.
Master of Earth screenshot

Bioframe Outpost

Not really my thing, but I can see the appeal. A metroidvania where you use a camera to photograph machines, flora, and fauna to discover more about what makes each member of the ecosystem tick, and stoke interactions between them to progress. The narrative comes across as very generic science fiction fare (aliems fuck up an offworld colony, everyone dead), but the visuals are solid, and the gameplay will probably please people who like 2D exploration games.
Bioframe screenshot

Atlas Wept

Is it still an Earthbound-inspired RPG if you're mostly taking mechanics and themes from Undertale? At least it looks the part. Either way, this game's a quirky Earthbound/Undertale-inspired RPG about a pack of kids going on zany adventures which probably involve feelings. This is the weakest recommendation on this list, though, because this demo is all filler. Lots of fighting the same enemies, lots of walking back and forth, and lots of winding dungeons full of weird bugs and anthropomorphic logs. Look, I'm a sucker for quirky Undertale-inspired games and the trailer had some cool shit in it, but the demo's pacing was slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad within the context of a full game, but for a demo the pacing was way off.
Atlas Wept screenshot


2D spectacle fighter with banging music, lots of combos and weapons, and an actual demo mode! In a demo! Imagine that. This one's very fun, even if the demo gear made it hard to get an impression of what gameplay would be like when you first start off and have no items to help carry you. It also has a very strange visual style, almost like they constructed the levels out of photo collage assets. It works well enough, but looks kinda cheap? I dunno. Also, the game came out three days after the start of Next Fest, so you can buy the full version now!
ASTLIBRA screenshot

QUO: Within The Backrooms

I wanted to hate it. The backrooms are one of the worst slices of internet horror around, having gone from a weird parallel reality full of nothing but carpet and yellow wallpaper to Papa's Creepypastaria, and this game is diving headfirst into treating it as an off-brand SCP full of off-brand SCPs. But, it scratched an itch for bizarre architecture and dreamlike aesthetics that has gone unsatisfied since Control. So, with reluctance and resentment, I admit I like QUO and its stunning visuals and remarkably restrained atmospheric horror. But if there are any jumpscares in the full game, it will instantly become irredeemable Youtuber bait GARBAGE. That's where I draw the line.
QUO screenshot

The Multi-Medium

Another case of great style, great music, fun concept, and serviceable-at-best gameplay. I like looking at and listening to this game, but playing it gives me deja vu of every puzzle-platformer ever created, albeit with more floaty controls. Still, it's enjoyable enough. If your favourite game mechanic is flipping switches, you're in for a treat.
The Multi-Medium screenshot


Charming little adventure game where you swap between two protagonists, a nimble but defenseless blob who's adept at platforming, and a sword-wielding knight who's great at hacking and slashing but unaware of how to jump. The game has a somewhat surreal, disassociative feel to it, but that might just be because I was tired when I played it. Either way, while the gameplay was nothing revolutionary, the game's industrial-fantasy setting feels creative and fun to explore, and there are plenty of collectibles stashed away in tricky to reach spots to reward you for creative platforming.
DROS screenshot

The Last Shot

2D puzzle platformer with amazing style and a hell of a lot of character, though the elaborate and busy art sometimes makes it hard to tell what you're actually meant to be interacting with. It feels like playing an old European cartoon.
The Last Shot screenshot

Slay the Princess

Well, well, well, if it isn't a subversive horror visual novel a lack of regard for the fourth wall which plays with established genre tropes... With full voice acting! As spoilt by the name, you're a brave adventurer about to reach the climax of your epic quest to kill the princess. What happens next? Play the demo and you'll find out.
Slay the Princess screenshot

A2 Zygon

Retro bullet hell shooter with tight controls and a strong NES-style aesthetic. The demo is very short, but what's there seems promising, if a bit easy.
A2 Zygon screenshot

And that's it for now. This post might have been more terse than usual, but it dawned on me that I simply can't make up enough bullshit to give every game its own paragraph, especially if I want to keep posting more of these things in the future. That's not necessarily a bad thing though - the aforementioned bullshit is just filler to make these posts seem like a bit more than just lists of games, but the games are what you're actually here for, so maybe just a list of games is enough.

Oh yeah, I played 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim recently, but I don't have enough to say about it to give it its own post, so here's my condensed review: the protagonists talk too much, it's very long, and it reminds me of Homestuck. Fun game, recommend. Ok bye.