2022-11-05: Steam Next Fest 2022 highlights The Second
Whoah hey, remember that post I made about October 2022 Next Fest demos? Well, here's the second part with more demos. Not much else to say, really.
Call of Saregnar knows what it wants to be (a 90s medieval fantasy RPG), and from the demo it looks very much like its influences. An Ultima Underworld style UI, sprites made from photos of real people, a tactical combat minigame, side quests, cool lore, and, quite regrettably, an awful lot of walking. Even in the demo you'll be spending a lot of time holding down shift and the w key, a problem which I imagine will only get worse in the full game, and one that has put me personally off quite a few first person RPGs in the past. Still, the little glimpse of the world shows care and consideration being put into making the setting believable and complex, rather than a generic fantasy template copy job like some other, more gameplay-oriented, RPGs. The prose in general is remarkably good, and the world is introduced through appropriate dialogue and descriptions rather than simple lore dumps. There's an awful lot to like here, if you can get over all the god damn walking.
While I appreciate Failbetter Games' writing (Fallen London, Sunless Seas/Skies), I find their games extremely unfun to actually play. Sunless Seas has far too much grind and travel, and all of their games tend to turn potentially interesting narrative concepts into very uninteresting game resources which essentially inform you that you have acquired some quantity intrigue or mystery without actually giving you anything to read. It's a good thing then that Mark of the Rose seems to be to Fallen London what West of Loathing was to Kingdom of Loathing, a chance to ditch the awful grind and repetition of the original work and make something tight and focused, with a beginning and a middle and an actual honest to god end. The game bills itself as something of a romance VN, but the demo's story doesn't centre around the player character's love affairs at all - in fact, it's possible to disable romance and attraction interactions entirely when you start the game, if you want to keep it strictly platonic. I'm an avid romance VN avoider and I found it very enjoyable, for what it's worth.
If you think about it, this game's kind of the data entry equivalent of something like Forklift Simulator. Ignore the retro visuals, synth music, beeping mission timers, and webs of criminal conspiracy, and all you're really doing is searching and copying from databases. It's a fun way to deliver and investigative plot, though, as you're basically doing the investigating yourself, even if it's less in the style of Sherlock and more an underpaid office clerk. The unceremonious way in which twists are revealed is surprisingly effective, and because you're doing exactly what the protagonist is doing (though with less of a risk of capture and death) it's very easy to get immersed. The challenge seems to come from juggling requests from different parties and wrangling with the tiny memory of the Amigo machine you're snooping on, forcing you to pick and choose between which programs you have open at any one time and forcing you to wait for them to slowly load every time you want to switch. The demo was fairly lenient with what it expected you to do with the in-game hour, but I can see the full game quickly getting very stressful.
Turbo Kid is a mix of Metroidvania platformer and BMX game, and the end result is surprisingly tight. It feels like the bike is, at times, more optional than it should be in a game where cycling is what sets it apart from the rest of the genre, but even aside from that it's a good sounding and good looking game, set in a Mad Max-like world where the cars were traded in for bikes and skateboards. There's graffiti all over the walls, skater punks doing tricks in the background, and enemies armoured in sports gear. Not hugely original, but still a neat twist, and your bike - which you can instantly summon with a single button press - makes navigating the ramp-filled map a lot more interesting than the average backtracky platformer.
Tentacle Typer is a fever dream. It's a typing game, technically, but it would be more accurate to call it a text editor with a psychedelic, surreal, Lovecraft-inspired interface. You don't have to type anything specific to progress the game, it's not a test of typing speed or accuracy. You just type. You type whatever stream of consciousness your brain chooses to puke up (or mash the keyboard, if you're a cheater), and this way you level up skills, cast spells against enemies, and interact with the world. You can toggle between walking and typing, and in walk mode you can physically interact with books and switches, but typing mode is what releases the glowing streaks of energy that actually make shit happen. It kind of reminds me of a website I saw a while back, which basically forces you to type non-stop for a set amount of time and deletes everything if you stop for more than a couple of seconds before your time is up. It has game mechanics like combat and puzzles(??????) but it kinda feels more like a tool to get you writing than something you'd call a "typing game".
Another fine addition to the supergenre of games with time loops, this game takes the idea and applies it to a surreal horror adventure set in a supernatural hotel. It's becoming increasingly difficult to talk about these sorts of bizarre narrative-driven games without just repeating the shit out of myself, so here's a simple recommendation instead: the hour long demo was great fun and left me wanting more.
Speaking of genres, here's another two-button rhythm game. It looks cute and has a lot of visual polish and the selection of music is solid, mostly genres I would ambiguously describe as EDMy type electronica stuff that's good to tap along to, but again I have to wonder how much mileage you can get out of two (well, three i guess) buttons. The last few levels in the demo actually get really challenging even at normal difficulty, almost too much so for my musically challenged brain, so the game's answer seems to be "increasingly complex, fast note patterns". Considering I got filtered by the last level I suppose I can't fault the logic.
Very simply, this is Oregon Trail but in 2020 and you're a on a road trip to see all the national parks in the USA. It's a very intentionally whimsical and silly experience, with cabin fever instead of dysentery, comfort instead of health, and crew members who get fed up and leave instead of dying. At every stop there are minigames you can play for resources, and this is where the mobile origins of the game really start to show, with one game in particular having an awful virtual cursor which is borderline unusable without clicking and dragging in a straight line whenever you want to change direction. But it's cute, comfy, some of the minigames are actually quite fun, and it has fun facts about each of the national parks you go to. For example, did you know that there are an average of 2 black bears per square mile in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? I didn't, until I played the game! The full version of which is out now, by the way.
I'm not sure how to summarise Cognition Method. It's an atmospheric first person puzzle game which goes hard on two distinct aesthetics: abstract concrete dreamscapes, and 2001: A Space Odyssey retrofuturism. It's beautiful! It's a very pretty game to look at, though the short demo doesn't really show off much of the gameplay. The store page mentions altering gravity quite a few times, which tracks. There are a couple of navigation and box-and-button puzzles, but most of the demo is spent walking around and admiring the scenery, which is frankly playing to the game's strengths. I wouldn't mind if that was the whole game, frankly.
The Whispering Valley is a first person point and click adventure, in that the game behaves exactly like a normal FPS-style game would, but you click at your destination to teleport to it. I don't play many point and clicks so I don't know if this is unusual, but it stood out to me. That aside, the gameplay is standard point and click puzzle fare, including a puzzle that I had no idea how to solve until I looked up the solution. The narrative is no Monkey Island, though, it's going for some heavy, dark shit. Whatever happened to the village you're investigating, everyone is either dead, gone, or getting uncomfortably affectionate with a revolver. The demo is short, but the atmosphere is fantastic and the sound design is creepy as shit. Something to look out for, for sure.
Wavetale reminds me of action adventure platformers from the PS2 era. It has that time period's characteristic platforming and combat, mixed with high-speed surfing movement that the demo doesn't use for much beyond travelling between little islands. The art is cute and stylised and the animation is fluid, and the narrative seems to be a heart warming family friendly sort of deal that's not going to offend anyone's sensibilities. I don't have much to say, but it was fun.
Like Tentacle Typer from earlier, it's hard to give this game a fair summary. It's janky, the controls are strange, and the audio seems to constantly clip, but for all its faults there's a lot of soul that makes it a compelling, intriguing experience. You photograph strange creatures on a strange island, filling your compendium with pictures and lore of everything from sheep to supernatural dimensionality enforcers, manipulating time to activate portals that take you to even stranger dimensions with even stranger creatures. It's a bit of a trip.
Beautiful 2D metroidvania platformer with a combat system built around attacks which change based on the direction of your movement. The steampunkish fantasy world kinda reminds me of some late 90s and early 2000s JRPGs, but I couldn't say which because I never actually played them. Also like some 90s JRPGs, when you travel between levels you hop into an airship and shift to a retro 3D perspective, which might not be particularly mechanically relevant (yet??) but which is certainly a cool gimmick.
A game similar to the original Ultimas, though with a greater focus on story. The pixel art is great and the narrative compelling, and the prose (of which there is a fair bit) is fun to read. I don't play enough of these sorts of turn based RPG type games to comment on the gameplay, though - for what it's worth, the combat seems fairly standard, the only bit that stood out to me was that the lock picking is a humongous resource drain. Certainly a game I'd play for the narrative over the gameplay, personally.
A point and click adventure take on Obra Dinn's investigative gameplay, you are presented with a scene which you search for clues and keywords which you can use to fill in a document stating what fate befall which person, alongside other relevant details. Unlike Obra Dinn, it's divided into a set of smaller, isolated cases, rather than one large event to document. The game came out mid-October and seems to have gotten reasonably popular, which is always good to see.
This looks to be one of those slow, iterative games, where the narrative slowly reveals itself as you go about your daily business. Fishing, in this case, and selling your hauls for upgrades and trinkets. It's a very stereotypically Lovecraftian affair, with you as the new arrival in a small and isolated island village, discovering unusual beasties and suspicious personalities which lead you to discover darker and darker secrets lurking beneath. It's a fun premise, not altogether dissimilar to Failbetter's Sunless Sea, which I personally couldn't stand to play for any length of time because of the insufferably slow pace of everything. This seems a bit better on that front.
Egression has the honour of being the first VR game featured on the RICK ZONE, and to be frank it's mostly because I was impressed by the polish on display. The full game (out now!) has two levels, and you get to experience neither in the demo. Instead you get a tour from the narrator, some preliminary "tutorial" puzzles in the lobby, and a peek into the escape rooms you'll get in the full game. Probably the most literal "demonstration" I've ever played, though it certainly piqued my interest in the full game.
That's it. It's only been a month since Next Fest ended, and I got through all the demos I downloaded. There were good demos, there were bad demos, there were mediocre demos and broken demos, and I picked out the most interesting ones I played for you to maybe play and be interested in too. Obviously these aren't the only
good games in Next Fest, but I don't have enough motivation or varied taste to make a list of literally every demo worth playing. You'll just have to browse Next Fest yourself for that! Not that you can, at the moment. But I'm pretty sure there's like three Next Fests a year, so if you're itching to play some demos you don't really have to wait that long.