6 Unmissable Demos From the Latest Steam Next Fest
While this is hardly the first time I’ve covered a Steam Next Fest for HPP, this time things will be a little different. Instead of providing a massive list of potential games you should check out that I haven’t had time to play myself, for this Next Fest I did the extra work. I played about a dozen different demos, and narrowed my list down to the must play titles in October 2022. I’ll list all 6 titles alphabetically below, as well as some compelling reasons you should download them ASAP.
Steam Next Fest Demo #1 – 9 Years of Shadows
I know, I know. I just demoed 9 Years of Shadows at PAX West and I loved it. But here’s the thing – the demo provided to the public during Steam Next Fest is updated and has a lot of neat new features! For one thing, this demo provided a bit more backstory for the game. The setting is truly apocalyptic, and our hero Europa gives her best shot to defeat the evil that’s erasing color and hope from her world. Unfortunately, she fails miserably, and is defeated by a massive shadowy reaper. The good news is, she gets a second chance from her magical friend, Apino.
Turns out, the black and white area I played through at PAX West was just Europa’s first attempt to save her world. With Apino’s help, not only does Europa get a new lease on life, but color is returned. And it’s so visually stunning that I want to just sit and marvel at every corner of the game’s environment. But you’re not here for a photo safari, so I’ll touch on more of the new features. For one thing, I got to meet a lot more people in the castle I explored. It looks like each character will not only serve a story purpose, providing quests in one case, but also can help Europa upgrade herself. I really appreciate the game’s focus on beauty and music, and how they both reinforce the gameplay itself.
New to the demo was a challenging boss fight against what looked like a hammer-wielding dwarf. He used a nasty spin attack, and uprooted chunks of earth with every swing. But with a little patience and my handy double jump, I managed to defeat the brain-addled foe, who Apino seemed familiar with. While most of the basics in this demo were familiar from my PAX West adventures, this demo put the entire game in better perspective, and showcases how complete it already feels. That said, we still have another month or so until 9 Years of Shadows launches, but I’m more confident now than ever that this will be one of the best Metroidvanias to release in a long, long time.
Steam Next Fest Demo #2 – CESSPOOL
At some point I realized none of the games I was demoing during Steam Next Fest were classic RPGs. So I browsed a bit and found CESSPOOL. I wasn’t familiar with the game before today, but some research showed it was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. All I know is that it’s a game with a really attractive pixelated style. The world map is illustrated in a very basic NES format, but the artwork in the combat sections is much more compelling. Also important, it’s a game that involves an astronaut monkey!
What I can attest from a little time with CESSPOOL is that it’s a really fun game. At first they teach you the basics of wandering the world map and initiating combat by getting close to enemy icons. Once battle starts, you use timed prompts to deal more damage and protect your team. What I found especially interesting was that defending utilized directional inputs while attacks just used standard buttons. You can also stun foes with well timed attacks, which was vital for beating the first boss fight in the demo.
Just when I thought I was done and credits started to scroll, I realized I could wander more, so I did. There’s no wasted space on the world map. It all hides treasure chests and enemy encounters. As I wandered I found a new friend named Arthur who could tank damage, and assisted me in my quest to recover my missing monkey. CESSPOOL is set in a really dystopian world that reminded me of Mad Max by way of Lovecraft. The latter because the main character hears voices in her head that I’m pretty sure don’t belong to her. Though I did find a few minor glitches in the demo that I hope are ironed out before release, I still really enjoyed my time with the game.
Steam Next Fest Demo #3 – Flowstone Saga
I’ll just be upfront – I’m a backer of Flowstone Saga. Despite that, I’ve never played the game before today, so all of these impressions are still through the lens of a wide-eyed newcomer. The reason I was drawn in by Flowstone Saga originally was thanks to Puzzle Quest. I was incredibly addicted to that game’s mixture of match-3 and light RPG elements. It was simple but it worked well, and hid surprising amounts of nuance and challenge. So when I saw a game that mixed Tetris mechanics with RPG gameplay, I knew it was for me. And so far, I’m very happy I backed this project.
One thing that stands out about this demo was how massive it was. I generally play a demo and then delete it to conserve space on my laptop. But I didn’t do that with Flowstone Saga, since it quickly became clear the demo is huge. I spent a half hour or so playing it, and I didn’t nearly do everything I could in the demo. Better yet, you can return to it later to increase the challenge and encounter new enemies. Which is great, since the basic gameplay loop is a ton of fun. By matching Flowstones and using Link Crystals, you can attack and interrupt foes. You can also use different skills based on your class. In the demo, mine was turning any piece into a long, narrow block, which was very handy.
That’s just the very basics of how the game works. You can also use red and green tiles to deal more damage and heal yourself, respectively. Plus there’s something called the Heat Meter to help heap on the pain. You can even use blocks to repair structures on the world map, as well as RPG conventions like equipping items and leveling up. All this on top of great writing and an interesting premise. If you love dynamic hybrids, put this one on your radar. And definitely check out the Flowstone Saga demo!
Steam Next Fest Demo #4 – Rhythm Sprout
This isn’t the first time HPP has covered Rhythm Sprout. We covered the initial announcement of the game, and I actually demoed it at a previous Steam Next Fest. But since tinyBuild and SURT put out a new demo, I decided to share my latest impressions of the delightfully absurd rhythm game. Firstly, in case you missed it, Rhythm Sprout is insane, but in the very best of ways. There’s lots of tongue in cheek humor, crazy characters and laugh out loud moments. Such as when a seemingly nice little apple got really agitated when questioning if I had wishlisted the game, and when I selected that I had, he got a wee bit enamored of me. It’s just that sort of game, which I personally find very entertaining.
While this Rhythm Sprout demo does share several stages with the earlier one, there’s a lot of new features. Such as alternating wildly left and right to do extra damage to candy criminals. Or using a meter to heal my little onion knight and make all notes work with a single input. There’s even EX Modes after you beat a stage, but I was more than a little intimidated by those, since the harder stages wiped the floor with me.
Despite that, I really enjoyed my time with this demo. Not only is it constantly hilarious, but it’s plenty difficult. So much so that I considered playing on an easier difficulty for the last stage, which I could not beat despite several attempts. If you’re a fan of rhythm games and aren’t afraid of challenge, then I’d definitely play the Rhythm Sprout demo. While I lament I wasn’t able to beat all the stages, I still thought this was a hell of a lot of fun. Plus I have to play the full version to see how much of a jerk Count Arelle truly is!
Steam Next Fest Demo #5 – Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider
Keen eyed readers will note that Francis recently did a really fantastic, in-depth preview of Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider. And while he is absolutely the go-to expert on all things Shinobi, I’ve actually been following Moonrider for a longer period of time. I’ve been following it since it had no official title, and was just a series of Danilo Diaz’s artwork on Twitter. So I couldn’t pass up the chance to throw in my 10 cents about the upcoming adventure.
First of all, JoyMasher are experts of their craft. It’s really amazing how well they emulate games long past, but with a fresh spin and coat of paint. They did it with Blazing Chrome and Odallus: The Dark Call, and they’re clearly succeeding again with Moonrider. The demo offered a tutorial which I gladly tried out, since I’m not someone that has played any Shinobi games. I learned how to dash, triple slash, kick and wall jump with relative ease. I appreciated the weight and physics of the game, and feel I’d master them with a bit more experience. The initial area was an ominous weapons lab, and the boss that guarded the way out was pretty horrifying. I admit I lost to it once, but then figured out I needed to kick it repeatedly when it exposed its weak point.
The second stage was a lot more challenging, and I did my best to navigate the aerial sections. Jumping from hovercraft to hovercraft, dodging gouts of flame and lasers, and dealing with irritating shuriken-tossing enemies. I admit I would have loved another boss, but since I got to deal with a wireframe boss and the other one, I can’t complain too much. Though I was a touch irritated how long it took my gamepad to connect to the game, and how often it seemed to disconnect at inopportune moments. Regardless, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider absolutely lived up to my hype, and I can’t wait until I can play it on my favorite handheld!
Steam Next Fest Demo #6 – Wavetale
As a fan of unique publishers that take good risks, I’ve grown fond of the titles published by Thunderful over the years. One of my only complaints during PAX West was that I wasn’t able to demo all their roster of titles, mostly notably Wavetale. There was just something about the game that spoke to me, even though I was a little worried it would be too open-world. After spending some time with the Steam Next Fest demo of the game, I can confidently say this is one of my most anticipated upcoming titles.
One thing that immediately drew me to Wavetale was the aesthetic style. It’s like a cel-shaded watercolor painting, and it’s shockingly adept at showcasing emotion. You play as Sigrid, who is trying to protect her grandma and her world from a strange phenomenon. A huge wave sweeps in, and then what appear to be living shadows start infesting the land and enveloping humans. Sigrid shows anger, sadness and joy as you play. But the coolest part of the demo other than the emotional art style is the way it plays.
Early on, Sigrid notices what appears to be a merwoman shadow. For whatever reason, the shadow wants to help you. She does so by walking upside-down on the surface of the water. Why, you ask? So Sigrid can step on her feet and thus walk across water! It’s weird and beautiful, and it makes traversing the watery world of Wavetale a joy. You can zoom around, but it’s also fun to use Sigrid’s net to explore. She can swing it overhead to float, as well as latching onto distant areas to zip towards them. In the demo most of your time is spent finding Sparks and then returning them to your lighthouse, clearing the land of the mysterious shadows. You’ll also do some light combat, but that was far less interesting than just exploring. I can say I’m very excited for Wavetale after playing it, and am especially excited it’s coming to consoles.
And there you all have it! 6 demos you absolutely need to try out during the October Steam Next Fest. You still have plenty of time to check them out, so what are you waiting for? Plus if you find any other amazing demos, feel free to share them in the comments section below!