For anyone who does not know what Steam Next Fest is, it is a weeklong celebration where fans can download demos, watch livestreams, and learn about upcoming indie games. This is the first Steam Next Fest iv’e seen since building my first PC, so I wanted to dive into some of the over nine hundred titles that were available to play.
I ended up playing around twenty-three different independent games in all shapes and sizes, and found these seven captured my interest the most. These games range from a relaxing city builder with romance options, to a hockey roguelike, and all of them I think you should keep a close eye on for their future releases.
Cook, Serve, Forever – Release Date: April 2023
I have not played a Cook, Serve series game since the first one, but this demo pulled me right back into the fast-paced cooking sim. The way this game handles making the orders, it is less of a traditional restaurant sim and more of a rhythm game. Once I started getting into the flow, I was easily able to stack up long combos in the demo. From what I remember in the first game in this series, the demo gives off more relaxed vibes which lean into the solarpunk art style that the game is going for. Further expanding on the game’s premise, there is the promise of “optional side quests” which would be a first for the series.
There was not too much in this demo to sink your teeth into, but the game is coming out in a relatively short time with a tentative release date on Steam of April 2023. If frantic cooking sims like Overcooked cause your anxiety, I would be looking into Cook, Serve, Forever when it releases.
Bleak Sword DX – Release Date: 2023
An upgraded version of an Apple Arcade exclusive, Devolver Digital is bringing lo-fi dark fantasy world to PC and Switch this year. What really stuck to me when I first booted it up was the way it has its camera set up, it gives it the style of a diorama where the characters on screen go in and out of focus depending on how close to the edge they are. The combat has a similar cadence to Tunic with every attack, dodge, or block having weight to it, so you cannot button mash because of the stamina bar.
Bleak Sword DX is adding a “DX” mode which features new level layouts and new enemies. It also features the classic mode from the original. I could see myself going for “one more run” on a constant basis, and I am looking forward to its release this year.
Tape to Tape – Release Date: 2023
From the outside, Tape to Tape looks like another generic hockey game that is trying to capture the style of older arcade sports titles like NHL 94, but below the surface is something more exciting. The game features a rogue-like campaign that features an overworld where you travel the map with your ragtag group of hockey hooligans. The map has random events, teams for you to play against, and rest spots for you to level up your squad. You also gain artifacts that change how certain things work, like low gravity for the puck or the game time speeds up if your team is in the lead.
With the simulation market for sport games tied up by two giant publishers, I am overjoyed for there to be new sports games that have unique genres added to them, and this Kickstarter-backed hockey rouge-like appears to be a great start.
Radio the Universe – Release Date: TBA
This is a game that I had not heard about before but was drawn into it by the art style that was on its Steam demo page. Doing some research on the game, it has been in the release pipeline since 2012, with its latest release date attached to the project being 2020. Now that the demo has been released via Steam Next Fest, it seems that the long wait has paid off.
The game features an atmospheric, desolate city that combines elements of cyberpunk and gothic styles. You play as an unnamed character that is making their way through the maze of rooms that makes up the city, using the game’s slow animation combat to fight androids that have survived whatever disaster has struck this world. Besides the presented style, the game also features verticality that similar action-adventure games lack. The combat adds on an additional layer to consider when fighting enemies, if your last attack deals the same amount of damage that the enemy has health, then they always drop cells which is the game’s currency.
This Kickstarter-backed project still does not have a new release date attached but hopefully with the demo coming out, it is getting closer to a full release because I cannot wait to dig deeper into this game’s world.
Fall of Porcupine – Release Date: 2023
If you have been wanting a narrative adventure game set in the world of healthcare, then Fall of Porcupine is for you. The tone the game gives off is a combination of a medical serial drama with Night in the Woods inspired 2D animation. Within the short prologue that was released for Steam Next Fest, the game makes clear that the story will dive into how flawed western healthcare systems are. The gameplay is built around protagonist Finley and you are interacting with patients, treating their illnesses, and performing quick-time events to provide a diagnosis. The town of Porcupine is going to be explorable, with interactable townspeople who you can have conversations with.
The game does not have a firm release date besides sometime in 2023, but this demo gives me confidence that the developer is moving in the right direction.
Fabledom – Release Date: Q1 2023 (Early Access)
City builders and sims are those genres that are major time sinks for me. I will sit down to play a quick thirty minutes and end up spending a few hours instead. Sometimes the simulation aspect can get overly complicated and stressful, but Fabledom goes for a more relaxed fairy-tale style of building your village while looking for romance as a prince or princess. The demo starts with the light story being told like a storybook, then you pick where on the map you want your village to start at with the map being randomized and can be rerolled if you do not like what the game gives you.
The game does not revolutionize the genre but does provide straightforward and approachable mechanics that make this a definite for anyone offput by this type of game before. The art style is extremely cute, and I am looking forward to seeing how the Civilization-style diplomacy system works in the actual release. I am going to keep my eye on Fabledom when it enters early access this year.
Planet of Lana – Release Date: Spring 2023
This has been on my radar for a while now, being a huge fan of Limbo and Inside. The game has a similar gameplay, with an emphasis on animation for the cinematic puzzle gameplay. The story follows a young girl and her furry cat-like companion as they traverse this beautiful world that is contrasted with invading machines. What I could pick up on through the demo, you are going to be trying to save the colorful planet before it is ruined by the robots. Something that jumped out to me was how you use the companion to interact with puzzles, commanding it to stay, jump, run, or follow. It felt comparable to Boy and his Blob with how the characters interacted with one another.
I do not think that Planet of Lana will change your mind on this style of game if Limbo or Inside did not click with you, but seeing this type of adventure game in a more colorful setting than those previous games make me overjoyed.
There were many great demos that were a part of Steam Next Fest and some of them are still available to play. If any of these games sound appealing or interesting to you, then check on Steam to see if the demo is still available. My only critique of the weeklong initiative that Steam did was trying to find more games with the way it surfaced demos. It was hard to find more niche titles that were not among the most popular or most downloaded, and with hundreds of demos, that likely means a lot of games got buried. Hopefully Steam does a better job next time, so more games can be exposed to an audience. Overall, it was a great experience, and I am looking forward to updates and the upcoming releases of all these games! ~ Cody
Cody’s first experience with video games was Spot Goes to Hollywood for the Sega Genesis. Since that
moment, he has become enamored with the storytelling video games can offer. He enjoys it when his
writing can put a spotlight on video games that are trying to push the boundaries of the medium and
really advance what we think of a video game forward.
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