Highlights from Steam Next Fest October 2021

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Steam Next Fest is a recurring event dedicated to playing demos of games releasing in the near future–hundreds of them even! This event was actually brought to my attention earlier this year, but it came at a time where I just couldn’t participate due to a busy schedule. That was fortunately not the case when they announced the October edition, so this is my first time participating!

All of the demos I’ve played were streamed over at Twitch. As much as I would like to talk about all of them individually, I figured I would be best off just keeping it at highlights for now to avoid a mess of an article. About 30 demos have been played in total over the past week, with my main focus going to some of my favourite genres like Platformer, Metroidvania, Racing, but also a few others like Action and Adventure.

Before I start highlighting some of my favourites however, there are a few things I have to address first:

  • So first of all, and most obvious, is that I wasn’t able to play every single demo out there. There are about 700 in total so even if I stayed up all day and did nothing else but play demos, I still wouldn’t be anywhere close to that number.
  • Second, these highlights aren’t really in any particular order. These are the games I wanted to talk about and share with the world, with the hope that many people end up discovering these games.
  • Finally, I’m playing games on a Windows 7 OS. I… didn’t think I would have to mention this, but apparently indie developers are making the shift towards not developing for Windows 7 anymore. My opinions on that development aside, this means that I was unable to try out some demos that I really wanted to give a shot, like Lumione and Into the Pit. Yeah, I know I should upgrade already, but the PC market right now is a complete disaster and I don’t want any of that.

So without further ado, these are the games that have impressed me the most over the past week!


Gastova: The Witches of Arkana

Gastova is a light-hearted 2D adventure game. As the Witch Guardian of Arkana, embark on a journey to track down and defeat the fellow witches that were once Gastova’s classmates and/or closest friends.

Gastova: The Witches of Arkana was the first game I tried during the Steam Next Fest because coincidentally, it was also the only game that was already on my wishlist. So even if it wasn’t for this event, it would have been a game that I was highly likely to get. The demo only strengthened my desire to get this great game, inspired by some of my favourite retro games like Wonder Boy and Mega Man.

The demo definitely gave me the feeling that the developers know what made the inspirations special. The action-platforming gameplay was most similar to Mega Man, with a satisfying ”buster shot” that will eventually evolve into various shots with how the game progresses. Meanwhile, the exploration felt far closer to Wonder Boy, facing an open world with an open-ended level design that’s not too different from a Metroidvania. What I also really liked is that the upgrade system is entirely done through currency dropped by monsters- and chests, or found in random places in the world.

I spent around half an hour with this demo before moving on, but I was able to fight a boss during that time as well as explore most of two areas. I can definitely say that this game is challenging in a good way. The bosses portray their attacks, but that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. The monsters themselves also take more than one hit to kill, so even these encounters can end up a challenge on their own.

The only thing that I would like to see is if the camera panned a bit better when falling down, and that the map is available on a button like select, but I’ve gathered that these are still in active development before the final release. Definitely a game I’m highly looking forward to!

This game will be available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.


Victory Heat Rally

Giving retro a fresh lick of paint, Victory Heat Rally is set to burn rubber on the race track. Are your engines ready?”

I like my retro-styled racing games, and Victory Heat Rally immediately enticed me with its beautiful art style. Fortunately, anything beyond the art style also lived up to my expectations.

The demo featured an extensive tutorial with the main mechanics like steering, drifting and boosting. Drifting did take me some time to get used to, but I can’t wait to master it in the full game as it was highly satisfying to pull off. Aside from the tutorial, there were also two modes to select from: circuit and rally. The former is a 3-lap time trial across the same 3 laps, while the latter is also 3-laps but on one long course.

It’s a relatively short demo compared to the others in this article, but it got me excited regardless. What I’m most curious about at the moment is what the content will look like, such as it having a campaign or not, and if all characters are available from the start or if they are unlockable. The game is currently scheduled for a 2022 release, so more information will hopefully be dropped over time!

This game will be available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.


Grapple Dog

”Jump, Swing and Zip your way through colourful worlds and exciting challenges in this unique 2D action-platformer! Master the power of the Grapple on your adventure to save the world!”

Grapple Dog was a title I had never heard of before the Steam Next Fest happened. It looked like a charming little indie game and fortunately for me, that’s exactly what it ended up being. As the name implies, we’re playing as a dog with one of the most satisfying mechanics to grace platformers: a grappling hook.

The demo for this game features three levels and a boss battle at the end. What I really liked about this demo is how two levels were from the beginning of the game, while the third was somewhere halfway through the game, to give an indication of how the difficulty increases and how the mechanic of grappling evolves over time. The levels had a good length, features a lot of secrets and of course, a lot of grappling- and wall jumping. It’s also looking to become a great game for speedrunning, given how fast you can go with the grapple hook. The boss fight was also really fun, feeling like some sort of chase level.

What I’m also highly curious about is how the overworld is going to look. We got a short look at how it features a boat in which you travel between levels, and I found that to be really charming. It’s not hard to please me I suppose! I definitely spent a lot of time on this demo and if I wasn’t too busy with checking out other demos, I might have given speedrunning a shot too!

This game will be available on Steam as a current exclusive.


TUNIC

”Explore a land filled with lost legends, ancient powers, and ferocious monsters in TUNIC, an isometric action game about a small fox on a big adventure.”

TUNIC is a game that I’ve had my eyes on for a while. It’s actually surprising that it wasn’t on my wishlist yet, but that changed quickly. And how could I not, with an adorable looking fox character who wields equipment similar to our favourite green-dressed protagonist Link? Yeah, I don’t think it’s a secret that this game is partially inspired by The Legend of Zelda and several other franchises, but in an isometric perspective.

Unsurprisingly, I had a ton of fun with the demo. It played well enough and presented me with some genuinely challenging fights. Parrying- and rolling is all part of the combat here, and I refuse to make the connection to that one famous franchise. Though I must say, despite having a lot of fun with it, it’s probably also the demo I’m most critical of. Particularly when it comes to item names using in-game symbols, giving me absolutely no idea what I can do with them, and graphics looking a little bit too plain at times; particularly water- and bushes. Maybe both of these were intentional and I’m missing the point, but I figured I would bring them up regardless.

This game will be available on Steam and the Xbox series of consoles.


Lil Gator

”lil gator is here to adventure and make lots of friends!”

I usually don’t really play these kinds of games, but Lil Gator has convinced me that this market is a treasure waiting to be discovered by me. It is an incredibly cute game, where you play as a lil gator who just wants to play around, explore the island, and make friends with everyone. How and when you do it is completely up to you.

The demo itself was probably the best one I’ve played this entire Steam Next Fest, because it felt like it was made specifically to be a demo. The task is literally to set up a demo after all, doing quests for our friends to get the famous items of the protagonist of the game ”Legend of Hero”. Yeah, no idea what that could be. And every time you do a quest, you gain access to something that makes exploring around even more fun, like a shield to ride on or a shirt to use for gliding.

Really, this is a game I’m highly looking forward to. We’ve gotten a ”small” glimpse of the island we can explore, with the major part of it shown in the background. I would love to explore this entire island, or just wobbling around because this game is super adorable. Definitely a must-get for me!

This game will be available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.


Time Master

”Move between past and present to take on tightly timed puzzles that demand both strategy and dexterity. Explore a wide variety of puzzle mechanics, collaborate with your past self and experience a fully voiced cinematic story that delivers both surprises and laughs.”

Time Master was a puzzle game unlike any I’ve played before, for the simple fact that it has to do with the name itself. You don’t just control one character, but… one in different timelines. Time shenanigans, you know what’s up.

Joking aside, what makes this puzzle game stand out is that you set yourself up in the past, then turn back time and finish the puzzle in the present while your past self sets up the puzzle to make you able to finish it. It may sound complicated but trust me, you’ll get the hang of it quick enough. The demo surely gave me an impression of how tough these puzzles can get, especially when it comes to 3-starring them. Furthermore, it also showed some interesting mechanics like having a collectable in a block of water, but also one that’s higher than the block, so you have to collaborate with your past self to both freeze- and destroy it, but at a correct timing. Really looking forward to what else the game can offer.

This game will be available on Steam as a current exclusive.


Haiku, the Robot

”A cute, exploration-adventure game where you play as a small robot tasked with saving the world. Explore a land of corrupt robots and machinery. Discover different items and abilities to reach new areas. Fight deadly foes and unravel the world’s secrets.”

As much as I would like to talk about this, I… surprisingly don’t have that much to say about Haiku, the Robot. But I absolutely mean that in a positive way. My reasoning for it is pretty simple: The game knows exactly what it wants to be, and does so very, very well. I hate to say it because it’s such an easy way out, but calling this ”Hollow Knight but with robots” seems to do it justice.

Haiku, the Robot is a Metroidvania with a unique art style, starring an adorable robot. I definitely love how much this game sticks to its theme, with all of the enemies being robots or even components like nuts and bolts. I’d argue that that is also the demo’s strong point, because that’s how it differentiates itself from other Metroidvanias on the market. It’s a genre that is fairly common nowadays, so more than just a good game is demanded. Haiku, the Robot seems to deliver well on that front, and I can’t wait for the full experience!

This game will be available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.


Bat Boy

”Ryosuke isn’t just your regular high-school kid. He and his fellow sports-star friends secretly battle against the evil invading forces of Lord Vicious, hellbent on hosting sinister athletic events for his own amusement! Aided by the power granted to them by nameless deities, Ryosuke is Bat Boy!”

With the amount of demos that I had lined up for myself, I wasn’t sure if Bat Boy would be one that I would end up playing. I am really glad that I was proven wrong hard, because Bat Boy is one of the most fun 8-bit 2D Platformers I have tried out in a long while. And it all has to do with our baseballing school kid, because this protagonist? He might just be one of the most creative baseball players I’ve ever seen.

It’s already a 2D platformer with hidden collectables that controls well so that convinces me easily, but the baseballing mechanics are where the game truly shines. Shooting back projectiles in a direction to your liking, using the bat to hop off of objects- and enemies, or even using the bat as a makeshift platform! I have no idea what else they have in store for us, but I have no doubt this creativity is far from over.

The demo featured two levels, both ending with a boss fight. These were also pretty fun, and definitely seem like they will live up to the challenge.

This game will be available on Steam as a current exclusive.


Pompom

”You don’t control Pompom the hamster’s movements, you control everything else. Lay down blocks, springs, cannons, umbrellas, use whips and alter the world, creating a safe path for Pompom to defeat the evil Captain Cat.”

Pompom easily ended up being the biggest surprise for me this Steam Next Fest. Not only is it arguably the most unique game on this list, but the concept of building a stage instead of controlling the hamster works surprisingly well. I had an absolute blast playing this demo, which was also a great showcase of how this gameplay evolves over time.

The demo actually had a whole load of levels, but I stopped halfway through because I want to keep as much as possible for the full release. But even having played ”just” four levels, it shows that the developer truly knows what to do with the concept. Starting with simple bridge building to preventing hazards- and enemies from touching our hamster, and even dragging an object all the way to the end of the level while going over pits. And while this may sound menacing, the non-broken time stop ability makes this a surprisingly manageable task. High recommendation for this one!

This game will be available on Steam as a current exclusive.


Transiruby

”Explore the mysteries of an unknown land! ”Transiruby” is a metroidvania game where you explore the world as a cyborg protagonist named Siruby. Slash and shoot your way to reveal its hidden secrets!”

The best compliment I can give to Transiruby is how fast- and smooth it controls. Our main protagonist Siruby feels really fun to play as in both combat- and movement, and the trailer shows us a lot of unique abilities that she will gain over time. Metroidvanias have the tendency to often stick to predictable upgrades for a character like the double jump or wall jump, but Siruby can freeze enemies in the air and ride around on a motorcycle in the full game.

The demo alone was pretty big, and I had to stop myself from playing yet again to ensure most will still be new to me whenever I purchase the game. Suffice to say since I have such high praises, I don’t really have much feedback to give on it either; it’s a really satisfying game that I can’t wait to experience in its full glory.

This game will be available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.


Mission in Snowdriftland

”Chubby is back! 15 years after his first appearance, the fearless Snowboy is ready to complete his Mission in Snowdriftland. The long forgotten retro platformer advent calendar shines in new splendor. A pixel art tribute to classic platformers like Super Mario.”

Now, this is a fun one. Mission in Snowdriftland actually has a history as a flash game, and a famous one at that. It was an advent calendar game, with a new level every day that promoted some of Nintendo’s upcoming games. That’s right: this game was actually used by Nintendo. The copyright wasn’t theirs however, allowing this game to be revived for the masses who played the game back in the day.

While I hadn’t played this flash game myself when I was younger, I can absolutely see why so many people wanted to see it return in all of its glory. The controls are buttery smooth, making it a really fun game to play. The only thing I fear is that the game won’t be a very long one and that Chubby won’t have many moves besides jumping, but that’s something I can’t judge on yet! It will release this Christmas, so it will be a perfect Christmas present!

This game will be available on Steam as a current exclusive.


Riding Seas

”Climb aboard crazy and fun boats to face players from all over the world in frenzied ranked races, all in current Low-Poly graphics! This is what RIDING SEAS offers you!”

I love myself some racing games, especially non-conventional ones like plane racing and the topic of this game: boat racing. There are surprisingly few games that actually have boat racing, so you can bet that whenever one pops up, I’m there to pick it up.

What I like about Riding Seas in particular, is that all of the stages take place around the world. In the demo, I saw places like Japan, and the trailer shows places like Venice and the artics. I also appreciate the many references to other media when it comes to the boats. The controls were mostly good too, so I’m satisfied on that front. The feedback I have would mostly lie on the technical front, but my PC isn’t the most high-end so these could very well be on my end.

This game will be available on Steam as a current exclusive.


ARKOS

”Arkos is a first-person fantasy shooter with destructible voxel environment inspired by the classic retro shooters from 90-s”

We have seen a lot of indie games inspired by retro shooters like Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein, and for good reason. These were all gems that have aged really well with solid gameplay. ARKOS is no such exception, and what I like about this demo in particular is how different it feels. This game is colourful, and the enemies are all medieval RPG monsters like mages, spiders and the like.

The demo was set up pretty well. It showed a regular level, one with a bit more tension and unique mechanics, and a boss battle to cap it off. The gameplay felt really smooth, and the different amount of magic we could use has me looking forward to what else we end up with.

This game will be available on Steam as a current exclusive.


Ex-Zodiac

”A fast-paced low-poly 3D rail shooter heavily inspired by classics of the early 90’s. Join protagonist Kyuu as she fights to free the worlds of the Sanzaru Star System, overrun by the intergalactic terrorist organization known as Zodiac.”

An art style not commonly used anymore is the low-poly 3D art style, but it’s definitely one that I highly enjoy looking at. Ex-Zodiac is a beautiful 90’s inspired railgun shooter, not too dissimilar from games such as Star Fox.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I’ve never really had that much interest in Star Fox, so take my opinion on this demo with a grain of salt. The demo for Ex-Zodiac consists of two levels, and it feels really fun to play. Flying around, locking on to enemies, and using a missile of death and destruction all felt good to do, and the environments were great to fly around in. I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m not really that good at this game, but I still had a blast!

This game will be available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.


To end this highlight showcase, I wanted to do a quick round of games that looked interesting or had potential, but that I either wasn’t fully convinced about, or that still need some more time in the oven.

  • Souno’s Curse – This one kind of caught me off-guard, as it’s a demo for a kickstarter of a game that is not supposed to come out until 2023… in an event dedicated to games coming out in the coming months. Yeah, I can’t really give that a highlight spotlight. What I’ve played and what they’ve shown is fun though, but the game is only ~20% done so far and it felt a bit clunky as a result. I’m looking forward to this game regardless, but it needs a bit more time.
  • Carpathian Night – I don’t think it’s hard to figure out what this game is inspired by. It’s pretty much an 8-bit Castlevania in all but name. I don’t necessarily think that’s an issue though, and it played well enough. The issues I had with this demo were mostly on the UI front, like no life system being present(?) and not showing the collectables pretty much anywhere.
  • Spinstar – A pretty simple game: you spin the room around to traverse through difficult, often spiky sections. Nothing wrong with that, but the demo has not really given me an idea of how the game will evolve over time aside from more difficult sections. I’ll be keeping an eye on it, but I’m not in a hurry.
  • Ultra Age – An action hack ‘n slash that played fairly well. I was having a good time with the demo, though I wasn’t fully convinced yet. I think I have to research it a bit deeper outside of the demo to see whether it will be a game for me or not.
  • Neko Ghost, Jump! – I definitely liked the idea of switching between 2D and 3D, and also the living- and spectral plane. But I had a really tough time getting used to the overly slippery controls, and that kind of broke the game for me.

And that’s all from me! I had an absolute blast participating in this Steam Next Fest, and I’m definitely interested in checking it out again in the near future. The next event is set for February, with even more demos to show. I also had a great time communicating with the developers themselves, and with the audience looking at me streaming all of the demos over at Twitch. Definitely an event worth participating in, so hopefully till next time!

About author

Nepiki

A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!

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