Ed Note: The Steam Next Fest had a massive variety of demos, and I couldn’t get to all of them. Fortunately, I’m not not alone. Today’s review comes from my friend Kyle.
The Rusted Moss demo has pretty much sold me on the game. I’ll do a full writeup on it when the game comes out. I’m really hoping it lives up to the demo. Let’s start with the plot.
The story starts out with a protagonist named Fern. Fern’s a changeling who appears human, and has a shadow named Puck. Your overall quest is to gather shards of Titania to return Fae (fairies) to the world.
The true spice that sets this game apart is the grapple hook you get at the start. It offers exhilarating movement as you swing through maps and combat. You can grapple enemies closer to you to blast, or hitch a ride from certain enemies to ascend to greater heights.
Hanging from the roofs while you rain down bullets on enemies is fantastic as well, and just feels amazing. Many Metroidvanias give you the various movement powers over time, with much of the fun traversal coming later on. Getting the grappling hook early simply feels good.
Gameplay features all the typical stuff from a modern Metroidvania. It’s a non-linear platformer, with progression through weapon or mobility upgrades to unlock more of the map. There’s also trinket system that allows you to customize your character’s playstyle. These vary from charged shots doing more damage, to doing more damage at low or full life, as well as damage over time effects, shields and more.
I’m hoping there are more than just damage modification trinkets. Those were all I found in the demo. However, since this was just a demo, it’s more than possible this is just a vertical slice.
One gripe I have with the game is that bosses at the start felt a bit bullet spongy. You can do some trinket combos to nearly double your damage, (Giant Chambers, Thorny Rose, Erosive Bullets) but this comes at the price of being only able to take a single hit.
In the demo there’s a really fun speed climbing challenge to get to the top of a mountain, as well as a mini-boss boss rush with a two minute timer. Both of these have leaderboards for fastest times.
Overall, I’m very excited for Rusted Moss. I’m looking forward to the full game, and hoping it lives up to the promise of the demo.
With Steam Next Fest completed, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about demos I played. My personal favorites were actually pretty different from what ended up on the most popular list!
Super Raft Boat Together describes itself as a multiplayer roguelike shooter. Technically, Super Raft Boat already exists, and the new part here is just the “together.” But I never played the original, so for me, the whole thing is new.
It’s a fun little multiplayer roguelike. Is it hugely innovative? No. Did I have fun playing it? Yes.
I’m going to fail to describe Inkbound correctly, but I still want to try, so here we go. Inkbound is a multiplayer roguelike. Its primary innovation is a turn based, real time combat.
Here’s how it works. In combat, all human players have an individual pool of action points, and can use that pool to move and take actions independent of other human players. These actions are resolved in real time, as they are taken. When all humans mark their turn as finished, all the enemy NPC’s take their turn.
Then the process repeats.
It’s a really cool system, and there are a bunch of other neat ideas and innovations here, that I don’t quite have time to cover or describe. The short version is “Inkbound might have something really special mechanically.” I’m very excited to see the finished game.
Deceive Inc is very interesting. I think there’s a non-zero chance I end up sucking at or hating the finished version of this product. That said, I played over 8 hours of the game, and I wanted to play more when the demo ended.
It’s a blend-in game that at least initially appears to be in the style of something like Perfect Heist 2. You’re a secret agent infiltrating a map, trying to ultimately collect a briefcase, and make your escape.
What the game doesn’t really tell you is that, in some ways, it’s more of a skill based shooter than a blend-in/deduction game. The time to kill is very high, and many guns’ mechanics are so intricate that they have a skill ceiling that I didn’t so much as scratch during the time I spent playing.
There are two opposing gameplay directions that the developers could take the game’s mechanics. Neither is a bad choice, but they represent two very different games. One is to lean heavily into the blending in, cautious stealth, and sneaking approach of something like Perfect Heist 2. The other (and current) direction is to lean into the gunplay/combat-based mechanics. This would result in a game that is closer to something like Hunt:Showdown. I don’t know how to recommend this game, without knowing the direction it will take.
The other reason I’m a bit hesitant on Deceive Inc is that I’m not sure how long the game will be up. Everything about it screams “Live Service” game. The history of interesting, but ultimately (financial) failures of live service games is documented pretty well, even just on this blog.
Quantum League. Knockout City. Darwin Project. Okay, I never did a writeup on that last one, but the point still stands. These were all interesting, creative games, with cool mechanics.
Now they’re all dead, and it’s not because they were bad games. It’s because their entire business model was based on getting a large playerbase and a level of revenue they never achieved.
This writeup is about the demo for an indie game called h8machine, a card game based around the idea of internet arguments. The name is presumably a reference to everything modern social media has become. Before I talk more about h8machine though, I want to talk about a very different game: Binding of Issac.
Binding of Issac, if you haven’t played it, is a roguelite themed around the idea that you’re an abused child who has escaped into the basement. You’re trying to avoid being murdered by your mother, who is hearing a voice telling her to kill her son. There’s a lot more to it than that, and it drags a lot of mechanics and ideas from the OG Legend of Zelda games. But it’s not the mechanics I want to talk about here, it’s the theming and aesthetics of both of these two games.
As you might gather from my description above, or from looking at the Steam page for 30 seconds, Binding of Issac could likely be described as gross or crass. Many enemies and mechanics are poop or urine themed, and the whole thing is deliberately repulsive. I’m not writing this to argue that you shouldn’t be offended by these things, but more to note that the theming of Binding of Issac likely turns off a variety of players who would otherwise be very interested in it. Binding of Isaac is carefully crafted and well made, but it’s a multilayered chocolate cake, carefully frosted to look like a massive turd.
So why am I talking about this in relation to h8machine? Well, h8machine gives off a very similar to vibe to me based on what I’ve played, and seen of the demo. That vibe being “Something very careful and clever, with the theming and flavor of bathroom stall graffiti.”
Instead of child abuse and fecal matter, though, h8machine themes itself around internet discourse. Your resources are emoji. Every enemy has a procedurally generated anime avatar, and all the cards are questionable internet arguments. Even the Steam page and description of the game have the tone of a cringe worthy copypasta.
Underneath all of that, though, I found the demo fairly engaging and interesting. The game bills itself as a sort of real time card game, with the maplike progression structure used in Slay the Spire and Inscryption. Instead of collecting individual cards, you collect “personalities:” sets of cards that you can run up to 3 of at a time, combined with offcolor/filler cards to make up your deck. You burn cards to generate resources of the same color, and try to construct your engine to wipe out your opponent before they complete construction of their own engines.
It’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever played, but it did convince me to keep an eye on it.
If any of this sounds interesting, I suggest you try to the demo, which you can find here on Steam. I honestly don’t know if h8machine will end up being good, but it feels created with the intention of being a good game, and not just being shock material.
Four cool things from the show floor that you can experience from the comfort of your own home.
So, you couldn’t make it to PAX. Perhaps you had other things to that week. Perhaps you had entirely reasonable concerns about the perpetual global endemic. Perhaps you were less than enthusiastic about the fact that ticket prices doubled since last time. Or perhaps you did make it to PAX but were working a booth the entire time.
Not to worry! I’ve compiled a list of four games that I played at PAX, really liked, and all have demos that you can go download from Steam. So lets jump in, shall we? Starting with…
I like Power Chord. It’s a turn based roguelike, in which you control a literal band (musicians), on their quest to… look I wasn’t paying much attention to the story. I’m assuming you’re trying to kill the devil or something. The gameplay itself is very much like Slay the Spire, in that you have a deck of cards, and each turn you have energy that you expand to play them, and try to kill your opponents. Unlike Slay the Spire, your deck is contributed to by the members of your band. If that sounds interesting, you can click here to go grab a demo for the game on Steam, and here if want to just learn more about it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a release date just yet.
Perhaps turn based strategic gameplay sounds too relaxing though. In that case, next up we have…
Turbo Overkill is an entry in the boomer shooter genre, i.e., things like Doom, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, and Ion Maiden. These games are shooters that went “What if shooting things was fun, you had more than two weapons, and our entire graphics budget for polygons was stolen?” I will note that as a general rule of thumb, I’m little skeptical of boomer shooters at the moment. This is not because I dislike the genre, but because they always demo really well, even when I end up not liking the game as much (looking at you Desync.) Regardless of my whining, the demo was a lot of fun, and you can grab it here. Turbo Overkill is currently available in Early Access, and the devs have said that it’s 30% content complete. If you want more info about the game then you can check out their twitter feed here, because I couldn’t actually find another website.
Perhaps you want something softer and lighter, or perhaps you think crushing AI is for losers. In either case, may I offer..
Swapette Showdown is a head to head match-3 puzzler. Blocks rise from the floor, you swap them into rows of at least 3 to clear them, and send trash lines to your opponent. You also have special abilities based on the character you select. Something like Puyo-Puyo is probably the closest equivalent? Look, instead of reading my poor description, why don’t you just download the demo here? And then, if you decide you like it, or have questions, or can’t quite get said demo to run right on your ultrawide even though you played it on a TV at the show, you can click here to join their Discord and try to troubleshoot.
But perhaps you hate anything with anime eyes. Perhaps you think indie games should never go past two dimensions. Perhaps you should just humor me because I’m running out of convenient segues. In that case, try…
Dwerve is technically a tower defense game. You construct towers, and use them to defend. The reason I wrote “technically” is because it has a lot of non-standard tower defense mechanics. There is no end point to be defended. Instead when you get into combat, enemies will go right for your delicious face meat. Towers refund their cost when they get destroyed, and you’ll be expected to rebuild them. And finally, the game isn’t structured as a series of levels; it’s a world that you actually travel through more akin to something like Nobody Saves the World. It’s a really interesting blend, and you can play the demo here. The full steam page is here, the game’s site is here, and I’m kind of out of things to say about it. Oh, except that it does have a release date for the end of next month (31st of May) so if you do end up liking the demo, you won’t won’t have to wait long for more.
Anyway, with that final entry on the list, that concludes all I’m writing about for the moment. Not all I have to write about, because I have a second window up of things I saw/played, and I still have 21 more games I want to write about. I need to find a way to break that list down into convenient bite size categories.
I think the way you’re supposed to end these sorts of lists is to encourage people to fight with you on social media as a roundabout cover for getting more interaction, so yeah. So, hit us up on Twitter if you disagree with our list? Not really sure how that’s possible, but I’m sure someone will find a way.
A very solid digital set of puzzle rooms with a vibrant 80’s spy movie/secret agent theme.
Author Note: Images in this article are from the Operation: Tango Press kit. It turns out getting nice images off a two player game on an ultra wide monitor is kind of a pain. I’d say they accurately reflect the look of the game.
Operation: Tango is a really cool asymmetric co-op puzzle game, where you play as one of two secret agents. And when I say “Co-Op,” I mean Co-Op. There is no single player option here. Good news is that you only need to own one copy of the game to play it with someone else on Steam, since they can just download the demo, and play the full game through that.
In Operation Tango, you and your friend take the role of two spies. One player is the Hacker, and one player is the Agent. The world has a “Futurist 80’s spy” vibe which is generally executed exceedingly well with bright colors, flashy outfits and locales, and clean UI for the puzzles.
Working together with your partner in anti-crime, you’ll need to make your way through a series of missions, each with a varied set of objectives and goals. While the game does require coordination and timing to be successful, not all puzzles are on timers, and even those that are tend to be generous, giving an illusion of intensity while offering far more time than might otherwise be obvious.
Because of its whole thing, most of the puzzles in Operation Tango that I saw don’t really fall into any single consistent pattern that can be used to describe them, outside of the idea of relying on asymmetric information. So I’m just going to go through a few that I remember and liked, to give a general sense of the vibe.
One mission has one player effectively playing an infinite runner while the other player feeds them information and call outs, while moving obstacles out of their way, healing them, and managing the rest of the interface. Others involve disabling security drones and cameras so that the other player can get by. There are a few re-used elements, such as lock picking, but those tend to amp up in difficulty as you progress.
My one big criticism would be that the game does suffer from a bit of a breakdown near the end. The last mission in the game is by far the weakest one in my opinion, and feels like the designers took 2 half finished missions and smashed them together to make a single level. To quote the person I played with, the finale felt like a worse version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and there’s a section in the previous level that is more or less just Spaceteam. With that said, the rest of the game is much stronger, and much more fun.
The game also doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to replayability once you’ve done a level as both roles. While the game does its best to randomize various elements of any given puzzle, once you understand the rules in play for a given puzzle, they’re mostly solved. Looking around to search for clues or ideas was the most enjoyable part of the game, and when you know what you’re looking for, it’s a lot less of a “Secret Agent” infiltrating a building, and more “Puzzle Speedrunning.”
Still though, Operation: Tango was one of my favorite demos from PAX East for a reason, and the full game feels like it delivers on the promise of the demo. Because of what the game offers, and because of the fact that only one person has to buy the game, I feel comfortable recommending it. If this article hasn’t persuaded you, I suggest you grab a friend, pull down the demo, and see what you think.