Top 3 Games To Watch

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.

Demon’s Tilt

Authors Note: Demon’s Tilt has ridiculous number of flashing lights and graphical elements. My friends described it as “making their eyes bleed”. So, photosensitivity warning: if you’re photosensitive, don’t play this game. This writeup doesn’t contain any of those flashing images, but the Steam page likely does.

I generally like Demon’s Tilt. That’s not to say that I don’t have a bunch of complaints about it. But the more I play it, the less some of the minor issues bother me. It also might be because I’m writing this on an endorphin high from finally getting a Wizard Mode start, after playing for 8 hours.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. Demon’s Tilt is a digital pinball table for PC. Pinball has become something of my comfort food game for me over the last several months. My pinball obsessions was kicked off by a friend bringing me to hang out at an arcade bar that had several pinball machines. (You know who you are. I very much appreciate the visit.) Pinball has served to distract me significantly from the mild dumpster fire my life has been over the last few months.

I’m not going to go too heavily into explaining pinball as a game. I think it would take too long, and I wouldn’t necessarily do a good job of it. That said, I want to cover the basics and define a few words so I can use them later.

Pinball Basics

First off, basics. Pinball is a game where you try to keep a small ball in play, usually by hitting it with a pair of flippers on a large board (the table) of obstacles that the ball can interact with. Flippers are controlled with buttons, and control is typically binary; the buttons can only be pressed or released.

Letting the ball drop down between these flippers results in losing or “sinking” the ball. Losing all your balls results in losing the game, but you can usually earn a limited number of extra balls during play.

Finally, a few more general notes. It’s often possible to catch the ball by holding down a button, and letting a ball come to standstill in the clutched area between the lane and the flipper. This is called cradling. In addition, it’s often possible to smack the table, and force the ball to move in ways that it otherwise wouldn’t. This is called titling. If you tilt or mess with the table too much, too rapidly, the table will shut down, turn off your control of the flippers, and sink your ball. This is called tilting out.

Anyway, back to Demon’s Tilt

The big difference between Demon’s Tilt and most pinball is that Demon’s Tilt commits to being a truly “digital” pinball, as opposed to a digital simulation of a physical pinball table. It has a bunch of mechanics and designs that simply could not physically fit, or work in any reasonable way on a physical pinball table.

I respect the effort to create and implement these mechanics. Some of them are interesting and work well, and some do not.

The first big difference between Demon’s Tilt and a physical pinball table is it consists of what would traditionally be three separate tables linked together, and you can shoot the ball between them. Only losing the ball on the lowest set of flippers actually drops the ball from play.

Each of the three subsections has its own set of missions that can be completed for score, and to ultimately advance to Wizard mode. I found each sub-table a bit plain. It usually only has one main interactable element outside of the primary missions. There are plenty of interactable objects, but none of them felt meaningful unless they had a jackpot active, or were part of the currently active mission.

This isn’t helped by the fact that as far as I can tell, missions aren’t dynamic, and will always be started in the same order. This means that unless you’re moving between sub-tables rapidly or by mistake, you’ll complete all missions in the same order.

There are two other main digital elements in Demon’s Tilt that wouldn’t be possible in a physical table. The first is a wide variety of small pack minions and mobs that swarm and float across the table. You can remove some of these just by tapping them. Others actively interact with or block the ball. These are generally fine, but don’t feel hugely impactful.

The other is the bullet system.

Demon’s Tilt’s bullets are probably the most unique digital-only mechanic in the game, but they’re also my least favorite. Some table elements can emit bullets, usually in two colors: pink and gold. When the ball hits a pink bullet, it counts as hitting any other physics object, and the bullet disappears. Hitting a gold bullet does the same, except then all existing pink bullets are cleared.

I don’t think the idea of moving temporary obstacles is a bad thing. It’s an innovation that could only work in digital pinball. But the implementation here follows more of a shoot-em-up or bullet hell pattern. That doesn’t’ work because those games are based on having exact and precise control at all times of the player, which is almost the exact opposite of pinball. For many of these patterns, it’s best to just wait them out, rather than to try to push through them.

As a result, I end up just cradling the ball, and waiting for bullets to pass. Waiting like this felt bad. It didn’t feel as bad as hitting the ball into a set of bullets I didn’t see, and having the ball sink because of that. But still bad!

Some quick thoughts before I wrap this up.

Demon’s Tilt has a ridiculous amount of visual clutter. My friends described it as making their eyes bleed. Between flashing lights, effects, bullets, and other junk, it can be easy to lose track of the ball. And that’s with the screen shake turned off, and the table zoomed out. In multi-ball modes, it’s effectively impossible to keep track of balls on different tables.

The ball’s bounces and physics behavior are a bit unusual. The physics isn’t inconsistent, but the ball often behaves in ways that didn’t feel intuitive, at least for the first several hours. The top-down 2D view also requires learning the table a bit, as it’s not clear where certain lanes will go on first glance.

The music is quite good. I think there are only 3-4 songs, but I still enjoyed them.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Demon’s Tilt, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t already into pinball, and who isn’t also willing to experience some weird shit. The attempts at implementing digital-only mechanics are respectable, but don’t always pan out. There’s a lot of visual clutter to the point of impairing gameplay, and the game’s physics model can feel janky.

Demon’s Tilt is $20 on Steam. There are some interesting mechanics worth experiencing, but the price is a bit steep for a single table. Still, if you’re looking for an interesting pinball experience, it might be worth checking out.

Dome Keeper

Dome Keeper is a small and solid game, but didn’t offer enough variety in runs to keep me hooked.

Author’s Note: Not big on reading writeups? Why not just watch me play the game here?

Dome Keeper is a score-attack mashup of Motherload and Space Invaders. I think it’s a good game. I don’t really recommend it, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment. I know it sounds weird to call a game good, and then not recommend it, but I promise it will make sense in a bit.

Anyway, back to Dome Keeper. You have a Dome, which functions as your little base. You venture out from it into the earth to mine minerals. And this dome needs to be Kept. Specifically it needs to be kept from being shattered into a million pieces by various spooky shadow monsters that show up in waves on timed intervals. This is the game’s core tension: mine resources, drag them back to your dome, and try not to get caught at the bottom of the mineshaft right as the next wave comes in to smash it.

You defend the dome with its weapon systems. There are two dome weapon base sets, the Laser Dome, and the Sword Dome. The Laser dome plays somewhat like a turret defense game. You have a big laser, you can rotate it alongside the outside of your dome, and you press another button to fire. The laser moves slower when fired, so it’s faster to move it into position, and then fire the beam. It has various upgrades, including moving the laser head faster, having the laser deal more damage, etc. Honestly, outside of a double laser upgrade, there’s nothing very exciting.

The Sword Dome is unlocked later. Instead of having a projectile weapon, it has a large sword that can be swung back and forth across the dome. It can also be launched like a harpoon to skewer long ranged projectile using enemies, or even to just tap melee enemies a bit before they reach the dome.

Personally, I very much think the game was designed with the sword dome in mind instead of the laser dome. Certain enemy behaviors and patterns interact in a much more interesting way with the sword than with the laser. As an example, one of the earlier enemies is a small bat-like creature. It flies onto the screen cloaked and unable to be hit, flies to an area on either the left or right of the screen, uncloaks, shoots a few projectiles, then recloaks and flies to the other side. Rinse repeat.

With the Sword Dome, there’s an element of skill to this. It takes the same amount of time to uncloak every time, and you can one shot it once you get a damage upgrade. There’s a sort of elegance to predicting where it’s going to be, pre-launching the sword, and steering it into the bat right as it uncloaks.

Another good example can be seen in the later game enemy, the launcher. It’s a large blobby snake that swarms out of the ground, waits for a moment, and then launches a large shadow projectile through the air. With the laser, there’s no real option other than to just blast it down. But hitting it with the sword before it launches the projectile will stagger it and force it back down into the ground.

However, both of these have the same problem. Despite having multiple options for upgrades and changes, there’s no real reason to experiment during a run. Enemies just show up randomly over time, so instead of building for a certain encounter or fight, it felt better to just do the same build each game, and play through. The end result? The fights kind of just feel all the same. Ramping intensity and difficulty, sure, but not changing how things feel mechanically between runs, unless you choose to take a risk and force it.

That’s only half the game, though. The other entire half is mining and digging for resources from under the dome. If you’ve ever played Motherload, this will feel familiar. If you haven’t, it works like this. The keeper is controlled with cardinal directions and will automatically mine walls and blocks if you walk the keeper into them. Different dirt has different strengths, but as you get deeper, the strength just increases overall. This means that it can be easier to mine deeper into weak dirt than to try to dig out stone at your current level. But generally you’ll need to get upgrades to go much further.

The goal of all of this digging is to get resources, of which there are three. Sulphur, Water, and Iron. Sulphur is the rarest, and is used to repair your dome’s health, and buy a single set of special resistance upgrades. Water is used in small amounts for most non-primary upgrades, i.e., anything that isn’t your shield, weapon, or keeper suit. Iron is used for pretty much everything else.

One thing I haven’t talked about yet is the win condition of Dome Keeper. There are two modes: the primary mode is Relic Hunt, and the secondary is Prestige. Relic Hunt is just a standard “Dig deep, find a special relic, and bring it to the surface to win.” Prestige is the primary mode, and is a score attack mode.

I’m personally of the opinion that Relic Hunt is an extended tutorial. Relic Hunt is relaxed, where Prestige is intended to be the primary game. Which is a bit unfortunate, because I’m personally not interested in Prestige very much. High scores are not particularly motivating to me as a factor, unless the entire game is designed around that as a core component, ala Hazelnut Hex.

In Prestige mode, you get points based on spending resources to increase a score multiplier. Then you get points after each survived wave. So it’s beneficial to spend resources early on increasing the score, at the risk of not spending those resources on upgrades. It is a interesting tension, but it’s not one that I’m very compelled by.

There are a few systems I’ve not covered here, like the semi-random relics and the upgrades they offer, but I think I’ve covered enough of Dome Keeper’s system to explain my problem with it.

Dome Keeper is a good game, but any single run can feel indistinguishable from each other run. There’s only a single unique relic that modifies combat, with every other relic modifying resource acquisition. The end result is a game that felt the same each time I played it. It was interesting, but it wasn’t fascinating, or ever really felt like it scratched the itch of something like Inscryption or Spelunky. It never really forced me into a situation where I had to really rely on an understanding of game mechanics or systems to pilot my way out. Instead, it was just more about “Oh, I should have just done X instead of Y.” There was no adapting, just learning, and some small improvements.

This is why I don’t really feel like recommending it. It’s good! It’s well made, it’s polished, and it has some clever mechanics. But I don’t get that vibe of it being a unique or super rich experience that stuck with me.

Anyway, if you think my opinion is stupid, or you really like games like Motherload, you can find Dome Keeper on Steam for $20.

Author Note 2: I played most of my 20 hours of Dome Keeper before the update that added a second playable character, with a different mining style. It’s a neat update, but I didn’t really like playing the Accessor. It’s also entirely possible that Dome Keeper becomes a much richer games with updates, but that’s not what was available when I bought the game on release day.

Rubber Bandits

Rubber Bandits’ one good game mode, Heist, can’t carry the weight of the other seven.

I don’t like Rubber Bandits very much. I don’t recommend it. Before I get into reviewing Rubber Bandits, though, I want to talk about party games in general a bit. I’ve written about this here, but I’ll go into some more detail on why I do not trust the party game genre.

Doing virtually anything with friends can be a good time, or at least a good memory, assuming everyone makes it out unharmed. I spent a lot of time in college playing Magic, and I remember it somewhat fondly. I also remember the time I convinced folks to follow my example and run a lap outside around an area near our dorm with almost no clothes on and no shoes after a winter storm.

While freezing my feet off wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, it was definitely memorable. Playing around and doing ridiculous things is just like that. The value isn’t from doing dumb shit, it’s from doing dumb shit with friends. Something can be dumb, questionably made, and only mildly amusing and still be a good time.

Which brings me to Rubber Bandits.

Rubber Bandits is an up-to-4 player party game, with 8 competitive game modes, and 1 cooperative arcade mode. The game modes all share the same controls. You can jump, you can move with WASD or the controller, you can pick items up, throw them, and “use” them. The use function varies from item to item. Using a grenade pulls the pin, using a pistol shoots the gun, and using a chair beats someone over the head with it (just like in real life).

I have two important notes about these controls. First, characters control in a sort of wibbly wobbly way. I’ve had weapons I’ve picked up seemingly clip behind my character making them impossible to swing. There’s a jello-like feel to movement. Second, the game has a VERY heavy auto-aim system for projectile weapons. If you roughly point at another player and try to shoot them, you will likely hit. Not because you lined it up well, but because the auto-aim just works like that.

The result is a “combat system” that is fairly unsatisfying to actually fight with. Long range attacks are almost automatic hits, and short range attacks are a wobbly unfortunate melee. I’m not saying that a system of weird and wonky controls can’t be fun, but it doesn’t work here because the combat is so unwieldy. Now that we’ve covered controls, let’s talk about game modes.

First, you have the “Just Beat People Up” ones. These are Brawl, Team Brawl, Dodge Bomb and Snack Panic, and Carnage. Then you have Pork Pursuit (Hold the object) and Bomb Panic (Don’t be left holding the object). Finally, you have Heist and the co-operative game mode. The co-operative game mode isn’t very fun or interesting. It’s effectively just a reskinned version of the Heist game mode with extra NPC’s. Points are awarded after each round, and the first player to 21 points is the winner. Scoring is a bit weird, but I believe it’s 5 for a win, 3 for second place, 1 for third, and none for fourth.

Of these game modes, Heist is the only one that does something I haven’t seen before. If you’ve played Mario Party, Pummel Party, or honestly any mini-game based party game, you’ve already played something similar.

Heist is the only game mode with any sort of interesting tension. All players are dropped into the map. The map has a set of valuables to steal, and an exit. The exit only opens once all valuables are picked up. The goal is to get as much loot as you can, and then escape.

It’s a fun idea. Heist is the best Rubber Bandits gets. Most of the maps have some sort of switch or activatable object that changes up the play area. Grabbing all the money and running usually doesn’t work, because another player will just drop the floor out from under you. So even once you get the cash, you need to incapacitate your fellow players long enough to make your escape.

Even at its, best, though, it doesn’t always work. Some maps only have a single gem instead of multiple pieces of loot, so only one player gets any points. Some maps are just kind of janky and unfun to play, like the map where almost everything is dark. Other maps have the start of a good idea (the map where you need to mine down with pickaxes) but don’t really execute on it.

I’ve already made it clear I don’t recommend this game. Now I want to quickly run across the border from the land of opinion into the unoccupied territory of speculation. So if you want, you can stop reading this article here. Rubber Bandits is $5 for a copy, and it’s available on PC and Console.

The Land of Blatant Speculation

Anyway, now that we’re safely located in speculation, I want to share a theory I have about Rubber Bandits and how it ended up this way. There are a lot of little things that to me suggest Rubber Bandits was developed as a different experience, and that the 7 game modes that suck were sort of tacked on after the fact to fill space.

The first one is the camera. Rubber Bandits uses a locked camera that keeps all players in frame, instead of just focusing on your character. This would be fine for couch co-op or versus, but in internet multiplayer it’s pretty awful. In addition, because the camera has to always keep everyone in frame, it cuts down on a lot of the design space available for creating maps. Everything always has to face the player, there’s virtually no space to hide behind anything, and maps are a sort of “3D but only in one direction” affair.

This brings me to the second point about the game and Heist. When I was reading Steam reviews to find justification for my own opinions about the game for investigative purposes, one review stood out. Actually, it was one genre of reviews: a group of players who enjoyed an earlier demo the game had, but were disappointed by the full product. From what I could glean, that demo only offered Heist, but also offered an alternative scoring system. Remember when I mentioned different placements give amounts of points? Well, in the demo, apparently points were awarded based on how much money you escaped with, not your placement. To me, that feels like it would shift things up quite a bit in terms of both where the player pressure is, and where the player reward is.

I don’t have any evidence for this theory, but given the game’s whole theme around stealing money, jailbreaking, and robbery, it all makes me feel like Heist was a primary game mode. But then Heist got sidelined when the other modes were added. If that’s the case, I think it’s a bit of a bummer. Heist isn’t some world shaking innovation, but at least it’s interesting and different. Every other game mode available is something I’ve played before in a different game, and burying Heist under all the crap is just unfortunate.

Neon White

Neon White is a FPS Puzzle Platformer with fantastic guns and incredible movement. I’d mention the story, but I want you to want to play it.

Neon White by Angel Matrix is a puzzle platformer FPS with some lite visual novel elements, and it’s brilliant. And while it might sound like a sort of game salad of multiple genres, that’s purely because I’m bad at describing things. The key point here is that I like it.

I think the easiest way to explain Neon White is to describe what a level looks like. So let’s start with that. You maneuver using traditional FPS controls around a stylized environment, and you have two goals to complete the level: kill all the demons, and reach the end. However, these aren’t Doom-style demons. These are more like… potted plants. They’re all immobile, and while they shoot projectiles, they’re not hard to dodge. They act as obstacles more than enemies, and each enemy type drops a different gun.

Oh, we haven’t talked about guns yet, have we? Guns reset between levels, and are represented as cards. You can carry two types of guns at once, and 3 copies of a particular gun/card (I’ll explain in a moment). Guns are dual purpose. You can shoot with them, and you can also throw away a copy to use a special movement ability. The shotgun lets you do a dash. The pistol has a double jump. The rocket launcher is also a grappling hook, making it one of the greatest weapons in any game. And if that sounds like I’m ripping off Zero Punctuation… well. Not deliberately. It’s just a fantastic weapon that’s incredibly fun to use.

Dear god I love this rocket launcher so much.

These are the core ingredients of Neon White, but the one thing I haven’t mentioned is that everything is timed. Not in a “countdown” sort of way, but a speedrun timer ticking up. In order to unlock more levels, you need to clear a set of levels from the current pool with a gold rank or higher.

While this might sound intimidating, the timing for getting gold medals is very generous. The same is true of the crystal rank medal, and it isn’t until you go for the secret red clear times (which don’t even show up until you beat them) that things get really challenging.

And while we’re talking about gold medals and clear times, we may as well talk about Neon White’s story. The short version is that you’re an assassin in the afterlife called in to hunt down demons for a chance at redemption. And while the story gets interesting in the last 25% of the game, much of what precedes that moment feels a bit cringey. Not bad, but I heard someone describe it as an independent webcomic from the early 2000’s, and I’d say that sounds about right.

This would be a great place to include a picture of story content. I’m not going to do that because I want you to buy this game.

Outside of the story, pretty much everything in Neon White is perfect. I saw almost no bugs in my playtime, and even the boss levels worked well. The game does a fantastic job with its progression and introducing new weapons and concepts as it goes. That said, it’s not a massive any means. A lot of the value comes from replaying levels multiple times for better clear times, and hunting for shortcuts and skips within those levels.

There is one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this up, and that’s writing this article. This is version 7 or so of my Neon White writeup. Not “draft 7.” I have written and thrown away 6 earlier versions of this, because Neon White isn’t a super easy game to describe in a compelling manner.

So if you’re not convinced, I suggest watching either Zero Punctuation’s video on the game, or maybe Dunkey’s? I think they both do a better job of selling the game in certain aspects, and it deserves better than my somewhat poor writeup. But I legitimately can’t describe this game well. I’ve tried, failed, and now I’m going to write about other games, without this draft glaring at me judgingly while I write about something else for the eighth week in a row.

If you were convinced by this writeup, then, uh. Wow. You can get Neon White on Steam or Switch. It’s $25, and it’s a good use of that money.