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Steam Next Fest, February 2023: a round-up

Steam returned this month with its latest selection of demos for upcoming games.

The last Next Fest in October was a successful one. After working my way through the adventure list and whittling down the selection to 16 demos, ten were awarded a place on my wishlist. I’ve since played two the titles in full: SEASON: A letter to the future and The Case of the Golden Idol.

The event which took place from 06 to 13 February 2023 wasn’t so great, however. It was surprising to see only 48 featured games with the Point & Click tag and less than ten with FMV. The higher-level Adventure tag wasn’t useful either. It seems that every release with a modicum of a storyline gets thrown into the category nowadays, regardless of the type of gameplay involved.

Instead of the kind of narrative or investigative games I enjoy, Steam was insistent on serving up one survival-horror after another this time around. While I do enjoy a spooky storyline, I’ve written before about how I prefer to experience these from behind the safety of a cushion while Pete looks after the controls. There was an increase in the genre at Halloween and it feels like it hasn’t slowed down since.

It was therefore difficult to come up with a list of demos I wanted to try, and some of the reasons for the games below making the list are slightly flimsy. Still, I managed to find ten in the end and four titles earned a spot on my wishlist so that’s not bad going. This post is being published a little longer after the Steam Next Fest than usual due to work commitments, so I’m looking forward to comparing my notes with those of others who attended the online event.

A Tower Full of Cats

Wishlisted: no

I enjoyed the demo for A Building Full of Cats by Devcats despite not immediately adding it to my wishlist during the Steam Next Fest in June. Now though, there seems to be so many of these hidden-kitty games and they’re getting so large that I’m starting to become fatigued. While A Tower Full of Cats might not have been complete a hit with me, I’ll continue including at the developer’s games on my list during digital events due to their work on raising awareness of cat adoption and rescue.

Alone in the crowd

Wishlisted: yes

Although I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Alone in the crowd, Machine Nun’s demo made it onto my to-play list because I really enjoy investigative thrillers. Throw in a dystopian future and I’m sold. After waking up in a strange room filled with all kinds of machinery, a mysterious artificial intelligence (AI) won’t answer your questions until you’ve searched a computer for specific citizens and handed over their identification. Is it as friendly as it wants you to believe or is something else going on?

Blue Wednesday

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

My coordination is so bad and it’s clear I suck at rhythm games from the video opposite. But Buff Studio’s demo for Blue Wednesday was added to my list because I loved the jazz soundtrack featured in the trailer. It kind of reminded me a little of Night in the Woods and I get the impression there’s going to be a lovely message at the end of the full title. However, I’m waiting for the reviews before adding it to my wishlist because I think protagonist Morris’s defeatist attitude might get on my nerves.

Boxes: Lost Fragments

Wishlisted: no

I played Doors: Paradox by Big Loop Studios in December last year after trying the demo at an earlier digital event. While this escape-room title was fun, there wasn’t much challenge or a storyline to keep me engrossed so it felt quite casual overall. This is the reason why I haven’t wishlisted the developer’s Boxes: Lost Fragments. It might be something I eventually pick up so I can play a few levels when I’m looking for something relaxed, but it’s not a game I can see myself rushing to pick up.

Bramble: The Mountain King

Wishlisted: yes

I mentioned above that my coordination is bad so along with rhythm games, I don’t tend to play a lot of platformers. I’m going to make an exception for Dimfrost Studio’s Bramble: The Mountain King though. I added this title to my wishlist in November because its dark fairy-tale premise intrigued me. You’ll notice from the video opposite that I caused quite a few deaths for the protagonist but they weren’t unfair, and I didn’t feel penalised by being placed back too far. It’s likely to get harder but I’m looking forward to it.

Death Corp

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

Death Corp by Alberto Costa is the sort of game I should be adding to my wishlist. I loved the point-and-click’s premise: it tells the story of a protagonist who accepts a job as an intern with the Grim Reaper, and it’s up to him to give death a little push in the right direction. There were just a couple of puzzles in the demo which felt slightly moon-logic-y though and this put me off. It’s highly likely I’ll end up purchasing the full release at some point but I’d like to hold off and wait for the reviews first.

Mia and the Dragon Princess

Wishlisted: yes

As if this Wales Interactive’ full motion video (FMV) game wasn’t going to get a spot on my wishlist. I’ve played most of their releases so far and have always loved the way FMV straddles a thin line between serious adventure and over-the-top narrative. From the acting and storyline displayed in the demo for Mia and the Dragon Princess, it feels as though it’s going to be suitably excessive. This one features a plucky barmaid whose life is thrown into chaos when a mysterious woman turns up at work, followed by violent thugs.

Orten Was the Case

Wishlisted: no

While browsing through the list of demos available during the Steam Next Fest, Orten Was The Case kept continuously popping up. Woodhill Interactive’s game seemed to appear in every single genre and tag I clicked on so eventually I gave up and decided to give it a try. While this time-looping adventure contained some interesting ideas, I think the real-time mechanic would cause too much stress for me and there were certain themes I wasn’t keen on. This will probably end up being one I watch someone else play rather than play myself.

Planet of Lana

Wishlisted: no

Wishfully’s Planet of Lana made an appearance at the EGX event in September. It proved to be popular with attendees, and the stand was so busy that we couldn’t get a space to be able to try it while we were there. The demo showed me why so many people wanted to play it at the expo and I have to admit that it’s a very pretty game which catches the eye. While the platforming part just isn’t for me, I can see this release being added to many wishlists and generating good reviews.

Scene Investigators

Wishlisted: yes, and backed the Kickstarter

Thank god Pete and I enjoyed the demo for Scene Investigators by EQ Studios, because I’d already backed the Kickstarter campaign in January. There wasn’t much doubt though as I absolutely loved the developer’s previous release, The Painscreek Killings. The set-up here is quite different though. Instead of focusing on a story and using breadcrumb system for gameplay, here players will have to use their keen sense of observation to put together the clues found in crime scenes and figure out who the culprit was.

Once again, it’s hard to pick a single favourite from this Steam Next Fest. I’m excited about Scene Investigators after backing the Kickstarter campaign, because I really enjoy detective mechanics in video games and I loved The Painscreek Killings. I’m also partial to a bit of FMV and have been a fan of Wales Interactive for some time, so Mia and the Dragon Princess has been on my radar for a while. Hopefully you’ll see both releases in a Later Levels’ Twitch stream very soon.

Did you manage to try any demos during the latest digital event? If so, which stood out for you and how much has your wishlist increased?

8 thoughts on “Steam Next Fest, February 2023: a round-up

  1. Ohh I quite enjoyed the planet of Lana demo though ill openly concede part of the attraction was the glowing robot they had on show.

    Also, more reviews need the word ‘plucky’. Underused.

    • I can totally understand why so many people will love Planet of Lana. It does look gorgeous and of course, robots! It’s just not the sort of gameplay I’d usually enjoy so I’ll leave it to others and maybe catch a stream or video.

      I’ll also see what I can do about fitting ‘plucky’ into more posts. The next occurrence is dedicated to you.

  2. I gotta admit, like yourself, I found that I wasn’t as impressed by this round of demos. I have been approaching things a little differently though, so that I can actually get through 20-30 demos. Instead of playing them all to completion, I play them for 10m. If I’m still interested after 10m then I continue playing, and usually add the title to my wishlist. If not, then I move onto the next game. This might seem like a slightly unfair system, but I feel its the job of a demo to make a good first impression, and hook the player’s interest. If that hasn’t happened after 10 minutes that aint on me.

    Planet of Lana was one of the few demos that I actually finished instead of quitting out of prematurely. I wasn’t over the moon with it, but finishing it over simply quitting after 10m does at least tell me that I didn’t find the experience totally off-putting.

    • You touch on something there which has become a bugbear for me recently. It feels like demos have grown longer over the past year: whereas they used to take between 20 and 30 minutes to finish, they now seem to go on for an hour or more. And I hate having to sit through the same content again because it’s so long, if I decide to buy the full release. All I want is a quick taste of a game – not to sit through an entire prologue or first chapter.

  3. I didn’t think it was a particularly good Next Fest either but aparently games can only be submitted for one NextFest and become ineligible for subsequent ones, so a glut of point&clicks in November may well be the reason for a scarcity in February.

    That said, I notice you didn’t mention any of the p&Cs I tried, namely Zid Journey,
    Hello Goodboy and Splittown. They all had their merits and I wishlisted two out of the three. There’s a “Mystery Fest” on right now, which features more P&C adventures and similar types of game although its all stuff you have to pay for rather than free demos. Still, worth a look.

    • I wasn’t aware of that – I assumed a game could be submitted for every event if the developers wanted it to be. Now I come to think about it though, it does make sense. I guess it prevents the Steam Next Fests from becoming oversaturated with the same titles, but it also feels a little unfair on players who may have run out of time and not been able to try a particular demo. I’m going to make sure I’m more organised in the future.

      There are a few games on my wishlist which are on sale as part of the Mystery Fest (it’s just a shame the event ends before payday this month). I knew of Zid Journey but not Hello Goodboy and Splittown – I’ll check them out. 🙂

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