Highlights of Steam Next - February 2022

For those who haven't picked up on it yet - Steam is holding a bi-annual festival of demos, restricted to games that are due to come out within the next 6 months. Steam has grown to the largest games library on the planet which is both good and bad. On one hand, if your game isn't on Steam it may as well not exist; a lot of people just don't read gaming articles and review sites - they're only going to see what pops up inside their games platform. On the other hand, Steam is so popular that it's very very easy for games to just get lost. They popup in the "recent releases" for a day or two and then disappear into the mass of crap that's surfaced since Steam stopped curating games allowed on Steam a few years ago.

Enter Steam Next Fest - a way for games releasing imminently to not only market themselves, but also allow players to try out the games - probably my favourite addition to Steam in years. Although Steam's refund policy is excellent, there's nothing better than trying out the game for an hour or so before buying it. I downloaded 20 or so this year and worked my way through them. That sounds like a lot, but in reality you can tell pretty quickly, regardless of genre, whether a game is basically well designed or will be a steaming pile on release day. Wow there were a lot of good ones this year!

Tinykin - Demo

I remember playing Pikmin in 2001 on the GameCube, back when Nintendo were still doing anything original. You play as a tiny astronaut, and you convince little coloured aliens to follow you around and lift / fight normal-sized (huge by your scale) objects and enemies in the Gulliver's Travels-style world around you. Well, this is exactly that - except that it's on PC and not made by Nintendo. It has a lovely art style; a rendered 3D world - but all the characters and Pikmin are in 2D. It works. It felt very polished and would have no problems playing this in a few months' time. Gameplay is mostly a 3D platform / puzzler running around searching for enough Pikmin to unlock the next challenge.

Blastronaut - Demo

This looks like a minimalist 2D platformer with mining mechanics. You start on the surface with almost no tutorial, but you pick it up fairly quickly. You have a blaster and a jetpack, and it looks like the idea is to mine metals from underground, take them to a base and refine them, then sell them to buy upgrades. There are passive enemies around which you splat to refuel, and more aggressive enemies further down. I found the jetpack controls quite hard to get used to, but I can still see myself playing it a lot. The weapons look great; the second gun you get in the demo is a huge lightning cannon which is deadly equally to enemies, and me shooting myself in the foot.

Nova Islands - Demo

I am starved for automation factory games. Love 'em. So I was pleased to see another one surface in the demo festival that looked like it had some original ideas. You play on an island (you unlock more islands later) where you harvest renewable resources, build machines, and then robots to do it for you to work your way through the tech tree and explore other islands. It kinda reminds me of Forager - similar island mechanics, but is very much focused on automation. It looks like the idea might be to specialise each island in something and move resources between them, and some islands will have different biomes and resources.

The Wandering Village - Demo

I've had my eye on this for a long time, because it looks like a rare innovation in the city builder genre. You build a village on the back of a giant beast (Onbu). Instead of a summer / winter cycle, the "seasons" are actually different biomes that the beast walks through, which will all have effects on the environment. There's a research tree where it looks like you can either care for, or exploit Onbu - like mining it for resources or feeding it. Onbu walks through a beautiful 3D world, but your buildings and citizens are completely 2D, which works pretty well. The UI is nice, and there's a cool mechanic where you can see the road Onbu is walking down, and events that are going to happen.

Core Keeper - Early Access

I knew from the first time I saw the trailer for this last year that I was going to love it. You start in an underground chamber next to an ominous glowing statue with nothing. You start mining your way into the darkness heading towards some sparkles and discover copper. Half an hour later you're armed to the teeth, hauling your latest loot back to base where you'll refine metal, cook some more food and attend to the farm. This is taking the best vibes from Stardew & Terraria and putting them in a really well polished game with building, crafting and survival mechanics. It looks like there are bosses to unlock the statue you start next to, and a progression system through metals. Love it.

Minishoot - Demo

Minishoot (I have no idea why there's an apostrophe in the title) is an old fashioned top down shooter, but it's really highly polished. It's a good example of why the Next Fest works; I probably wouldn't buy something like this by default, but playing it convinced me that I will. Oddly, I would compare this with something like A Link to the Past; there's an overworld, unlockable abilities and dungeons. The dungeons are divided into rooms where you need to collect keys and find your way to the boss, and somewhere in the dungeon you pick up a new ability which unlocks the rest of the rooms. Shooting feels good, the level design was great and there's a decent upgrade system.

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