Steam Next Fest is on right now, and if you're anything like me, you'll be struggling big time to narrow down the many hundreds of amazing-looking game demos available right now. Well, not to worry - I've jumped into a fair few of them and am more than happy to share my recommendations!
There are games of every genre in the Steam Next Fest, so if there's something on this list that sounds like you'd aggressively despise it, just skip to the next one - I'm covering every kind of vibe I can here.
Remember, if you enjoy a demo in Steam Next Fest make sure you wishlist it on Steam! It's super important and helps the devs out a lot with the magical, all-powerful algorithm and will hopefully make the best games more discoverable.
It'll take a whole lot to make a Pokémon-like game take off in any meaningful way. We're attached to the little monsters so many of us grew up with, refusing to let any other critter compare. It's probably part of the reason why we just keep buying and playing Pokémon games without many wholesale changes to the series conventions (until recently with Legends: Arceus).
It's easy to be sceptical. I didn't spend much time at all with TemTem, and since then haven't had a lot of time with the critter-collecting genre. Coromon might just be the one to change it for me, though.
The story follows similar beats as Pokémon, with you choosing between three starters and battling your way through the region, but the gameplay changes are what make Coromon stand out from the rest of the genre.
If you're familiar with Nuzlockes, the 'hard mode' way of playing Pokémon games, you'll be well aware of how monster collecting games can make themselves more challenging. By limiting the player to a single monster per route and enforcing perma-death on your party, you'll have to think through your decisions a lot more. Coromon introduces two difficulty levels above the standard with these mechanics enforced within the game.
I'll definitely be giving it a go. From what I saw in the demo, the story has intrigued me, the music is absolutely delightful, and I can see myself falling in love with the Coromon themselves. It'll take time, but it's all there.
I promise I'm not just nostalgic. But remember Wii Play? That game everyone got because it came packaged with an extra Wii remote? If you do, you'll probably remember that Tanks was the only good game on there, save for some passable air hockey and entertaining but short-lived billiards.
Toy Tanks is the evolution of that concept, and I'm so glad I got to try it out. You get to pick between four types of tanks with different stats in attack, defence, and speed, teaming up with local opponents or bots. There's also a giant stack of modifiers you can add to your game, my favourite being Brawler, which requires you to ram into your enemy in order to deal damage.
Toy Tanks has a satisfying physics engine too - your bullets and your tank's momentum are linked, allowing for some sweet trick shots, and you can jump to avoid enemy projectiles if things are getting dicey. Tanks feel weighty and the enemies get extremely tough to deal with in large quantities, so twin-stick skill and strategy are both highly recommended.
The Pixel Hunt is the home of one of my favourite games ever - Bury Me, My Love. I played it on mobile, and it makes fantastic use of actual time and empty space to build tension in a hugely personal yet real story of a refugee trying to find safety.
The Wreck is the studio's next game, and the demo available on Steam Next Fest is a gorgeous snippet into what to expect.
It's not going to be for everyone, so take this as a content warning as the game deals with topics such as assisted dying.
According to The Pixel Hunt's Twitter, The Wreck is "what happens when you mix Life is Strange, Fleabag, Marriage Story, and add a nice dash of drama".
I see where the comparisons come from, especially when you're fast-forwarding and rewinding your way through your character's memories, getting to grips with how she remembers a situation to help educate her present dilemma. I feel like The Wreck could be something more, though.
Of course, I'll have to play the full game when it comes out, but I'm excited about the unique ways The Wreck tells its story. It's a game where your dialogue choices alter the outcome of the story, but most of the time you're battling and conversing with your own internal monologue. You're figuring out which trains of thought to pursue, and how to forge a path through your mind to come to your own conclusion.
I look forward to The Wreck, potentially as a game I end up thinking about for a long time after I'm done with it.
The Wandering Village
This is a fascinating one. At first glance in The Wandering Village, you're put in charge of managing resources and building up a colony as though you're playing Age of Empires. It transpires, though, that your goal is not world domination. It's a game about symbiotic survival.
Zoom out of your colony and you'll see the great Onbu - a giant creature trundling around through the air of the toxic world.
You must keep both your workers and your Onbu alive by sustainably building your settlement, ensuring you both have enough resources to survive. Remind you of anything?
The way The Wandering Village streamlines its gameplay is exquisite. A lot of people will be put off by how the game looks - loads of little guys bustling around and doing stuff - but there's minimal micromanagement involved here. It's a calming game that requires thought and planning, rather than frantic clicking and managing a thousand things at once.
I'll be keeping my eyes on The Wandering Village until it's out, that's for sure. Until then, there's a pretty big tech tree to research and I won't stop playing until I unlock the ability to pet my Onbu.
Of course, this is just a small selection of what is a fantastic bunch of game demos. Start with one of my picks and go from there, seeing what tickles your fancy. Remember, it's all free, so why not just dip into a load of games that look cool and wishlist the ones you love?