Hello all. I don’t know why I have ignored the Steam Festival until now but this year I thought I’d give a few games a try and attempt to write about them.
Before you read on, please note that I am not a developer so playing unreleased games and figuring out what can realistically be fixed or what should be good by now is not something I can do. I have tried to be generally positive but some games definitely shone more than others so it didn't always work out. All games below have clearly had a lot of work put into them and I hope they all come out great, even if I admittedly think that some will very likely not. At the end you will find some recommendations in case you just want to play some demos without reading anything. And by the way, I won’t blame you, the writing is not very good.
So in alphabetical order:
Alekon (The Alekon Company)
I really enjoyed this one, it’s a Pokemon Snap type photography game where you take pictures of animals doing different things and earn points based on the quality of the pictures in order to progress. A nice feature is that once you do all the set on-rails paths for each world you get to free roam and explore the nooks and crannies of each level. Key to all this are the creatures themselves, which are super-characterful and it even has some pretty funny writing (I laughed out loud, when does that ever happen?). Recommended, great for kids too.
Balan Wonderworld (Square Enix. Arzest)
Now one thing that I did not struggle with in this game was finding something interesting to take a screenshot of, holy moly. I’m guessing most know by now but this is a platformer by Yuji Naka, one of the minds that brought you Sonic the Hedgehog back in the day. There is an appeal to the discordant aesthetic but it’s the way the game feels that did not sit so well with me. If you would allow a bit of Nintendo eulogising, it is a testament to the level of talent involved in nailing the feel of a 3D platformer, that other developers are still struggling so much with it. It just feels off and I hope they fix it because I wouldn't mind experiencing the craziness on display here if it played better.
Beasts of Maravilla Island (Banana Bird Studios)
This is a game of two halves, quality wise. It is on one hand a clearly lovingly researched and crafted game, visually. On the other hand you have the in-motion playing part, which unfortunately does not feel good at all. It makes me think of whether developers of kickstarter games put pressure on themselves to create visually arresting games before they have something that is actually fun and snappy (pun intended, I am sorry) to play. In the sense that a visual artist will often draw the foundational shapes of a figure before layering more and more detail, I do wonder, as a non-developer, what the foundational shapes of a game are, if there are any at all, and whether the digital nature of games negates the need for a specific series of steps. I’m sure there is no right way and I am assuming a lot about this game so I apologise (again). I am also rambling so yeah, there is something here but they need to tighten it up.
Blind Drive (Lo-Fi People)
It’s in the name mostly, you drive while blindfolded. Before you start imagining open worlds and great depths of interaction, it's a game where you take aural cues to either turn left or right on a set path. I was actually surprised by how much mileage (pun not intended) they get out of this simple idea and while minimal, the presentation is actually really well done. I am not sure that it can sustain a full game for me though.
Bravers (8-bit Caviar)
This is a game similar in structure to Forgotten Seas where you embark on quests with your craft and crew and, at least in the demo, always return to the same port to cash in. The most interesting mechanic is that your craft is modular and can be customised by buying upgrades that also enlarge it but also require more crew to operate. If they manage to create attachment to crew members, it could be one to look at.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale (Greg Lobanov, Lena Raine, Em Halberstadt, Alexis Dean-Jones, Madeline Berger)
It took a while to remember what you call this genre, it’s a top down action-adventure game! You play as a dog in a land that has been stripped of its colour. Thankfully you are equipped with a brush which you use to interact but also to simply just paint the world as you see fit. I really liked how inaccurate the brush feels, it leads to your attempts feeling chaotic and childlike which suits the theme and writing of the game. It is not clear yet how creative the game will get with its interactions but it has a lot of potential, really looking forward to how it turns out.
Hoverflow (Simon Trebern)
Wow am I bad at this one. I am so bad that I had to check on YouTube to confirm whether I am bad or whether the game is simply broken. It turns out that I am indeed terrible at the game because what I saw someone else doing looked like a lot of fun and certainly did not reflect my experience in any way. The game could ease you into it a bit more but it’s worth looking out for this, once you get the basic concepts down I can see it being good. Oh wait, I forgot, it is a first person platformer where you jump and glide down ramps to get to the end, picking up speed along the way and, well, maintaining your ‘flow’. It looks nice as well.
Lorn’s Lure (Rubeki)
What starts as a very atmospheric first person exploration game very quickly evolves (or devolves) into a pretty brutal climbing and platforming game. Its paths through the levels are so fiddly and punishing that it reminded me of trying to climb a mountain in a Bethesda game by taking advantage of the geometry in ways the developer was not anticipating. The look and atmosphere are intriguing though and jumping onto tiny bits of rock or using your hooks to latch onto vertical surfaces does give it a unique sense of precariousness which was fun. The checkpointing is very generous which is nice but you do die a lot, something recognised by an onscreen death counter which in my case reset after a point, I guess to save me the embarrassment. Unfortunately, I think I know approximately when it reset so my total was around 180 deaths, in 1,5 hours. I somehow still had a good time and am curious to see the final game.
Metric Racer (Virtex Edge Design)
As with another game down the list, I have nothing against a developer wanting to create a new version that captures the spirit of an old classic, especially in such an underserved genre like arcade racers. This one certainly invokes Wipeout but it borrows so much from that game stylistically that it is hard to play this without immediately drawing comparisons and unfortunately concluding that you would rather be playing the original. This looks like it could have a long way to go so perhaps once finished it will stand on its own but right now I didn’t do it for me.
Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator (niceplay games)
I was unfairly judgemental on this one when I saw it on Steam, I assumed that it would lean on some sort of what-if-you-were-the-shopkeeper gimmick and not much else. Turns out it is an incredibly elegant and evocative representation of, surprisingly to me, cooking which I guess is the closest equivalent to potion making that I can relate to. The road to discovering new recipes is represented by a potion map that your potion moves on as you add more ingredients. End on the right spot and you have a potion. The actual making process initially seems to only be there to reinforce the fantasy but it is actually integral to making even better potions as mixing slightly less or adding a bit more water can affect the results which is very reminiscent of gaining experience in the kitchen. The question is whether it can sustain a full game but I certainly hope so, one to look out for.
Race Condition (Ravine AB)
Images of the game reminded of Indianapolis 500: The Simulation (1989) that I played as a kid. Apparently it was considered to be one of the first attempts at creating a simulation racing game rather than the arcade racers that were the norm at the time. CGW's review at the time said: "It also becomes obvious that this is a game for those who take auto racing seriously. Gamers looking for immediate gratification should stick to Out Run" which is an incredibly cringeworthy thing to write. I know this by the way because there is a website out there called the CGW Museum that has a huge number of old issues of Computer Gaming World in PDF form and is an interesting look back in time. The younger me was more of a PC Gamer UK fan which I remember always getting a few weeks late as foreign publications would trickle into the country. Where was I? Oh, Indianapolis 500 is a very hard game but it also captured a sense of peril and moments-away-from-a-crashness that made it fun for the brief time that your car pointed in the right direction. And after the disaster, the polygonal messes that were the crashes were incredible. I am always disappointed when simulation games don't do crashes or damage modelling well because, while I understand that it is rarely the point of the game, it is the sense that you are on the edge of catastrophe that nails the experience for me. Race Condition I unfortunately don't have that much to say about, its ok but is missing that sense of excitement. As a fan of F1 I would love an abstracted version of the sport so I like the idea but there is something lacking at the moment.
Shady Knight (Alexey 'cptnsigh')
It’s funny that the one game I enjoyed the most I have the least to say about. It’s a first person melee game where you clear small crafted levels using a variety of different moves that you discover as you play. Game feel is so hard to describe for me but this just nails it with movement feeling snappy and deliberate and attacks being impactful. Everything is also so easily combined, something that the game encourages by giving a score based on variety. It also has a nice clean look to it, this one I can’t wait for!
Skate Bird (Glass Bottom Games)
This is a skating game, more in the hallowed tradition of the Tony Hawks rather than the venerated church of SKATE. I don’t know that I am talking about, it feels more arcadey is what I am trying to say. The game plays as you would expect, the only thing lacking is a bit of polish but the bones of the experience are there and they are pretty good. I have to say that the bird skaters do go a long way for me (they are extremely cute) but one issue that I can foresee is that the anatomy of a sparrow does not allow for an expressive and readable set of moves when compared to a human but maybe there are other ways to make the game more legible and crunchy. Great for kids too!
Time Loader (Flazm)
A 2.5D puzzle platformer where you navigate a house overcoming obstacles with simple physics puzzles. I have a feeling that this game is more about seeing the lovingly recreated environs rather than the puzzling, which at least in the demo is a bit rote. Speaking of the house, it is aggressively nostalgia laden which lends more to the idea that the whole thing is an exercise in atmosphere rather than gameplay but if done well then why not. Regarding the atmosphere, I can’t put my finger on it but there is something missing, maybe the lighting or the colour palette but perhaps the final game brings that final polish to the levels. Oh, the game also includes a basement that Vinny would be proud of, I mean, it’s enormous.
Whisker Squadron (Flippfly)
I am more of a Stunt Race FX man myself but I also see Starfox with a certain amount of nostalgia. This is a game in a very similar vein but with added procedural generation for the levels, probably making it more re-playable than its inspiration. There is potential to the idea but it is a bit of a shame that it borrows so much stylistically from Starfox which makes it hard to see the game as a thing of its own rather than a part-clone of a beloved classic. The ship looks similar, the levels have very similar obstacles and enemies, even the pilots are animals (well only cats). It looks so much like the original that I kept on wishing it was more pixelated and stuttery, which in hindsight is insane, but if you are a fan of Starfox, it might be one to look at.
Whew, that’s it! As promised, if you just want to check out some games, here are the ones I would recommend in order of preference:
1. Shady Knight (demo still available)
2. Alekon (demo still available)
3. Chicory: A Colorful Tale (demo taken down, whyyyy...)
4. Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator (demo still available)
5. Lorn's Lure (demo still available)
Thanks for reading!