Remember the Steam Next Fest that took place one month ago that I said I would make some content for? It’s here! I played so many great demos and I am very excited to finally share them.
One night I had an idea – which then became a personal goal – to create a magazine. It seemed like a fun challenge to get to practice writing, graphic design and art all at once, and that turned out to be true.
Although the festival has been and gone, the games last forever. Some still have demos going and some have even released, so it is always worth taking a look.
You can view on desktop directly or download a PDF below to view at your own leisure. This is something that is a little different for me so if you have enjoyed, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
I recently made a post about a bunch of the Indie Games that have released this year, of who’s demos I had played over the years. Since I didn’t cover all the Indie Game Festivals as comprehensively as I would have liked at the time, I decided to do the same thing again except this time, for games that got their releases last year. This still feels relevant as thankfully, the games havent gone anywhere. In fact, now may be better than ever what with updates and such.
This games striking art style grabbed my attention almost as much as the premise. We play as a sort of wildlife watcher. Our job is to place cameras and watch them each night, in order to track the movements of Squirrels. I really enjoyed both the puzzle of the tracking and the potential of the story that is being told through it.
Lemon Cake is an especially cute bakery management game. The adorable art and the cozy vibes made this a pleasant experience all around. Eloise from Cozy Bee Games is also very open with her development, sharing her designs and progress on Twitter and Twitch!
26th February 2021 – Tiny Room Stories: Town Mystery – Kiary Games
I love escape room games. Tiny Room Stories: Town Mysteries features escape rooms – or escape buildings/areas – each in their own little dioramas, connected by an ongoing story. The difficulty was perfect for me to make it an enjoyable experience that I want more of.
The Song of Farca Prologue is still available to play for free at the time of writing. This game is set in an apartment, but it is easy to forget as you are interacting with the story through different panels, experiencing the world beyond. It is fun making use of the tools given to you and working your way through mysteries in a way that only a private detective could.
TOEM is a black and white adventure game where our goal is exploration and taking photographs. I had a lot of fun scouring every area for things to snap to fill up my compendium. Best of all, the game has just had a big update, including new areas and more. So even if you have already played there is every reason to go back and take another look.
When I first started this demo I had no idea what to expect. I had never played a game that looked or played like it. I ended up really enjoying it and being sad when I reached the end. In this game you will play through your characters life, shaping their personality and experiences through the choices that you make. Balance their needs and life decisions and see how you turn out.
18th October 2021 – Sacred Fire: A Role Playing Game – Poetic
I loved this demo. I have never played anything like it and I got really into it. The art style is somehow simple and complex at the same time. It is a game full of choices and you are in a lot of control of how to deal with situations. Or at least, you are in control of how you intend to deal with them, as long as the dice roll goes your way.
The game is currently in Early Access with a free demo here.
19th October 2021 – Escape Simulator – Pine Studio
Escape Simulator is an escape room experience specifically designed for multiple players. The rooms themselves are fun and well themed, and another selling point is that you can create your own rooms, as well as play rooms others have created.
Here is the Steam page if you would like to check it out.
21st October 2021 – Growbot – Wabisabi Play
Growbot is an adorable point and click adventure. While art style can play a huge part on whether I enjoy a game, that isnt the only reason I liked it. Upon solving the puzzles and reading every bit of lore I could find, I was fascinated by this world that I was learning about. From what I can tell, this game is fairly short. I would love to stream it sometime.
There were so many unique games released in 2021 and Moncage is no exception. This is a puzzle game in which you need to manipulate objects within an environment, in order to alter the perspective. It is very satisfying when you solve a puzzle and everything lines up the way it should. It is also telling a story throughout. I would say it is comparable to a 3D Gorogoa, all be it in a totally different style.
There were of course many more Indies released in 2021, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the demo of every game above. It is so great to watch a game go from releasing a demo to releasing the full game, rooting for them and seeing how they do. Now, I will get back to playing more demos, scouting for more of these delights!
My Time at Portia is a game with many flaws, but if you can look past them then it can be an absolute delight. I feel like Portia is ideal for the people who love Stardew Valley/Harvest Moon type games but find the farming tedious after a while. These aren’t the only type of people who might enjoy this game, but if that resonates with you then it could be worth a shot! Not only through the first few hours but throughout my entire playthrough, I was constantly surprised, confused and amused by the stuff I would find and the things that would happen, leading to the affectionate nickname of ‘My Weird Time at Portia’.
– Doesn’t know what it wants to be
When I first started playing My Time at Portia, I got the sense that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. Games like Stardew Valley have a lot to do. You can farm, craft, cook, mine, forage, fish, create relationships. I feel that all of these things are key to the slice-of-life farm sim genre that these games are part of, which is already quite a lot of things to do. Portia is similar in that sense, except, add a main story, side quests left right and centre, dungeon crawling, named boss fights, a full on skill tree with three entirely seperate sections to go down, a photo menu, a workshop manual, a research system, a fluctuating economy, social mini games, regular mini games, festival mini games. It is a lot, and for a while the main thought going through my head was ‘What on earth is this game’.
+ Something for everyone
Though the absolute muddle of things to do and potentially overwhelming vibes this game gives out, the bright side is there is probably something for everyone. If you are like me and enjoy the systematic collection of things and ticking things off lists, you can do that. If you like making friends with everyone in town, you can do that. If you like spending your time decorating your home rather than completing commissions, you can do that. If you like dungeon crawling and fighting for loot.. I can’t say that I recommend it but it is there. More on that later!
– The jank
Before you even think about playing this game there is something that you have to accept. This game is Janky. And I mean Janky. Sometimes characters speak out loud, sometimes they dont, when they do it is generally awful. Sometimes they will say the right words, sometimes they will say something entirely different, sometimes they won’t actually be there while they are talking. Sometimes the camera will focus on weird things. NPCs are constantly stuck on the environment and will occasionally teleport. Photo quests break often. Mounts become unmountable. The game does a lot and generally it works, but with love, I do have to say that it can be quite a mess.
+ The jank
On the other hand, if this game didn’t have its Jank then I don’t think it would be half as memorable than if it were perfect and smooth. If you have a mount they are going to be running around in the background of every cutscene. When you get past how awful some of the cutscenes are they become hilarious and you look forward to the next one. When creating my character I couldn’t figure out how to change her name on console so she ended up being Linda. I gave her some pink cheeks that looked nice in the character creation menu. As soon as we got into the game though, it turns out those pink cheeks basically glow. Every day in game, something in the world is going wrong and it was a constant source of glee for me. A lot of the Jank is graphical or in the animations, and they can be the best.
– The combat
Okay… if there is something that I have to give my biggest criticism in this game, it is the combat. I don’t enjoy combat at the best of times but I can usually appreciate it if done well. It isn’t the end of the world since this game isn’t about combat, but you have to do it often enough that it can become frustrating and tedious. There is no feedback, or at least it tries to give you feedback through visual effects, which in the end just feel like a mess on the screen. I genuinely cannot tell when I am getting hit. There are numbers popping up but there is no feeling to it at all. Sometimes you can hit through or be hit through walls. Sometimes the enemy ends up in the air and doesn’t come back to the ground. Timing doesn’t feel like it matters much and when it does it can be frustrating. Hit boxes are hit and miss. AI companions will run at enemies and agro them when you are trying to draw them out one at a time. Thankfully, if you die during a boss fight you will respawn without their health being replenished. This is a mercy that I am grateful for, but it almost feels like confirmation of an awareness that the combat isn’t the best. Throughout the main story you will be put into multiple combat scenarios. As long as you keep plenty of health replenishing items in your inventory then you can tank your way through without too much pain. It can be a huge drag though.
+ Low stakes
I think what I love the most about this game are the low stakes. Sure, there are optimal ways to play and you can min/max if that is how you like to do it. But if not, there aren’t really any punishments for going slow. The only things that are timed are daily commissions (which you can choose to do) and very few quests/side quests. Other than that.. go nuts. Fancy spending an entire week in the mines? Go for it. As long as you have set your machines away there is really no reason to come home at night, so you can pass out at 3am doing whatever you were doing and wake up with full stamina the next day without losing anything. This all makes it really easy to pick this game back up even if you haven’t played for a month. I really appreciate it when I compare it to say, Stardew Valley, where I don’t want to boot up my game without my notebook in hand because I need to stick to my plan.
I believe Crafting is a really clever way to solve the problem that I mentioned in the intro. By the end, I usually find farming really tedious in these games. Having to water everything every day, plant them at the right time, harvest and replant, then if you miss the window you have to wait an entire year. I always pray for rainy days so that I can go and do other things. Instead, in this game you have to gather materials and process them, to then craft them into different items. Different materials can be processed in different ways, so it is up to you to manage what you have, what you need, and that is the loop rather than plant, water, harvest, repeat. It is much more flexible and, for me at least, enjoyable.
The fact that I already enjoy the crafting is doubled when paired with progression in this game. Throughout the main story you will get many different commissions to help make the city a better place. If there is something I love in a game, it is an environment that evolves over time. Not only does Portia do that, but it only does so thanks to your efforts. Building bridges will allow you to access new areas. Building busses will unlock fast travel. You will build buildings and areas that from that moment onwards will be a permanent part of the town. It never stops being satisfying. On top of this, the crafting progression itself also feels nicely done and natural to me. Once you are able to build everything available, you know that you will then need to upgrade your equiptment to unlock more options. If you have options available that you dont yet have the materials to build, you know that your next quests are going to unlock an area that allows you to access new resources. It is a cycle that repeats throughout the game and works very well.
I don’t really know where to place relationships here. There are things I really like and things that I really dislike about them. On the positive side, relationships bloom themselves as you progress through the story, which I think is very naturally done. As you help improve the town, the townsfolk will like you more. As you do commissions for individuals they will like you even more. Then as you grow relationships with them you will start to get cute little side quests which I found to be a nice touch. Becoming friends with certain vendors will get you discounts, and you will occasionally receive gifts from your buddies.
The relationship system is let down in two ways in my opinion. Firstly, I don’t think it’s very fun. There is the traditional system of giving the person daily gifts that they like which isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. Then there are some more unique systems, most of which didn’t land for me. Some characters have their own minigames you can play, some can spar (see combat above to explain why this doesn’t hit) and once you become their friend you can go on playdates (or proper dates if you are romancing). After I had done two dates I was already bored of the system and just wanted go back to old fashioned gift giving. Secondly, when it comes to romance, I don’t feel like there are many good options, specifically for husbands. I didn’t really want to marry anyone. Six of the options are identical. Having kids is as far as you can go down the family route and they don’t grow up from being a toddler. So relationships in general in this game are a really mixed bag for me.
+ Attention to detail
The attention to detail in this game is great. While some systems feel unnecessary, there are others that add to the overall charm of the game. My favorite thing is that anything you are holding, your character will be holding it in their hand. If it’s big they will carry it over their head. Most accessories that you can wear for stats you can also see on your character. They didn’t have to do these things but it really adds to the experience, and it will always be funny running along carrying a giant poop above your head.
– Navigating crafting
Navigating the crafting systems does not flow well, and while you do get used to it, it could be better (and I believe they may have solved this in the sequel). For example, if you are assembling a big product, having the ingredients in your inventory will not do. They have to be directly in your hand to place them. Eventually you get some automation options but it is so late in the game and unintuitive that I have to mark the game down for it. When I don’t play for a while, the hardest part is reacquainting myself with all my stuff since I need to know where to grab things from.
Something else to watch out for in this game are the festivals. Many slice-of-life games have them.. But none of them have them quite like this.
And the final positive point of this game, saving the best till last. Pinky.
There are a lot of reasons to like this game and many surprises along the way. As long as you know that you are going into a very imperfect experience and are open to some fun, there is such a good time to be had. If you like what you heard above then you should definitely jump in. If you claim the free games on the Epic store you may already own it, or it is currently on the PS Plus Extra Tier and Xbox Game Pass. The Sequel ‘My Time at Sandrock’ is in Early Access right now so it is the perfect time to jump into the series.