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!
Over the last couple of years since the very first Steam Game Festival, I have spent a lot of time playing the demos of Indie Games. The idea of these festivals was fantastic to me. Games get the chance to showcase what they are, and I get the chance to try games that I may not try otherwise. Since then, I have covered festivals on my blog, on my YT channel and in my discord. It is something that I enjoy very much and would like to continue for years into the future. Seeking out the Indie gems is like panning for gold and when you find it, it makes you want to shout from the rooftops.
I got the idea to look back over the demos I have played back in July when 4 of those games released in one month! It is so nice to see games that I first tried back in 2020 finally get their release. So here are the demos that I enjoyed that have released this year, and some more to watch out for in the coming months. I haven’t played them all but I am itching to!
March 19th – Eternal Threads – Cosmonaut Studios
I prioritised playing this demo, not only because it looked up my alley but it is set in the North of England. I was not disappointed. Taking place within a house, this narrative based walking sim absorbed me, flashing between the past and the present, piecing together what happened. This is a game that I would love to stream sometime.
Cat Café Manager is a very chill, cute, management game. The problem with management games is that you don’t know whether there will be a difficulty spike, or equally, whether it will stay engaging for long. As far as I can tell, this is a nice, easy going game that would be a good entry to the genre for anyone intimidated by management sims or looking for something that isnt too taxing on the brain.
This is another management game, but instead of serving food you are breeding bees! The simplistic art style is easy on the eyes, giving way to the addiction of repopulating the island. I really enjoyed trying to breed them all, and the demo is still available so you can try bee-fore you buy.
Escape Academy is a delightful escape room puzzle game. If you enjoy escape rooms then you are sure to like it. With a fun story between and silky smooth gameplay, I can’t recommend this one enough. This is the only game on the list that I have played in full, and you can too right now if you have Game Pass!
July 15th – The Final Earth 2 – Florian van Strien
This is a great city builder. Easy to pick up, but so difficult to put down. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. The graphics are simple but clean and clear, making a visually unique game that you can get creative with. Definitely a recommend from me.
Hazel Sky is one of the earliest demos that I played and I was very happy to see it recently get a release. I can’t speak for the rest of the game, but the demo made me laugh out loud, and contained intrigue that made me want to see the rest of this world.
I am seeing a trend here. And the trend is lovely, laid back management sims. In this one, you play as a bear running a bed and breakfast. I really do have a spectrum of management covered! You can explore while gathering resources to make your business the best that it can be and meet the people(?) around you, all with minimal stress!
July 28th – Lord Winklebottom Investigates – Cave Monsters
I really want to play this game! Lord Winklebottom is a classic, point and click murder mystery adventure game. I love the style, it feels so nostalgic and has charm. The people are animals (obviously), fully voiced, and British. As someone who loves playing detective.. Yes please to all of the above!
September 13th – Deadwater Saloon – Creative Storm Entertainment / Tanglefoot Games
I was so mixed about this one. On one hand, I had problems with it. But on the other, I couldn’t stop playing. Two hours in and I finally forced myself to stop. At the time of writing the game has just released, so I will be interested to see if the problems have been fixed!
All of the above have released so far this year. But wait.. There’s more! September and beyond are full of releases.
September 22nd – Beacon Pines – Hiding Spot
I really enjoyed this one. The mixture of its really unique art style, and the contrast of cute but eerie makes me want to continue. The closest tone I can think of is if Night in the Woods, except younger characters. The gameplay however is a story book narrative puzzle. You collect terms that you can add to the story in certain places to alter the sentences and as a result, branch the paths. I have seen similar mechanics in Fate of Kai, and Indie Showcase demo Storyteller, and I have loved them every time. If this couldn’t be better, it is, because it will be available day one on Game Pass! I’m really looking forward to see how this one does.
Wishlist on Steam here to be notified when the game releases!
September 26th – Monorail Stories – Stelex Software
This is another demo that I played a long time ago. It was short but sweet, telling a story and building a world through rides on a monorail. You only need to look at the screenshots to see how much care has gone into the art. I wish them all the luck for a successful launch!
I played the Dome Keeper demo earlier this year as recommended by a few friends. They were right, it was a blast! In this roguelike your time is split between mining for resources and defending your base, using upgrades gained from said resources. It is fast paced, easy to learn but I imagine not so easy to master, and has that ‘one more try’ appeal. I hope this one blows up!
September 28th – The Excavation of Hobs Barrow – Cloak and Dagger Games
I am generally not a fan of horror so I avoid it, but for whatever reason this is one of the demos that I played. And honestly? I was so glad I did. I played this one on my own without recording and I remember having a great affection for it. But – my memory being my memory – I can’t remember exactly what happened or how it played. What I do know, is that it immediately went on my Wishlist, and I would love to stream it sometime after it releases. The art is gorgeous and I want to be back in that atmosphere.
Previously known as Incantamentum, you can wishlist on steam here.
2022 – Nobodies: After Death – Blyts
I loved the demo for this one and it is still available now! The best comparison I can make is that this is like a point and click, escape room style game. You are cleaning up after murders and trying not to get caught by solving the puzzle of the area you are in. The art is gorgeous which sounds like a contrast to the concept of the game, but it makes it even more fun to see where you might end up next. I hope this one finds its audience because the demo is a strong recommend from me!
Finally, Organs Please doesn’t have a release date except 2022. Despite the dark humour in the dire world that we are living in, it is easy to forget the horrors of what you are actually doing as you enter a flow state of maximum efficiency. The mechanics are introduced at a satisfying pace, building you up from rookie to mega multitasker in no time. I really enjoyed the gameplay of this one and would definitely like to play more upon release.
And that is it. Apparently this has been a quiet year for games. While that may be true in the AAA spaces, new indie games are coming out every day. It can be hard to know how to filter through the volume of games, so hopefully someone will not only find this list useful, but also give these ones a chance! Some of these games were created solo and they are absolutely excellent. Let me know if you give any of them a go!
Playing PowerWash Simulator is like using a colouring book. It is something mindless to keep your hands and a specific part of your brain busy while you are doing something else such as watching a show or listening to a podcast. I never intended on finishing this game but I have had a challenging month, and this game turned out to be the perfect white noise that I needed to get by. It has a very similar feeling to the paint-by-numbers game I play on my phone when I want to pass time without engaging my brain.
Upon cleaning my first van I felt slightly irritated. Bugged by the fact that this is not how cleaning works. I can be a very systematic person. I have a set way that I wash my dishes, and that is because cleaning is annoying and awkward and putting things in water doesn’t = clean. So imagine my confusion when this game allowed me to clean the windows of the vehicle before I did the roof. How could that be? Everyone knows the dirt would come off the roof and re-dirty the parts you have already cleaned. This was against the laws of cleaning nature and I had a hard time accepting it. I finished up my now squeaky clean van and got to work on a huge garden. Slightly overwhelmed, I started on the fences and worked my way around. But then while I was doing the fences, I may as well do the floor between them. But I hadn’t done that bench yet so I should probably do that too. Then it clicked. If this game had real life cleaning physics it would be unbearable. It would go from an alternative to colouring in, to absolute chore simulator. I thanked the game dev gods that it wasnt me making this game, petitioning to make it realistic. Instead, they took fun and convenience into consideration, which enabled my compulsion to do things in any order that made sense to me in that very moment without consequence.
+/- The Compulsionism
I found my rhythm by the end of the game. Go around the edges of things, then do the betweeny parts. The only problem with this – how do you ever stop. Everytime I splash a bit of water onto a new section, I feel like I have signed my soul to a soapy devil and I am now committed to finishing this piece. Do my edges, splash onto the next area, sign a new contract, rinse, repeat. It is very hard to stop. Some times it feels less out of enjoyment and more of a duty. Of course, this isn’t a problem with the game, this is entirely in my head and if anything, it shows good game design. Not being able to put a game down is often a goal in making a game and usually the sign of a successful one.
I had a couple of bugs while playing. One time I got stuck somewhere unable to move. Then there were multiple times where my ‘show me the dirt’ button wasn’t working. Thankfully all of these were solved by either leaving then re-entering the level, or restarting the game. Nothing too major, just little annoyances but I could never tell when they were going to happen.
The menu is generally laid out well. It is really easy to jump between levels in seconds should you need to. It is designed as a tablet which works well with the theming of a mobile business. You can use the menu button to get a list of things like ‘Shop’ and ‘Settings’. That was all very clear. What wasn’t as clear to me was how to change your clothes. Throughout your cleaning career you are constantly opening your equiptment tab to change the length of your machine, so often that you cease to actually see the menu. What I didnt notice is that within that tab there is a clothing tab. I only realised after a google search because I was near the end of the game and desperate to try on my new gear. I never actually figured out how to change the skin of my Power Washer until I purposefully reloaded the game to figure it out specifically for this review. It is a triangle on top of a tab and it is so easy to miss. Again, only minor things but they felt worth mentioning.
+ Game Modes
Career mode is the bulk of the game. You will receive texts from clients offering you jobs. Near the beginning you can often choose between two or three, but by the end it becomes one at a time. As you complete jobs you will earn stars which will unlock upgrades in the shop, and money that will allow you to buy said upgrades. When you are done with career mode you can use free play mode to redo previous areas with all of the shiny equiptment and unlimited soap supplies. Also, there are special levels that contain 4 novelty scenarios to clean. I wonder if this is going to be added to over time. Co-op mode is an option if you want to clean with your friends, or just clean you friends. Finally, there are challenge modes, including time challenges and water usage. I tried and failed a time challenge three times before I gave up. I am no speed cleaner but they are there for others if you are up for perfecting your power washing technique.
Wait.. This game has a story? Actually, kind of! As you play through career mode you will recieve funny texts that may or may not be related to the job you are doing. Admittedly, I was so absorbed in my podcasts (Bonfireside Chat in case anyone was wondering) that I didn’t read them for most of the game. As I got to the final third or quarter of the game, things begun happening and the messages were catching my eye more and more. At this point, I was ready to stop. When I started flagging I went to trusty google to see how many levels were left, and seeing some of the titles of said levels gave me a bit of a second wind. True enough, I was then committed and had to see it all the way through to the end. I had to know what would happen. The game has a fun tone and it really works in its favour.
+ The little things
There was something so joyful about seeing something you have previously cleaned show up on a level. One example is seeing vehicles you have previously cleaned in the background of your current job. It happens more as the game goes on and consistently gave me a little dopamine boost.
+/- It’s a time sink
If I can loop back round to the intro, you can spend a lot of hours in this game. On one hand, fantastic. My time is filled without allowing and creeping thoughts or problems. Just keep washing. On the other hand though, where the hell did my time go? So many hours… down the drain (hur hur).
I think that is all I have to say about PowerWash Simulator! Overall, I finished the game. Considering I cleaned every inch of this world, I still feel so dirty that I put so many hours into it. Truth is, it is so much easier than cleaning in real life but has a similar satisfying effect. Trouble is, you then stand up from your computer and realise that there will always still be cleaning to do in real life. It served me well, but I am pretty happy to be hanging up my Prime Vista PRO for good.
I feel I need to start this one with a disclaimer. Reviews are subjective. I am going to talk about my experience with the game as a person who doesn’t play games for their combat. People who like the challenge may disagree with what I say, as I have seen many people online say this game is too easy. I, personally, am not a god at video games. I can only talk from my own point of view, that this game can also be great for people like me, even if it does have its drawbacks.
+ The Premise
Alright, so Hades is an artistic, stylish rogue-lite based in Greek Mythology. We play as Zagreus – the Son of Hades – and we have one goal. Escaping the underworld. Everytime you die you are transported back home, which makes sense as that is where the majority of the dead end up sooner or later. This alone is such a fantastic concept. I love when game mechanics are tied to the story and I can think of no better set up for a rouge-lite. Throughout our escape attempts, our family on Olympus will offer us aid in the form of boons and this is where the classic roguelike gameplay factors in. Different perks combine in different ways to allow a variety of playstyles. Throughout our escape attempts – and eventually escapes – we get more and more story, be it characterisation of the gods, or directly talking to everyone back home. We also get more and more mechanics, including weapons to shake up your playstyle and difficulty modifiers, for better or worse. The best part of this set up is that death doesn’t always feel bad. In fact, sometimes I wanted a death just so that I could go back to the house and see what everyone was up to.
At first, when I had only seen others play and not played myself, I didn’t love the aesthetics. Everyone was raving about them but I didn’t really get it until I tried it myself. You would think that the staple colours of red and green would shout Christmas. But they dont. Instead they evoke this regal hell. Rather than a festive cheer, it feels expensive and strict, yet also has a sense of home. The music is so good, everytime I start a run my head has to bob, it is perfect to hype you up for the challenge ahead. There is also diegetic music that is appropriately beautiful and evolves in fun ways as you go. The art in both the portraits of the characters and the movement itself is quite busy, but so unique. When things are busy sometimes my senses freeze up, but once I got used to it I really enjoyed looking at the details put into the characters. Then somehow everything also looks great when it moves. Overall, they took a premise that is already fantastic on its own, but then executed it so stylishly that it oozes personality.
+ The Voices/Dialogue
Before I was familiar with the game I heard a lot of praise for the voice acting. This was another thing that I didn’t really ‘get’ when I started playing myself. I don’t find them traditionally ‘good’. I do find them very stylised in a way that once I got used to it, I loved. As an example, lots of lines are read very quickly and don’t seem to pause in places that you would usually pause. Or there would be no gap between sentences. It felt very unnatural to me for a while, but in the end I feel like it becomes a defining factor in the style of the game. What I do love about the voices are the effects that are used on them. Some of the characters in the game are even beyond gods, and the audio designers did a fantastic job of creating ethereal effects that really characterise the way they speak. This, on top of the fun dialogue and the beautiful art, creates these very evocative and memorable characters, even if we do only meet them one line at a time. There is also so much dialogue. It will be a long time before you hear anything repeated. It is very impressive and a great hook to keep you coming back for more.
+ The Family Dynamics
Family drama is something that can be hit or miss. In real life, it SUCKS. But when that family are Greek Gods? There is something very enticing to be involved in the dynamics of these extremely powerful, extremely temperamental folk. I don’t know much about mythology in general, but I do know a lot of these characters are known for being petty, dishing out punishments, holding grudges etc. I do also believe they know how to have a good time. So having these colourful characters as our uncles and cousins and such was a rush. I didn’t trust them at all, but they so were fun to interact with. The family dynamics in the house are great too and you get to know more as you progress through the game. I really started to care and as dysfunctional as it is, some qualities shine through that you root for.
– The Difficulty Curve
Moving onto the gameplay itself, it is a very mixed bag for me. I am not that experienced with roguelikes but I do know that the more you play, the better you get. You learn the game and you improve. I did enjoy the process in the beginning, however there are certain blocks that felt like a huge wall to me. I managed to overcome some of them, but that doesnt stop them from becoming tedious. Without spoiling too much, the third area enemies often have a lot of armour and can respawn. It would sometimes take me minutes to complete a room. It was frustrating and boring. That might not sound like much but when you have been flying through the first area it feels like molasses. The same thing goes for bosses beyond the second area, I just don’t enjoy them. Thankfully, with every run you are collecting darkness and other items which you can use to upgrade your character. For me though, the satisfaction of coming back upgraded and getting further does not overcome the frustration of the halt of progress in the first place. (This may sound like I just don’t like rogue-lites. The only real point of reference I have is The Binding of Isaac, and I feel like that game moves a lot faster while also having more to think about, so there is less time to be bored). It is not a good feeling when over half of a run feels like a slog and I sometimes feel like throwing it because I can’t be bothered with the boss.
+ God Mode
God Mode is genius and I thank the Devs so much for including it. If you are playing for the story rather than the challenge, God Mode is an optional setting that can progressively make the game easier until it balances out at your level. Every time you die, you will gain a bonus to your damage reduction stat. Meaning enemies will hurt you less. You can turn this on or off at any time and it was a life saver for me. I played the game without it until I got my first clear. To get to credits you need 10 clears. I kept playing and playing but I wasn’t getting any more clears. Then the tedium mentioned above set in. I decided to turn on God Mode and it was the best decision I made. Two clears in a row and my enthusiasm for the game was back. After dying a few more times I reached the correct difficulty for me and got an 8 win streak. These weren’t easy wins either, it was just right that it was down to the wire most times. I urge you that if you are finding it tedious, getting bored, or doing a collect-a-thon, use God Mode. I certainly wouldn’t have got as far as I did without it.
+/- The Pacing
In a game with two distinct sections (gameplay during runs then story time and upgrading between) it was always going to be hard to pace it well. For a lot of people, the story sections ruin the pace of the gameplay. They are ready to jump straight back in but have to go around talking to everyone, breaking their momentum. For me, it was the other way around and play almost felt too long. I wanted to be back at the house for the next story beats and to upgrade my stuff. Based on those two types of players, I don’t really see how they could have a middle ground. It is not detrimental to the game, but it is a common complaint that I have heard and felt myself occasionally, even if it is opposite ends of a spectrum.
+ Other Objectives
There is a lot more to do than just clearing runs. These aren’t things that you have to do but are an option if you need something other than combat like I do. Some characters have side quests that you progress by gifting them items between runs. You can improve relationships, unlocking new dialogue and scenes. Then there are the Boons. If you are a compulsive list taker like me, collecting every Boon is so much fun. Some Boons require you to have other Boons first, and navigating that was a game that I enjoyed more than getting clears. I have officially collected them all and really enjoyed doing so. By the end, every fated choice (one you havent picked up yet) received a celebratory fist bump from me. There are also heat levels that you can unlock to make the game more difficult if you are so inclined. All of these things provide rewards that you can either put towards improving more runs, or buying house fashion.
I hope that if anything, this review shows that Hades can be enjoyed by many different types of people. It is very accessible as a first foray into the genre, while equally providing a new challenge for the genre savvy. While I don’t think it is a perfect game, I do believe it deserved all of the love, praise and awards it recieved. By the end, the game was leaving Game Pass so I was rushing to complete everything that I wanted to. I really don’t think this is the way to play. Chipping away with a few runs here and there after the initial addiction keeps the runs more palatable in my opinion. You can definitely have too much of a good thing! Having said that, it has provided me with many hours of entertainment and I will think back on it very fondly.
It is slightly late but upon looking back over my Indie Showcase so far, I thought it would be fun to pick out some favourites. I originally planned to do this when I reach 100 videos, but picking out the 10 best is already proving to be difficult so I am going to go ahead and do it now!
For those who don’t know, during my weekly Indie Showcase series I try out an indie game for give or take an hour. It started as short, free to play games but evolved into demos, bundle games and games that I received a code for. I wasn’t sure how long it would last but as it turns out, I already have over 50 more games lined up! So, here are my top 10 highlights from my first 50 weeks, in alphabetical order so that I don’t actually have to rank them.
The Cast of the Golden Idol [Demo]– Color Gray Games
I love being a detective. I love murder mysteries, figuring out the order of events, solving deaths, and this game is chock full of that. Recommended by Lucas Pope (Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn developer) for people who enjoyed Obra Dinn, I agree that this is very worth playing. Each case had references and call backs to the other cases I worked, leading to a feeling that the full game is going to have a larger overarching story. Based on the demo this is going to be a fun game for logic puzzle enthusiasts and budding detectives alike.
This one is a short, simple walking sim set at the end of an apocalyptic world. The atmosphere, setting and story were all enjoyable to me from the start and I would love to see more of this world. The unique art style only added to the experience, making me explore every nook and cranny of this small world. A solemn experience that I think is worth having.
Dagon: by H.P. Lovecraft [Free to play] – Bit Golem
I played other games that I enjoyed that were more involved than this one, but I just couldn’t bump it from the top 10. While the reasons are really subjective, I may not be the only one to have this experience and I would love to encourage others too. I am not familiar with Lovecraft’s works. I know of Cthulhu. I know that it is supposed to be mind-bending horrors. But the only experience I have had with any of his work is through games that have shared themes. This game is a short, point and click version of one of his stories, Dagon. In this visual novel, the story is told through a stunning set of scenes where the player can look around and click on interactable objects. Not only is the story presented to you, but there are collectibles that give you some insight into the history of Lovecraft himself. I had a great time getting to know some background about the guy who inspired so many works for so many years beyond him. It’s not the most interactive game or the longest, but what it does, it does really well and I encourage anyone who doesn’t know where to start with Lovecraft to give it a try.
Firework is a Chinese horror puzzle game. Wait.. Horror you say? And Noob played it? This game had the perfect amount of horror for me. It was spooky, I was filled with dread about what might happen next, but none of it was too much. I managed to not only complete the demo, but wish to finish the rest of the game too. Playing games with a different culture to your own will always introduce a new flavour and it left me wanting more.
The full game is available on Steam now for £7.19.
Inscryption [Demo] – Daniel Mullins Games
I can’t believe I still haven’t played the full game. Not only is this a mash-up of a spooky escape room amongst other things, the card game presented in this demo was so much fun. Everyone that I know that has played the full game has recommended it. The only thing I am aware of is that there might be some surprises. But what they are.. I have absolutely no idea. Though, the demo hooked me well enough that I would like to find out.
Inscryption is available for £16.79 on Steam here.
Larry The Unlucky [Free to play] – Strongshell Software
I am so glad that I stumbled upon this game. Heavily inspired by the Rusty Lake series, the first two games in this series are free and they both contain three chapters each. I enjoyed them so much that I will definitely be buying the third. In case you don’t know Rusty Lake, think – weird and morbid but humorous point and click puzzles, comparable to escape rooms. I don’t have a lot else to add except if that sounds appealing to you then they are definitely worth a playthrough.
You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here on Steam, completely free!
Storyteller [Demo] – Daniel Benmergui
This charming puzzle game was really fun to play. It is a game where the wrong answers can be even better than the right ones. The game tells a selection of short stories through storyboards. Your job as the player is to fill these storyboards with the correct characters and scenarios in order to complete the story. It is simple but deep, as placing the wrong person can change the entire course of the story. This was a very fine demo and I would love to play more. The release date is TBD and there has been no news for a long time, but it is being published by Annapurna Interactive so we can trust that it will be release when it is ready.
In the Strange Horticulture demo, I really enjoyed having an adventure and a business from the comfort of my own workspace. You can organise it how you see fit and have different panels for you desk and your shelves that you can see at nearly all times, as well as drawers to hide things in. It is a fantasy botany identification simulator with an overarching story. I enjoyed the balance of ‘exploration’ and figuring out which plant was which, hoping you got it correct so you don’t poison your loyal customer.
The full game released in January and is £12.99 on Steam here.
SuchArt: Creative Space [Free stand-alone demo] – Goose Minded
Considering this is basically a demo, it contains so much content. Use the paint physics and tools to fulfil commissions and decorate your studio in literally any way you see fit. I had a great time playing around with paint, seeing what all the different tools do, and completing my masterpiece with absolutely no disasters at all. Just take a look at the steam page to see the type of art people have made. It really is a sandbox for the imagination. This demo is so packed full of stuff that it makes the prospect of the full game very exciting.
They managed to turn the classic snake (I am just realising that we are past the generation that grew up with snake being their first portable game) into a puzzle game with moving parts. Not only that, but they have done it with style. Part rhythm puzzle game, part dungeon escape game, you can gladly bob your head as your Snek swallows her foes whole, growing into the goodest, long, fiercest mama. Since I played they have added decorating your Snek too – ‘Mek-a-Snek’ – you can’t go wrong with some wonderfully customisable Snek fashion. I would love for more people to see this game becasue it really is a cool one. Just be careful not to touch your Snek with your Snek. Snek only knows what the consequences would be. Snek is such a great word. Snek.
Currently in Early Access, it is £9.99 on Steam here.
It was so difficult to narrow this down. There were games that I really liked that just didn’t make it onto the list. There is so much fantastic Indie content out there and it is all thanks to creative developers that take that step to turn their visions into reality. I thank them so much, and ask them to keep up the excellent work (but only at a healthy pace of course). All being well I will be back in another year to evaluate the next 50 and showcase some more highlights!
This year I have been blessed with the amount of ‘me’ games that I have been able to play. Stray, I am pleased to admit, is one of them. Without playing it, it is easy to think of it as nothing more than ‘that cat game’. That is how I thought of it before. I had hope that it would be great but expected charm and not a lot more. However – for me at least – it was so much more than that.
+ The Protagonist
In Stray, we play as a ginger tabby cat. Not a talking cat. Not a person that has been transformed into a cat. Not a magical cat. Just your regular old, run-of-the-mill, carefree street cat. Other aspects of story and play get added as you go, but the cat is still a cat, if a very smart and loyal one.
Throughout this game we traverse through different environments of this fictional dystopia, exploring, learning and taking in the surroundings. We are a speechless outsider, observing and interacting as we go. We aren’t one of them, and my playable character also sharing these qualities with me (the player) created a uniquely immersive experience that hit me on a genius level. This would have been a different game if we were playing as one of the robots that inhabits the city.
Then there is the cat itself. The animations are beautifully made and transition seamlessly. Everything, from the swagger and agility to the curiosity and behavior screams ‘real cat’. The interactions with other cats, the scratching at objects and rubbing on peoples legs were things that didn’t need to be included, but do wonders for immersion. In some games, going off the beaten path feels strange because you are on a mission to save the world or on urgent business, and stopping to talk to someone or play a mini game breaks the narrative. You do it, because it’s a game, but it feel wrong. Here though, we are a cat. If we see a perfect nap spot, we are 100% going to take it. Because that’s what cats do. We are emotive and adorable without feeling like a caricature, and it is just a pleasure to control this excellent boi.
+ The World Building
Urban and Cyberpunk settings don’t often appeal to me that much and for that reason I was here for the cat, nothing more. To my surprise, it didn’t take long for me to be completely invested in this world, desperate to explore to learn more of what life is like here and why. While ignorant past Noob felt like rolling her eyes at the idea of there being robots in this game, present Noob was delighted to meow at every single one I happened upon. You can learn a lot by interacting with everything you can, exploring the areas, taking notice of the details and putting the pieces together. Although it is a story of robots, it is more relatable than expected. Dealing with issues like pollution and poverty, two very real things, the game managed to keep me in a state of melancholy while also making me think.
+ The Aesthetic
Like I mentioned above, I didn’t expect the setting to really jive with me. Although I haven’t experienced a lot of it, I felt like I was burning out of the dark, dreary cityscape with colorful neon lights. All I had to do was play to realize that I was wrong. This game is stunning and the use of colors kept my brain twinkling in awe. Moving onto a new area always brought something new and interesting, and the beauty within the damaged and broken parallels with the themes of hope that are scattered throughout. Robots are robots, and while they seem sentient, everything they learned is from the humans. The way this is creatively used brought me so much joy. Abandoned apartments layered in rugs, linens, books and plants, creating the most stylish shabby chic décor. It isn’t practical but it doesn’t need to be. Every robot adopting their own style based on what they can find. Lights, lights and more lights. From the intricate interiors, to the wide shots of places you are discovering and have been, there is a beauty to this game that is not only pleasing to the player but really adds to the world building. The biggest crime that there is no photo mode (although maybe that is for the best, I might still be playing to this day).
+ The Difficulty
This is a very easy game, and I think that decision suits it very well. It allows for the flow of exploration without the frustration that can come in other games. Having said that, if you aren’t into exploring as much as I am you don’t have to. It isn’t difficult to figure out what you have to do next so if you want to mainline the story that is also entirely fine. Any puzzling is very minor, which makes the game very accessible to experienced gamers and new players alike.
+/- The Controls
I am personally very happy with the controls but I know a lot of people were underwhelmed. This is no precision platformer and I am glad that it doesn’t try or pretend to be. You can’t jump freely, only where the game allows. One could see this as a lack of freedom, or you could see it as a time saving and quality preserving mechanic. I didn’t waste any time trying to make jumps that maybe, just maybe, I could make. And I wasn’t taken out of the experience by janky animations caused by jumping places that were never intended because I was never allowed to. The levels are hand crafted with verticality in mind and the simple but intuitive controls were additive for me. The fact that there is an on demand meow button is just icing on the cake.
+ The Details
I talked about some of the details in the protagonist and aesthetic sections, but it deserves to be its own positive mark. My favorite detail is how every NPC has their own little personality. Most of them have their own hobbies and styles. When you meow at them, they all have their own reaction to you. It only flashes across their face for a second, but it is there and that was enough to ensure that I meowed at every single NPC that I met.
+ The Collectibles
There were no pointless collectibles. They took the form of memories, and every one that you found added some more context to the world. They weren’t too difficult to find (I think this is the first game ever that I found them all by myself) and they encouraged exploration which, to me, is the highlight of the game. Exploration, rewarded with story, which then encourages more exploration is a dream game loop for me and it was executed to perfection.
+ The Level Design
This game felt like a living and breathing city. I explained a lot of why it works in the Aesthetic and Controls sections above, but I want to give a shout out to the open world areas. I expected more of a linear game so arriving in the slums was a huge surprise. There is lots of exploring to be done and the entire level makes sense. It is unique, lived in, full of character, easy to maneuver and not too big to be overwhelming. And the same can be said for every other open world section in the game. There are nooks and crannies that you can only access due to being a cat. At first it can take a while to get used to the fact that bars aren’t a wall, you can walk through them or jump over them. It keeps things unusual and interesting. A different perspective.
+ The Pacing
I really enjoyed the pacing. Although I would have liked even more time in the open world sections, it would probably be to the detriment to the game. When you are ready to move on, the game is separated with chase/stealth/sort of combat sections that also do not feel like they last too long. The game in its entirety is relatively short, and throughout the entire game I was engaged enough to not put it down.
+ The Surprises
There were things in this game that I did not expect to see at all, but it was all entertaining enough. Obviously this is very vague as to not ruin it, but I think you will know what I mean when you get there.
Overall, this is an awfully sad world with hidden havens dotted around that I couldn’t get enough of exploring. I loved my character and I loved my time with it. I don’t think there are any cheap emotional stabs which is something I always fear in games containing animals, and I couldn’t be happier with the time I spent with this game. In the end, everything in the game made sense and I was very satisfied with the conclusion. The game resonated with me, and not just because of the cat, which I would say is an achievement for ‘that cat game’. Pawsome all around (be grateful. I could have used so many more puns throughout this review).
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.