Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Fest Next Time

at Many Welps (Or, as it appears on my blog roll for some reason, I'm Not Squishy. I should probably update that...) was the first to alert me to the return of Steam's indie demo event, Next Fest. MagiWasTaken at Indiecator was next and no doubt a whole bunch of people will follow along soon enough. It's hard to resist such a smorgasbord of free gaming snacks, not to mention the way it makes for a series of very quick and easy to put together blog posts.

As I believe I've complained before, Valve does its very best to hide the festival in plain sight. I was logged into Steam all day yesterday and I still didn't notice it had started. Worse, even after I'd been alerted to its existence, it took me some time to find it on the chaotic "Features" page. I scrolled straight past it the first time.

I spent about thirty minutes flipping through the stacks of demos, looking for anything I might actually play. As usual, it was more of an annoyance than a pleasure. Even using the categories provided to winnow the chaff it's still heavy going and Steam itself does very little to make it easier. If there's a simple way to go back to the same place in the list after you've looked at a game's page, I couldn't find it.

You get what you pay for, as they say. I guess the upside of such an awkward, fiddly process is that it does save you from yourself. If it was easier, who knows how many demos I might have downloaded? 

As it was, I still ended up installing more of the things than I intended. My plan was to stick to just five. It seemed like a manageable number. Even with everything else that's going on I figured I ought to be able to play through five short demos and still have time to post about them before the festival ends and they stop working. They do that, some of them. 

I got caught that way last time. I missed out on a couple I left for too long. I don't think it's Steam's decision. I think it depends on the developer. Some of them are demos that are already up on Steam semi-permanently but others have been produced specifically for the event and switch off when it ends, or at least I think that's how it works.

In the end, I settled on eight titles. Seven I downloaded and one I added to my wishlist, not because I want to buy it but just to bookmark it for now. I chose not to install it immediately because the demo is gigantic by comparison to any of the others, over thirty times the size of the next-largest. That's because it isn't really a demo at all; it's the early access build of an mmo.

Tales of Wild is the game in question. Not, you'll note, tales of the wild, although since it's being developed by a Chinese studio that could be a wonky translation. Even though it's in the festival, I'm not sure it's really a demo and I'm not at all sure it's an mmo either. It's actually "an open world survival craft online game." because we really need another of those. I might get round to trying it at some point but I wouldn't count on it.

The seven titles I did download are all adventure games, most of them point-and-clicks. Here they are, in no particular order:

Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit. "Legends of the past come back to life in this charming point-and-click adventure. Pack your bags and journey with Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit through modern day Europe to uncover the secrets of the king who was never crowned."

The first one I picked, mainly because the graphics are bright and cheerful and it looked like it might be light in more than one sense of the word. The last several times I've done this I've ended up with more badly-lit, horror-inflected games than would normally be my choice and I'd like to avoid doing that again if I can possibly manage it. Looking at the full description, I see it's "inspired by classics such as Broken Sword, Still Life, Syberia and others", which raises my hopes considerably. Let's hope it can live up to that list.

Night Cascades. "The city is on fire, and the Devil is to blame - or is it? Two women must solve an occult-themed mystery set in an alternate 1980s while unraveling the secrets of their past. Hunt for clues and interrogate suspects in this interactive yuri visual novel."

I had to look up "yuri visual novel" but it's nothing that wasn't already was pretty much covered by the LGBTQ+ tag. A 1980s setting, female protagonists, paranormal activity and a detective plot. Should be right up my street. About all it's missing is a cat. Oh, wait...

Albert Wilde: Quantum P.I. "Solve murders, flirt badly, maybe discover a wormhole to another universe? Also, you’re a cat. " 

This is the real outlier in the bunch. There's gameplay footage in the trailer of Albert driving a car and it looks more like a YouTube stunt than a video game. The music's fantastic, too. The game's set in the 1930s, it's in black and white and it uses a 4:3 aspect ratio, all of which I think is meant to make it feel like an early TV serial. It's also "First person controller from a cat's perspective", whatever that means. I'm looking forward to this one.

The Wreck. "Follow failed screenwriter Junon as she attempts to make it through the most pivotal day in her life. Relive the past, alter the present, and embrace the future - or watch Junon’s story end in a wreck."

I liked the graphics and its pitch - "a mature 3D visual novel about sisterhood, motherhood, grief and survival" - reminded me a little of Lake, about which I said "I really like Lake... The more games like this I play, the more I want to play." Don't say it if you don't mean it.

Intruder in Antiquonia. "Sarah doesn't remember who she is or how she got to Antiquonia. Help her solve the mysteries of her past as you explore this internet-hostile town to find the answers. A beautiful, hand-illustrated point-and-click adventure with a wonderful soundtrack."

I passed on this the first time. The title is awkward, the graphics look far from "beautiful" and we'll be the judge of how "wonderful" the soundtrack is, thank you. I'm not big on overselling. What got me to change my mind was this one line in the description: "Antiquonia, a fascinating town where the locals reject the Internet." Do they? Do they really? Why? Inquiring minds want to know!

Children of Silentown. "Children of Silentown is a dark adventure game that tells the story of Lucy, a girl growing up in a village deep in a forest inhabited by monsters. People disappearing is nothing uncommon here, but this time, Lucy is old enough to investigate on her own. Or so she thinks."

It was always too much to hope I'd get through this whole thing without a little horror creeping in somewhere. Not that I'm saying Lucy's a little horror. I'm sure she's lovely. They're nearly always called "Lucy", aren't they? I do feel I've played this game about a hundred times before or at least read about it. But then, I could say that about almost everything on this list and most likely everything in the entire Next Fest line-up. Originality isn't really much of a feature in indie gaming, is it? And who cares, frankly?  Not me. I'd rather see something familiar done well than something original done badly. This certainly looks the business. We'll see if it plays that way, too.

Lost in Play. "Go on a feel-good adventure with a brother and sister as they explore dreamscapes and befriend magical creatures. Lost in their imagination, Toto and Gal must stick together and solve puzzles to journey back home. This whimsical puzzle adventure game will make you feel like you're playing a cartoon!"

I'm not a hundred per cent sure about this one. The Steam page rams the word "puzzle" home every chance it gets and I'm not that big a fan of puzzling. I like point and click adventures where the answers are pretty obvious most of the time. The odd head-scratcher is okay but not in every scene. There's no dialog, either, which kind of undermines the whole concept of the genre to my way of thinking. Looks pretty, though.

And that's the lot. I might start on them tonight. If they turn out to be worth writing about then that's what I'll do. If I never mention them again, they probably weren't. Or else I never got around to playing them at all. One or the other.


  1. Many of those look absolutely charming. I am pretty determined not to let myself get distracted from EQ II until I make it through Sentinel's Fate, so I can find out what's been going on in Odus for the last 500 years. It took me so long to get momentum going on the game again that I am afraid to pick up anything else. It's for similar reasons that I have yet tried Lost Ark, though it looks very interesting and I have some free stuff for it from Prime.

    1. In a way it's a shame you're already halfway through your EQII journey (Which I'd love to hear more about on your blog...). The Lore and Legend server that just launched would be a perfect place to go through the fist nine expansions in sequence with the most focus on story and lore. Sentinel's Fate is one of my favorite expansions, not so much because it's particularly good - it's fine but nothing amazing - but because it's probably the one I played most coherently and intently at release, so I remember it in more detail than most. I go back there often to do this and that and it stands up well.

    2. Oh yeah, there's a post or two coming :-)

  2. The cat driving a car made me think of the old late 1980s era "Toonces the Cat" skit on Saturday Night Live. (::singing:: "Toonces the Cat who could drive a car!") That song and the fact that a cat puppet (drunk, naturally) driving a car off a cliff were the two things I remember about that skit says a lot about my youth, I guess.

    1. I can't think of any reason I would recognize the name "Toonces the Cat" but for some reason I do. I'm pretty sure I never saw any of the skits - SNL was rarely screened here and even when it was it was at such inconvenient times I didn't see much of it. I must have heard it referenced somewhere, I guess. It is, of course, on YouTube and Toonces does indeed look a lot like Albert. Then again, what else would a cat who could dive a car look like?


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