Wednesday, February 7, 2024

(Almost) Nobody Here But Us Chickens

I spent a painful half-hour on Monday night, trying to find half a dozen demos from the current Steam Next Fest worth the download. They had to be demos I thought I might at least get far enough through to have something to write about. 

It was hard work. If the Fall batch was bad, this one is worse. 

There were plenty of survival titles I could have taken a look at but I think I might be a bit survivaled out right now so I gave them a pass. A couple I seriously considered have since been covered by Scopique. Nothing he had to say made me feel like going back and getting either of them.

I could barely find any traditional point & click adventures at all. Maybe they were all in the Storyteller's Festival. Perhaps you can't be in that and in Next Fest as well. Or maybe there just weren't any new ones. I think Next Fest is for unreleased games and come to think of it, most of the ones in the Storyteller's Festival were for games already out.

There were a few MMOs/MMORPGs. I thought about it but they looked very generic. I might be done with trying things just because they blow the MMORPG dog whistle. 

There was no shortage of  things calling themselves "Visual Novels" or "Interactive Fiction" but most of them were pornographic. There's altogether too much of that kind of thing in Next Fest, he said, in his best maiden aunt voice.

If I'm going to be honest, searching through the demos on offer this time felt, on occasion, actively unpleasant. I don't recall it feeling that way a year ago. I'm not sure if the curation has lapsed or if I've become more sensitive. Both, probably.

Eventually I did manage to find four titles I thought I might enjoy. Four. It's not much of a reward for thirty minutes of eyestrain, is it? And even then, one of them was a sequel to a game I've already played. At least I learned that's coming, which is something, I guess.

The four titles I ended up with were:

Copycat - "A wholesome, narrative-driven game about rejection, belonging and the true meaning of home. It follows the story of a newly adopted shelter cat who becomes the victim of an elaborate plan when a jealous, stray copycat steals her place in the household."

Keywords that drew me in: "wholesome", "narative-driven", "cat". 

Keywords that almost pushed me out again: "rejection", "jealous", "steals".

I'm really not in the mood for a game that tries to make me feel bad before it makes me feel good. I worry whether a game with that sort of story arc could even offer the necessary, positive emotional payoff in a demo. It wouldn't be the first demo I've played that shows you a bad time and then just stops, leaving you hanging with no catharsis.

The full description on the Steam page makes the full game sound brutal. After a whole lot of stuff about how "intimate, magical and hopeful" it is and how it's "perfect to cuddle up with on a rainy afternoon", this drops:

"Everything changes when Olive falls ill, and a stray copycat steals Dawn’s place in the home—forcing Dawn onto the streets."

Geez. And that's what we're calling "cosy" nowadays? And the trailer makes it look more like a horror game than anything. 

I may just have talked myself out of even trying this one. I have all the emotional trauma I can handle and more with My Daemon, right now.

Yet Another Fantasy Title - "Become a rogue in a fantasy action adventure game filled with absurd humor. Go on a quest to kill the dragon - and realize this is only the beginning. Learn spells from a wizard and brawling from an orc. Save the kingdom, destroy a ring, fight a monstrous beaver!"

Sounds safe enough. Maybe a little too safe. Is there even any satire or irony in learning spells from a wizard or brawling from an orc? The other way around, maybe...

 The question here is, do I really need another ironic, "meta" take on traditional fantasy RPG tropes? I mean, I am literally in the middle of playing one at the moment ("Literally in the middle of" in this case meaning I got half way through and stopped.) 

The trailer looks halfway decent, though, and sufficiently different in style and tone from The Dungeon of Naheubeuk that it shouldn't feel too much like going over the exact same ground. That umpty-tumpty hobbit music is going to get old real fast, though.

Chicken Police: Into The Hive - "A wild tale of loss, friendship, conspiracy, and... chickens?! Two rooster detectives are about to venture into the insect underworld to uncover a worldwide conspiracy, while also battling their inherent demons in this animal noir adventure satire."

Okay, now we're on solid ground! I really enjoyed the first Chicken Police game. It managed to be both satirical and a genuinely intriguing mystery, with well-rounded, well-written characters, good voice acting, a compelling plot and, best of all, a fascinating and somewhat unusual setting. 

There's a good deal about The Hive in the first game. It sounded a very curious place. It seemed to be a part of the city where even the police didn't want to go, a kind of ghetto for insects in a city attuned to vertebrates. I wanted to see more of it then than I had the chance. Now it looks like I'll get my wish. 

Summer House - "A tiny building game about beautiful lived-in houses. No rules or restrictions, just pure creativity."

I've already played this one. I'll save the details for a post of its own (Which will mostly be screenshots, I imagine.) but I liked it a lot. It's a toy, not a game, but it's a good toy.

And that's all the demos I'm going to try this time around. Probably. Unless someone else plays a good one I missed and posts about it. Then I'll just jump their train.


  1. I don't know why, but I was most amused by the "cop car chase" in Yet Another Fantasy Title. That's not exactly saying much, but there it is.

    1. That was the bit that swayed me into trying it!

  2. I don't normally pay that much attention to the demo fests but I feel like there's a Steam pattern at play. They have these events that are really good, then they start repeating them over and over and they get worse. Or at least people like them less.

    And my theory, at least, is that there just isn't enough quality content to fill these events with them being as frequent as they are. Steam sales become disappointing because it's the same games on sale again. Demo Fests...there just aren't enough quality games with devs willing to devote time to producing a demo? Maybe? I mean, these things happen quarterly, don't they?

    100% speculation on my part, though...

    1. That's definitely my take on it. Every three months is just too fast for enough good demos to surface. Although that ought to be caveated by "for the same players to find something interesting each time". A big part of the problem is how similar a lot of the games look. There's a strong feeling of deja vu if you've been through a few of these events but if it was your first one, I imagine the choice would look much more appealing.

  3. Funnily enough I found more demos I wanted to try on this Next Fest than I have in a long time, if ever. Most didn't grab me once I tried them, but still.

    Most of the demos I tried are things that aren't likely to interest you, but I will throw out a recommendation for Lightyear Frontier. I thought at first glance it was just another generic survival sandbox, but it's more a blend of survival-style gathering and crafting with the increasingly popular "cozy life sim" genre, and I thought it was pretty cute and charming. I'm gonna do a column on it for Massively OP.

    1. In my case, I do think a big part of the problem is that I'm looking for some specific genres that are just very under-represented in this particular batch (And the last one, too.) I was hoping for some good, new point & click adventures but i could hardly find any. Other Next Fests, though, have had loads.

      Also, much though I like Survival and survival/crafting games, there seems to be a positive glut of them right now and a lot of them look and feel very samey. That's two votes for Lightyear Frontier, though. Scopique also liked it a lot. I'll see if I can find time to take a look at it.


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