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  • Writer's pictureJulie Cooper

Cozy games, cozy life: Four wholesome titles from Steam Next Fest February 2024

Updated: Feb 11

Steam Next Fest 2024 is here! We'll be covering a handful of demos for games big and small that we think you should be watching closely. As with every Steam Next Fest, we encourage you to wishlist the games we cover and try some out for yourself from February 5 - 12.


It may not say so explicitly, but we all know that Steam Next Fest is a time for the indies. While some AAA studios may take part, they're far less likely to shell out a free demo, while independent games are often in such a place that they've got something to prove.


Steam Next Fest is their shot to do it — an opportunity like few others to incrementally build their player base or even skyrocket the hype around their game when it unexpectedly gets picked up as the next big thing for streamers and content creators.


The February 2024 Steam Next Fest is officially underway, and we're excited to spotlight a few cozy indie games worth checking out. Several of them are releasing this spring, so try out their demos for free or wishlist them during Steam Next Fest, and rest assured knowing you'll be able to pick them up soon.


 

KAMAERU: A FROG REFUGE


A screenshot from the game Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge. In a soft but detailed hand-drawn style, a woman stands out front of a house surrounded by all kinds of furniture placed for frogs' entertainment and comfort, surrounded by wetlands areas.

Developer: Humble Reeds

Release Date: 2024

Genre: Relaxing habitat restoration and creature collection


I imagine I'm not alone in sometimes feeling skeptical of the "cozy" genre's reliance on cute aesthetics, and especially cute, chubby animals. No one wants to be duped by an adorable little face into buying a game that's not much deeper than the look and vibe, but it's certainly happened before. I'll admit I had this worry in the back of my brain when I first heard about Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge. (VGG's resident frog guy has a deep, dark secret: I'm as jaded as the rest of ya.)


Thankfully, the game's demo proved that my fears were unfounded. Kamaeru charms players with its adorable aesthetics, no doubt. You'll snap photos of plump, cute-as-a-button frogs and entice them with lovely 'frog furniture' in a wetland environment made of soft watercolors and characters that feel strangely nostalgic, almost like something out of the Magic School Bus era.


Along with that, Kamaeru's essence lies in the intricacies of wetland habitat restoration, and I was pleased to see several different types of gameplay — mostly very simple minigames, but it all works toward a cohesive feeling of enhancing and generating support for this frog paradise.


Placing furniture, feeding, and photographing frogs earns you a better reputation. (Let's face it. Frogs talk. Word gets around.) You can tame them with certain types of bugs they require. You can also breed new frog phenotypes with a simple tic-tac-toe style minigame.


An animated GIF of gameplay from Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge. The player sees a young man sitting and reading and a woman standing nearby, both near a small shop cart on the back of a bike. The player navigates to the shop menu, browses the many furniture items, and buys a brown armchair.

Then, you trek off to the wetlands, where you're working to restore balance to the dried up area by purchasing new "technologies" — different shapes and sizes of water, essentially, and new types of plants, like berry bushes and cattails. There's a surprising amount of depth to this, as you're striving to imbue the wetlands with specific levels of biodiversity and carbon capture.


At the wetlands, you can collect resources and then cook them — using solar power, naturally — into products you can sell to fund, sustain, and grow your refuge. Then, you spend that money in the shop (a little traveling shop pulled around on a bike) to buy more cute froggy furniture.


Kamaeru's demo also teased some light story elements, briefly introducing the mayor, who it seems you'll have to persuade to support your refuge. It promises new characters, wetland biomes, and larger scale production using your wetland harvests in the full release.


Ultimately, it left me excited about Kamaeru's potential and looking forward to its 2024 release on Steam.

 

SUMMERHOUSE


A screenshot from Summerhouse. In a lovely pixelated stile, a building crafted by a player using the game's pre-built assets like walls, roofs, stairs, signs, and doors, stands against the backdrop of a mountainouse lakeside.

Developer: Friedemann

Release Date: March 8, 2024

Genre: Small-scale casual building game


Like a breath of fresh mountain air, Summerhouse is a sandbox game in which you build your own serene slice of the world. From the foundation up, you'll use the game's pre-designed assets to construct your own little buildings and neighborhoods within a beautiful pixel landscape, with settings ranging from the outskirts of a major city to crystal-clear seasides.


It's part game, part construction tool. And it takes "cozy" to the max. It boasts no rules or restrictions. I know this both from the Steam description and from experience. As I was just beginning to toy with all the selections and laying down the basis of my first house, Nate walked in and commented on how I'd oh-so-creatively used a short set of stairs as roofing. Now, I didn't know I'd done this. I just was tinkering with some nice pale stone aesthetics and also my vision's not up to par.


But I take it as a lesson in the freedom this game provides. I thought it looked nice, selected it, and put it in my scene. Who's to tell me I can't?


An animated GIF from Summerhouse. Buildings are constructed and sort of pop into existence piece by piece in the order they were placed by the player. It shows three different examples in varying urban and rural settings.

With no firm tutorializing, your imagination becomes the guiding force.


The game technically sets no goals or challenges for you, allowing you to construct your neighborhood with chill summer vibes, gorgeous pixel art, and a general feeling of nostalgia. There's no win or lose. But if you're the kind who needs a little more incentive than building for building's sake, Summerhouse is gamified in one simple way.


As you experiment and place certain tiles near each other, you have the chance to unlock new building blocks through your combinations. You might place a certain window with a balcony, or a front door with steps leading up to it, or a tuft of soft swaying grass next to a tree, and be rewarded with new pieces that you can build with. These scenes can bring people and animals into the mix, giving more life to the empty buildings you’re creating.


After all, slapping a big red "hotel" sign on a building isn’t what makes it lodging. It’s the function. The people who check in and stay there — the woman relaxing and strumming a guitar on the balcony. A home is marked not by four walls, but by the person poking out of a window and the dog sitting on the front steps.


There's no denying Summerhouse is simple and small in scale. I'm not certain how much more extensive the game will be beyond what you see in the demo. But it gave me a warm feeling to build creatively and watch the reflections of the buildings dance in the sparkling blue lake.

 

SOUTHFIELD


A screenshot from the game Southfield. A bulbous and mostly featureless blue character, a Bud, holds their arms up joyously and wears a brown backpack. They stand on a cliff overlooking a hilly area laden with tall, colorful, spotted mushroom trees. There's a mysterious monolith atop the highest cliff.

Developer: Radical Forge

Release Date: TBA

Genre: Quirky physics-based farming adventure


Southfield was just announced in January 2024, and I won't hesitate to tell you that this game's demo requires a touch of patience, but I still want to put you onto this game if it's not yet on your radar.


This silly physics-based farming sim has you playing a cute, wobbly, and bulbous being called a Bud. It plops you into a colorful and quirky world that reminded me of others in the "silly little fella" genre — à la Bugsnax, Pikmin. You learn how to farm, gather resources, construct buildings, and get familiar with a seed maker machine and a selling bin (oh, to be young and experience the fresh horrors of capitalism for the first time).


Finally, your guide mentions the big old glowing rock that shoots mysterious beams across the island each night, which you definitely shouldn't worry about, and then the gates go up and you're free to roam the island.


There's a lot of inventiveness in the crops littered across the world, which you can pick, process into seeds, and plant back at your farm. They're ultra whimsical and, in many cases, chaos-imbued. They ranged from zapping electrical crops to bell-shaped ones emitting sweet melodies to whirligig plants providing extra air as I bounced around.


There are people to meet and help with quests, lore-filled letters to track down across the landscape, and some unexpectedly supernatural elements: a curious looming monolith and ghostly "Ruffians" to encounter and get stunned by in the night.


The game promises machinery and automation, too. The few pieces I encountered weren't tutorialized, at least in what I played of the demo, so I didn't get far in tinkering with them. They included the likes of a mechanical harvesting arm and conveyor belts. There was also a car for faster traversal; but considering it was difficult to drive in the densely populated and physics-based environments, I just opted to run and Sonic roll my way around the island.


An animated gif cycles through multiple of Southfield's crops and their effects, including one that freezes you over in a block of ice, one that administers an electric shock, and one that's large and almost runs the Bud over.

This demo is early and rough around the edges. I faced some performance issues, having to turn the graphics settings down from the jump, and even then, I slowly saw the game hitch and chug more and more as I continued to play. There are some quirks to the controls, too, like having to manually place every item in your backpack, yet some things auto pick-up instead.


Also, farming sim veterans should note how the physics-based world creates some chaos as you're trying to run around the farm and place down your seeds just so. If pure, familiar farming sim is what you're after, this experience does promise a slightly different vibe.


The demo was a solo adventure, but Southfield promises online co-op play with up to three friends in the full release.


Give the demo a shot and, of course, allow it some grace knowing it's still early, and you'll have fun with it. Southfield doesn't have a release date yet but will first release in Early Access on Steam.

 

DUCK DETECTIVE: THE SECRET SALAMI


The key art for Duck Detective: The Secret Salami. In a cute hand-drawn 2D style, a duck with trenchcoat and hat holds a notebook and looks serious under the lamplight of the street. Four other characters, a bear in a suit, a giraffe and an alligator in office clothes, and a cat with a hoodie and earphones looking frantic, stand in the background.

Release Date: 2024

Genre: Approachable casual detective game in the style of Obra Dinn


From the moment the protagonist first utters a single word, this game had me going, "Yeah... YEAH. Now this guy, I get."


You open up a new cozy game with no set expectations. You hear the low, grizzled, world-wearied voice of a cute cartoony duck who, like me, can't pay his rent. A duck who's got a borderline dangerous love for bread and who's mourning his recent divorce. What are you to do but fall head over heels?


Duck Detective: The Secret Salami proved to be a delightful blend of noir detective drama and cheeky humor. It showed me a love and respect for the detective genre and a willingness to lean into the cheese of it. The dramatic shot of a detective making his way to his next case in the pouring rain. The detective who alienated those around him, diving instead into his work and his coping devices.


Of course, it's all paired with the cute graphics of a 2D duck who moves like a waddling cardboard cutout puppeteered by a child, and cases as innocent as a stolen lunch in the workplace.


An animated GIF of Duck Detective. A green journal used for making "deducktions" shows the player scrolling through their options to fill in the blanks. On the left page, they can select "The Culprit," "The Client," or "The Kitchen." On the right page there are a series of blanks they click on for drop-down menus, selecting "Freddy is being suspicious by [blank], because [blank] [blank] the [blank] [blank].

Along with the absolutely stellar voice acting of your main character (I will never forget the pitch-perfect line delivery on "Sweet, spongy loaf" in all my days), I got exactly what I needed from this demo.


It plays like a more cozy and approachable detective game in the style of Case of the Golden Idol or Return of the Obra Dinn. The short demo cases involved observation of a person or room, followed by filling in the blanks with names and solutions, to draw conclusions — "deducktions" — about the who, what, when, where, and why of the mystery.


The demo's teaser mysteries were not what I'd consider to be challenging, and considering it's set for a short 2-3 hour run time, I'm not expecting the difficulty to ramp up much as the case goes on. So, while I wouldn't call this necessarily as satisfying for fans of this game's inspirations, Duck Detective may prove to be a nice entry point for those looking for a foothold in this type of gameplay.


And to be honest, that's exactly me.


With Nate constantly urging me to try out Golden Idol, his beloved, I'm genuinely looking forward to exploring the concept for the first time in a much more beginner-friendly setting when Duck Detective releases later in 2024.

 

Which of these games sounds most interesting to you? What other Steam Next Fest demos have caught your eye this February? Let us know in the comments or in Discord and, as always, consider wishlisting all of these games to help them out on the path to release!


A blue pixelated background with the Steam Next Fest logo overlaid and a few miscellaneous pixels in the VGG brand colors, salmon, canary yellow, and light blue.

Read more February 2024 Steam Next Fest demo impressions.


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