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  • Writer's pictureNate and Julie

Not-E3 2023: 11 games you need to wishlist after Steam Next Fest

By Julie Cooper and Nate Hermanson

The key art for Steam Next Fest. It shows the Steam logo on an elevated cube in line with the rectangular outline of the words "Next Fest". Under that, it reads: "A celebration of upcoming games" against an orange background. To the right of that, text reads: "June 19 - June 26 at 10 AM Pacific". This is all against a geometric patterned background with green-blue hues.

Arriving right on the heels of Not-E3 2023, the Steam Next Fest gave us a treasure trove of gaming goodness and the opportunity to get hands-on with some of the games featured during all the major showcases in June.


Running for only a week (June 19-26) and offering free demos for hundreds of games, the Steam Next Fest was an absolute whirlwind that, as always, offered much more than any one person could possibly play.


If you’re feeling like you missed out on some great upcoming games, rest assured. We scoured the depths of Steam to the best of our ability and we’ve got you covered with our handpicked selection of 11 games that you absolutely shouldn't miss from the Next Fest.


Read on to find the ones that call out to you and be sure to wishlist and follow along with the development — some of them are even coming out by the end of this year!


These 11 games had demos that were fantastic, tiny portals into their full potential. And after playing short snippets from them, we’re left yearning for more as soon as possible.


From a cinematic ‘50s hotel mystery to a Tarot card-based narrative game to a bizarre-in-the-best-way turn-based RPG, here are a few of the best demos from June’s Steam Next Fest.


Click any of the game names in our list below to jump straight there.


 

Developer: Strange Scaffold

Publisher: Strange Scaffold

Release Date: Fall 2023

Picked by: Nate


I could tell you that Strange Scaffold's latest is great because it feels exactly like Max Payne originally did, with its slo-mo dives and punchy weaponry. I could tell you that Studio Head Xalavier Nelson Jr.'s vocal performance as the lead character, James Savage, is so perfectly raspy and whispery that it might just be my favorite thing he does in a game that already has his fingerprints all over it. I could tell you that RJ Lake's thumping ethereal hip-hop tracks are elevated in a way I never could have expected when paired with the wispy void-like liminal spaces of the strange Texan hotel you stumble through during this adventure.


But none of it would do this game justice.


In El Paso, Elsewhere, you join James Savage on a journey to see his ex-girlfriend Draculae at a motel in El Paso. No big deal. Except she's the Lord of Vampires, she's performing a ritual that may end all things, and James' issues with self-medication rival Max Payne's in pure self-destruction capability. Strange Scaffold has always had a talent for storytelling but the poetic dialogue delivered with the staccato rhythm of slam poetry over the top of these beautifully cinematic cutscenes? It's on another level.


It's no surprise that we have a special spot in our hearts for Strange Scaffold, but believe me when I say El Paso, Elsewhere is shaping up to be something remarkable. While the Max Payne comparisons are apt, El Paso's brand of hardboiled third-person action may be even better than the original. For one simple reason: it just fits better here. It feels like those systems we fell in love with back in 2001 were made to be used here. And I can't wait to witness the intricacies of this messy ex meetup in beautiful slow motion when it releases later this year.

 

Developer: Oniroid Studios

Publisher: Oniroid Studios

Release Date: Q3 2023

Picked by: Nate


My toxic gamer trait is simply thinking I'm better at platformers than I really am. Pretending to be a speedrunner while dipping and diving away from sawblades in a game like Super Meat Boy is essentially my party trick. LAPSUS looks to put my game of pretend to an end by blending the hardcore reflex-heavy Meat Boy platforming styles with the brain-bending puzzle mechanics of something like Portal.


Can't speedrun when you spend hours staring at the wall as you try to figure out how to split the timelines and use time clones to solve a room's puzzles.


Loops And Portals Synchronized Under Science, LAPSUS for short, is a hardcore puzzle platformer that uses a time control mechanic to solve its many puzzles. At any point in a stage, you can "split the timelines" and restart the level with the ghost of your last run platforming through the level alongside you. Need to hold down a button to get through a laser grid? Hop on the button, split the timelines, and leave your time clone behind as you jump through the portal at the end of the level. The demo, which offers up 20 of the game's 80 levels, starts simply. But by the end you'll have up to four or five versions of yourself jumping around, deftly dodging obstacles while helping the other versions of yourself make it through.


I promise Oniroid Studios eases you into what undoubtedly sounds very confusing, so if you're looking for a little more thinking with your platforming, try the demo if you're able or watch the trailer above to get a full sense of what they're going for before it launches later this year.

 

Developer: Lifetap Studios

Publisher: Lifetap Studios

Release Date: TBA 2023

Picked by: Julie


This open-world sim RPG came out of left field and was an unexpected hit for me.

Part flight sim adventure and part business sim, Brew Barons has you play as a pair of siblings moving into a new town to open up a brewery and bar. You’ll be a jack of all trades, though, not only brewing your own goods but foraging your own ingredients from the skies in your seaplane, building out a list of clients from other bars, designing the bottles for each of your products, creating the perfect atmosphere for customers in your bar, and more. There was even, essentially, an underwater claw game that has you collecting loot from submerged shipwrecks. There is a ton to do.


The gameplay loop had me feeling like I do in some of my favorite farming sims, giving me that “Wait, I’ll just play one more day…” experience. It has a vibrant world and an uplifting and adventurous soundtrack that feels just right for your flights around the islands. We didn’t see much of it in the demo, but the full game will have some combat as well, as you’ll help overthrow a corrupt pirate organization that’s been causing trouble and strong-arming barkeeps into only stocking their nasty brews. I'm curious how forgiving this combat will be as I was already barely scraping by financially thanks to my many "minor collisions" in the plane... on easy mode. 🥴 Some of us can't drive, okay?


All things considered, though, the game promises plenty to accomplish as you fly around the islands, build up your business, and pursue upgrades for your plane and bar.

 

Developer: Andy Brophy

Publisher: Andy Brophy, SUPERHOT PRESENTS

Release Date: TBA (soon?)

Picked by: Nate


I always talk about the GBA-era as a standout for me. An era where limitation-based creativity was at its peak and beautiful pixel art was the priority. Knuckle Sandwich, for a few very specific reasons, feels like all the best pieces of all my favorite GBA experiences combined.


In Knuckle Sandwich, you play as a nameless young man who moves to Bright City in search of a job. Aside from the blank-faced, single-colored, simple-featured masses who talk in code and huddle around in the job center; the bus driver who eerily knows everything about you and follows you throughout your journey; and this world's seemingly nonsensical game show approach to handing out jobs... Bright City is just like any other town!


Knuckle Sandwich is a constantly shifting Earthbound-like RPG with a narrative filled with unexpected rug pulls and a tone that feels like a blend between the charming naiveté of Earthbound and the burgeoning horrors behind your actions from something like Undertale. There's even a surprising sprinkling of something like the meta-horror of Inscryption, both for the ways it constantly changes on you and the thought that something bigger has been happening behind the scenes.


The demo gives a perfect snapshot of its shifting gameplay styles, landing somewhere between any of the Mario RPGs and Warioware, as oddball minigames make up most of the action both in and out of combat. Try to keep up with an impossible rhythm game to land a dancing job. Time your attacks to get critical hits. Watch a character's face to know when to dodge a stab. It's surreal, it's goofy, it's weirdly intuitive. I can't wait.

 

Developer: Deconstructeam

Publisher: Devolver Digital

Release Date: Summer 2023

Picked by: Julie


Fortuna is a witch who’s been exiled to a thousand years in an isolated (but honestly, pretty cute and cozy) house on an asteroid. Her crime? Creating unrest within the coven by predicting its demise. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and she decides to break magical law and get buddy-buddy with a Àbramar the Behemoth to rewrite her fate and that of her coven. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s hefty demo has you bond your power to Àbramar’s, answering questions that will dramatically impact the story and your motivations for harnessing his power, like to seek vengeance, self-improvement, or admiration. He then teaches you to create your own new Tarot-like cards to replace the deck that was taken when you were cast out. Creating these cards lets you put on your Graphic Design Is My Passion cap, because you can alter them pretty extensively through placement, sizing, and layering; two people who selected the exact same combo of sphere, arcana, and energy symbols could end up with two totally different looking cards.


The demo also lightly introduces the game’s political plot and how your divination will begin to influence the fates of your coven members. It left a lot of mystery around its branching story and consequences, and I’m so curious to see them come into play. I loved how this mostly-a-visual-novel game sprinkled the design gameplay elsewhere, too, like having you curate a picture-perfect pizza on a friends’ beach trip in your pre-witchy life. In that instance, your design choices even influence the dialogue if you (like me) forgot to leave cheese off the pizza for your vegan friend, Eva. It’s giving me a perfect combination of the divine and the mundane, plus truly compelling characters, refined dialogue, gorgeous pixel art, and the music a perfect backdrop. Also, I’m already obsessed with Àbramar — what can I say? He makes me laugh.

 

Developer: Lowbirth Games

Publisher: Lowbirth Games

Release Date: TBA 2023

Picked by: Nate


Lowbirth Games have made a game for those of us who grew up a lil' nosy, letting us uncover the secret lives of a hotel's guests by rummaging through their belongings as we clean. When Sophie, a maid at the Clarington Hotel, stumbles onto something much bigger and more serious than she could have imagined, her cleaning shifts turn into full-on investigations.


You'll still have to toss trash away, make the bed, and clean out ashtrays. But you'll do that while looking through luggage and reading notes hidden in drawers to help you open safes. The game makes it clear that messing with the wrong things — and failing to put things you shouldn't be messing with back the way you found them — could have serious repercussions. And that's an exciting premise.


This '50s maid mystery is very cinematic, with its Hitchcock-like voyeuristic camera shots and tight third-person perspective. The demo is just a snippet of its overall potential, but I'm excited to see how it shakes out. You know we love a game that has us doing our little routines, and we're excited to see how Lowbirth Games shocks us by breaking said routine when the game launches later this year.

 

Developer: Calligram Studio

Publisher: Calligram Studio

Release Date: Summer 2023

Picked by: Nate


Another mystery game? Groundbreaking for VGG. Unprecedented, I know. But with such remarkable offerings, we couldn't pick just one. So enjoy the mysterious potpourri.


Phoenix Springs is a neo-noir experience awash in modern art styles and bold colors. Iris, the hero of this tale, is a journalist who has a simple goal. Finding her brother. Almost everything is delivered in pieces. No long musings about the purpose of an item in the world. Instead, segmented, broken thoughts. A journalist's musings when examining a scene. All of it fully voiced. Eerie and personal.

Walking through each scene feels like a piece of modern art. Or some stylish graphic novel, maybe. I'm no art major. The presentation overall? Elevated. Surrealist. Beautiful. A point and click adventure that looks and feels unlike any I've ever played.


As you gather clues for your adventure, watch them be added to a pinboard in Iris's mind. A word map. Find out how these things relate to each other and the places Iris ends up in with simple clicks. The mystery keeps moving. Keep investigating. Find her brother.


Okay, I'm done trying to replicate the incredible style Calligram Studios employs in its writing, but that was fun, wasn't it? Phoenix Springs is so stylish and its demo will probably last beyond Steam Next Fest, so it's truly one to hop into to fully understand. Either way, I'm excited to see where it goes when it launches this summer.

 

Developer: insertdisc5

Publisher: Armor Games Studios

Release Date: TBA 2023

Picked by: Nate


There's something so comforting about In Stars and Time. Maybe it's the cozy writing that instantly endears you to its cast of characters. Or the monochromatic black-and-white art style with its expressive character art, reminiscent of some of our favorite web comics and cartoons. It could be the way the RPG mechanics embrace the classic combat triangle of strengths and weaknesses, making it literally a rock-paper-scissors thing instead of elements or weapon types.


If I really think about it, though, it's probably the time loop at the center of it all. Knowing you can eventually get any of its obstacles right and that death isn't the end of anything in this world. It's just the beginning of a new loop.


There's something so comforting about In Stars and Time.


Okay, okay, we won't do the time loop thing. We'll leave it to the experts like insertdisc5. They've got an experience here that's like a strange blend between Groundhog Day and Steven Universe, building out a world with a cozy chosen family reminiscent of the latter but tossing them into the chaotic blender of the messy time loop systems of the former. It's a pure throwback to classic RPGs, complete with a band of heroes meant to save all humanity, but with a ton of innovative loop-based ideas that encourage you to take in all aspects of its world to make sure you're as equipped as possible for future loops.


But most importantly of all, In Stars and Time has one of the purest himbos in gaming for quite some time and that alone is worth the price of entry. Keep smashin' stuff, Isabeau, and we'll be right there whenever the game launches later this year.

 

Developer: Falcon Development

Publisher: Falcon Development

Release Date: Q4 2023

Picked by: Julie


Adding wild cats to the classic farming sim and colony sim formula just makes sense, if you really think about it. In Wildwood Story, you lead a group of cats whose revered Forest Guardian (a really big cat) has disappeared because the temple tethering their spirit to this world was shattered. To help the group survive, you’ll resettle and put down roots but explore the open wilderness for resources. Once you create your town, there are all of the usual trappings: gardening, mining, decorating your home (den), a community task board, and social relationships and marriage. Included is a buddy system where you can go adventuring together with a cat you’ve bonded with and level them up to become stronger. Normal stuff. But you're a cat.


There are also some fun, unique elements, including hunting small prey and foraging for useful herbs — catnip included, of course — and battling with supernatural shadow cats. You also have the ability to recruit new cats to your village, bringing their special skills and new buildings, like a museum. It’s just the right amount of silly, the cat portraits are adorable, and I just love it. Special shoutout to the peaceful but appropriately jaunty soundtrack… it just sounds like it was made for a game about a romp with wild cats, you know?


I was still pretty much a baby gamer when I picked up Cattails (2017), so it’s kind of permanently etched into the fabric of my gaming persona. And the demo for this standalone sequel has me excited to revisit it later this year.

 

Developer: Paper House

Publisher: Paper House

Release Date: TBA

Picked by: Nate


Wood & Weather is a god game that's all about tapping into your inner child. As an omniscient wispy blue hand, born out of a machine powered by pure inspiration, you'll float over a Playmobil world to help a town full of lil' wooden toy people with their various issues. You'll pluck kites out of trees, help someone pull their broken-down car across the road, and roll up snowmen. Doing so will gain you inspiration points that can be funneled back into a weather machine that allows you to completely shift the landscape and the interactions these toys have in the world, creating a fun sandbox experience that encourages experimentation.


It feels like the purest representation of what it felt like to play with your toys as a kid. Sitting in the grass with all your favorites, building out a world with ridiculous lore, creating issues for the toys that only you could solve with your god-like control of the world, and changing the environment they're in on a whim. When I say it's a sandbox game, I mean it pretty literally, and there aren't many other games that can claim that.


The demo features only three weather types (sunny, snowy, rainy) but even with the limitation, sells an interesting little blend of puzzles that I can't wait to see manifest even further with even more complex variations of weather.

 

Developer: Moon Lagoon

Publisher: Secret Mode

Release Date: TBA 2023

Picked by: Julie


Fans of the ever-expanding cleanup sim genre, Loddlenaut is your next great adventure. I’ve had my eyes on this indie since its Kickstarter infancy, and my hands-on time with its demo left me intensely excited for more. It’s a relaxing game where you play as an itty bitty interstellar custodian in a big old ocean. Sent to clean up a polluted ocean planet, you and your little cleaning laser collect all of the trash beneath the surface and zap up sludge lining the ocean floor. As you clean plants, they become healthy and produce fruits and flowers.


The moment I met the cute “face behind the name,” the loddles, was a moment of pure surprise and delight. And this game is a bit of a creature-collector, too — because the loddles you help will develop unique traits depending on which aquatic fruits they feed on.


You recycle your collected trash to gain resources for upgrades to your basic equipment: a scanner, oxygen, and your laser. In the full game, you’ll also be able to use all kinds of high-tech gadgets that look super fun, like giant vacuums or a Zamboni-like rideable mop.


The world is simple and vibrant, and it’s immensely satisfying to see life and color blossom as you restore the ocean to its natural state. Your work is accompanied by some chill music, the soft swishes of your movement, and the bloops of bubbles. It has the satisfaction of something like PowerWash Simulator, where you just feel totally lost in the zone while you clean — then panic as you hustle back to recharge your oxygen — then clean some more, and proudly watch your percent-cleaned number tick up.

 

There you have it, gamers. We hope you’ve discovered some hidden gems for your wishlist.


Don't forget to extend your support to these incredible games and their passionate developers. Wishlisting or following them on Steam, staying updated with their progress on Twitter, and sharing your love for the demos can make a world of difference. Behind every game you played and enjoyed is a team who’s pouring heart, soul, resources and countless hours into it.


You never know how your praise or constructive feedback can put wind in the sails of some truly talented developers and help make sure the games that were personally meaningful to you succeed and gain visibility in this tenuous industry.


As we bid farewell to Steam Next Fest and to Not-E3 2023, be sure to check out our other demo previews, including:


Keep up with more gaming reviews, previews, and game industry events right here and in our Discord community! As always, we’re bringing you the good news in gaming and celebrating every single ounce of creativity that goes into the games we play and love.

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