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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

Not-E3 2023 Mini-Preview: Farming fans thrive - Sugar Shack and One Lonely Outpost

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Throughout June, Video Games Are Good is spotlighting a handful of amazing demos released on Steam as part of "Not-E3" or the summer Steam Next Fest (June 19-26).


Fans of the farming and life sim genre have had a lot to celebrate in recent years. With the unending popularity of the legendary Stardew Valley and worthy successors cropping up in Coral Island and Sun Haven, gamers who like their gaming action a bit more agricultural have lately been showered with all kinds of unique twists on the farming sim.


Well, just like a good parsnip harvest at the end of spring, Freedom Games believes there's no such thing as too much of a good thing — because they've got a couple of farming sims you should definitely be keeping an eye on in 2023.


Thanks to Freedom Games, we were able to play the demos early for the hex-based, Overcooked-like Sugar Shack, and the space colony isolation vibes of One Lonely Outpost.


Join us as we brief you on our first impressions for both games, which will be available in this "Not-E3" summer edition of Steam Next Fest, taking place from June 19-26 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time.

 
A screenshot from Sugar Shack with three characters in a kitchen preparing food and dashing in and out with orders. There are stations with different ingredients and bare chopping and preparation stations, reminiscent of games like Overcooked.

Developer: MadLife Divertissement Publisher: Freedom Games Release Date: TBA


Sugar Shack describes itself as a maple syrup management game, a brand-new genre that I can get on board with immediately. This syrup-based farming sim pulls from Canadian — of course — lore and art. It asks players to literally form the world around them as they push back against the Devil (he's your first "friend" in this land) and run the hippest sugar shack this side of the hexworld.


Blending elements from your average farming sim, Overcooked, and weirdly enough, Dorfromantik, Sugar Shack has a truly unique approach to a familiar genre.


The game starts fairly sparse, with just a few hex tiles of land housing your handy maple trees, the devil's house, and your wrecked sugar shack. While cleaning up the shack, you'll stumble upon a miniaturized model of the hex-based world you're inhabiting. Placing a new hex tile into that model and going to bed will see the real world changed the next day.


Each new tile brings with it new resources, new buildings, and new villagers to work alongside. Eventually, you'll even entice tourists to this otherwise empty world. Tourists with a hankerin' for maple syrup. Feeding those tourists is your only way to make money, and with nothing beyond your hex horizons but a wide expanse of ocean, it's the only thing you CAN do.


Grow crops, harvest syrup, open your shack up for food service, get new tiles, access new goods, and repeat.


Sugar Shack's demo lets you play around with the game's opening and a sampling of all of its core mechanics. While clearly early and rough around the edges, the development team, MadLife Divertissement, shows tons of promise with its almost arcade-y approach to the farming sim. Jumping between the cozy resource-gathering loops of farming sims and the chaotic arcade action of tossing ingredients across a kitchen to serve and cook food is surprisingly satisfying. And at the end of it, being able to craft this world tile-by-tile, placing them wherever and however you like, adds a different kind of connection to the town you build than the usual farming sim.


Even in this early state, Sugar Shack has incredible potential. We can't wait to see how this genre-blending experience shapes up on the road to launch and we can't wait to hop into these Quebec-inspired hexes with pals when it releases soon.

A screenshot from Sugar Shack. The world is made of hex tiles that are white, covered in snow. There are trees and small hex-based gardens growing crops; a kid stands near one of them with a watering can. There's another person nearby, next to a house, some trees, and a small ranch tile with livestock.
 
A screenshot from One Lonely Outpost. A person with blond hair in a space suit is on a rusty orange patch of land on some distant planet, where there are rocks and crystal clusters around. They stand in a plot of tilled land mostly filled with crops. There's an inventory bar at the bottom and several UI elements with the player's tasks.

Developer: Freedom Games Publisher: Freedom Games Release Date: Early Access June 26, 2023 - Full release TBA


One Lonely Outpost is the game that put Freedom Games on our map. With its space Western frontier vibes, an incredible pixel art aesthetic, and its unique sci-fi mechanics — like gene splicing crops or terraforming — One Lonely Outpost made an immediate impression and showcased the fact that Freedom Games knew what they were doing as a development studio and publishing house.


Since that day, the game has seen a ton of change. The most obvious change comes aesthetically, as the pure pixel art aesthetic has been replaced with something blending 2D and 3D elements. While this shift was initially shocking, after having hands-on time with the game's latest build, I'm not concerned. The alien landscape pops with depth and the glow of crystal formations powered by the game's enhanced lighting engine. It's an adjustment, to be sure, but I think it's worked out in their favor.


One Lonely Outpost truly sells the idea of running a space colony because its setup is focused on isolation, which feels so unique in a genre usually built around community. Sent out by some horrid space corporation to develop a new outpost on a faraway planet, your character is quickly left to their own devices to survive in an alien landscape.


While it was telegraphed — I mean, lonely is in the name — this simple paradigm shift does so much to make the game stand out.


You're wandering a barren wasteland. You have an adorable cat-like robot named QWERTY. You sometimes get emails from home base or deliveries of resources. You find notes left behind by some other space pioneer who'd been stranded there. But other than that... you're alone.


Everything else is familiar: You'll mine rocks, plant both terrestrial and alien crops, and craft goodies, but it's all tinted differently when you've got no other villagers to mingle with and when the community you're building might be one you'll never see the end version of. Yes, eventually others arrive and the experience feels a lot more familiar, but those opening hours of isolation set the tone.


That's not all that the sci-fi setting does to innovate, though. You've got electricity to worry about, a toolset that includes an air-blower to brush away piles of dirt hiding artifacts in the landscape, and a research-focused storyline where your goal is to learn about every resource possible on the planet.


One Lonely Outpost is entering the arena sooner than you might expect, so you'll get to experience this loneliness for yourself very soon. If any of this sounds interesting, you can sign up for the expedition yourself when the game releases in Early Access on June 26.

A screenshot from in-game. The blond main character of One Lonely Outpost uses the tool on their arm to mine a rock with a laser. They're in a dim cave environment with glowing purple and pink alien crystals; the one they're mining is orange and striped.
 

These two unique farming sims have a lot going for them and you can get hands-on with them next week during the Steam Next Fest! Stop by their store pages, drop a wishlist, and download the demos for yourself.


Looking for more news and hands-on impressions during Not-E3 and Steam Next Fest? Follow our coverage of all the major June gaming showcases!

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