top of page
  • Writer's pictureJulie Cooper

SGF 2024 x Steam Next Fest Mini-Preview: Show kindness to all critters in Creatures of Ava

Follow along with our continuing coverage of Summer Game Fest 2024 as we play demos that are out now for SGF and Steam Next Fest, a weeklong celebration of games featuring tons of free demos from June 10-17.


Key art for Creatures of Ava. In a lovely watercolor style, a Black woman with dreads in a red jacket holds a staff, smiling and jumping. Near her are five different types of alien creatures, some running and some flying, one perched on her shoulder. A white logo in stylized text says "Creatures of Ava."

Just the Facts

Developer: Inverge Studios, Chibig

Publisher: 11 bit studios

Platform(s): PC, Xbox Series X/S

Release Date: 2024

Demo accessed via Steam Next Fest.


Everything in nature is part of a delicate balance of relationships. So, it's only natural that in a game about saving a planet from a devastating infection, you need to come to understand the flora, fauna, and people, and what binds them all together first.


Creatures of Ava recently showcased a trailer at the Guerrilla Collective, and its lush environments, vibrant colors, and beautifully adorned alien creatures called out to me. Having played its Steam Next Fest demo, I'm even more solidly planted in my excitement for the action adventure, creature-saver game.


I'll always be a strong proponent of great creature design. It takes a lot of skill to develop and illustrate a creature that doesn't exist but convincingly feels like it could. Whether we're talking about a cozy animal collector game or the most grotesque, offputting horror game, I've got nothing but respect for the game devs who can craft a well-made and inventive being (source: see our endless well of excitement for games like Beastieball, I Was A Teenage Exocolonist, and No Man's Sky).


And Creatures of Ava does all that and more — importantly, too, because it asks players to become invested in the planet of Ava and save all its life forms from a spreading infection the local race calls the "withering." Its creatures and world feel incredibly unique, and it gets you invested quickly through juxtaposing looks at healthy wild beasts versus infected and aggressive ones.


A screenshot from Creatures of Ava. The protagonist, Vic, stands next to a stranger of the Naam race on Ava, with brown skin and feathers across the head and forearms; he wears a massive backpack. A text box shows Vic saying "The infection. We're trying to preserve the whole... the entire... never mind!"

The game has you play as a young nature explorer, Vic, who has a soft spot for critters, alongside her companion Tabitha, a biological researcher. The premise is all about coming to understand the planet's creatures and cooperating with its local race — a whip-smart, laid back, and collectivist-thinking group called the Naam — in order to save the planet.


The Naam are, justifiably, skeptical of the newcomer humans who insist they're here to save the day. The demo drops some details about the fact that humans have been on Ava before and that the Naam find them to be selfish, stubborn, and driven. I'm incredibly curious to find out more of the lore, as it seems even Vic doesn't know her human history well enough and is going to have to slowly uncover humanity's relationship to Ava and its life forms. Is it just her youthful ignorance, or is there a larger, intentional withholding of information going on?


But despite their dubiousness, the Naam do help you. They lend the tools you need to fight back the planet's infection, including an ancient magical staff that heals the life-consuming infection and a traditional flute that allows you to both tame and, in a sense, inhabit the minds of Ava's creatures. These are paired with the tech you brought with you: namely, a camera to photograph and index the beasts in both their healthy and infected forms, as well as some of the key Naam people you'll encounter.


And you'll come across a lot of them! I appreciated how alive the world was. A handful of the Naam are more critical to the story, but even the minor NPCs had something unique to say, and there were records of human lore, too. So, every encounter brings you a bit more story and context about the world, the Naam, and their perception of you. The world, culturally and environmentally, felt populated and vibrant — and that's within only the demo's one available region, with a total of four distinct ecosystems to be present in the full game.


A screenshot from Creatures of Ava. Vic stands in a rocky cave-like area, using the magic staff she's holding to heal a branchy, dead bit of the Withering, which is like a jumbled mess of branches and vines with a glowing orange and red growth on it.

We recently saw Palworld take an intentionally hostile approach to the creature collector genre — and, of course, people have debated for years about the questionable ethics of Pokémon's world. But when it comes to Creatures of Ava, you play as a creature-saver instead, healing, taming, and delivering a certain number of healthy beasts from each species to Tabitha for studying.


You collect them using nonviolent means. Using the Nafitar staff, an ancient Naam relic, you're able to lock onto infected creatures and shoot out a healing beam while dodging attacks from the frantic, ill creatures. Once healed, your flute from the Naam can connect you even more deeply to the critters. By matching simple, species-unique songs, you become friendly with the creatures, allowing you to transfer into their perspective and use their unique traits to solve minor environmental puzzles — crash through barriers, dig up hidden items, and lower bridges, increasing your exploration area.


In an Xbox preview, the game director and CEO of Inverge Studios, Pablo Martínez Carratalá, said, "One of our overarching goals when developing the game was to make it non-violent while remaining really fun to play."


After going hands-on with the demo, I think they're succeeding. I really enjoyed the gameplay with the staff. It feels like combat in all the ways that count for the player — requiring you to run and dodge the attacks of the creatures while keeping the staff's connection locked on — yet it keeps in line with the game's do-no-harm theming. I was excited to see there's a skill tree as well for increasing the power of the staff and upgrading other tools and proficiencies.


And, I know you're wondering — yes, you can pet all the healthy beasties. Not only that, but I was delighted out of my mind when I noticed that each species seems to have their own unique animation, from a sweet and simple pat to a hug around the neck of a tall horse-like creature to a boop on the nose of a squat ground-tunneler.


Every encounter brings you a bit more story and context about the world, the Naam, and their perception of you. The world, culturally and environmentally, felt populated and vibrant.

A screenshot from Creatures of Ava, where Vic hugs a four-legged, almost zebra or horse-like alien creature with four funnel shaped ears (like an ogre) and blue and purple stripes, a mane, and a thick, fluffy tail.

After a lengthy demo (I spent more than two hours in it), I'm fascinated to see this story unfold. All clues point to the idea that Vic, who's curious and steadfast yet has a little hint of a savior complex, if you ask me, is going to have her ideas challenged about what it really means to "save something you don't understand." And whether the withering has anything to do with the past human visitors remains to be seen.


In the meantime, I'm looking forward to taking advantage of the less heavy moments, too, generously doling out pets and snapping photos, and taking restful moments around Ava where meditation nooks are scattered.


Yes to more colorful games. Yes to save-planets-from-peril narratives. Yes to Creatures of Ava.

Adopt a few new creatures by adding it to your wishlist, and give the game a try while its content-rich demo is available for Steam Next Fest.


 

See more of our Steam Next Fest demo mini-previews to learn about upcoming games, including I Am Your Beast, This Magical Girl is a B☆tch, and Kitsune Tails. Coming soon: Demo round-ups featuring multiplayer games, tactics games, puzzle games, and more.

Comments


bottom of page