Steam Next Fest February 2023: 9 games to keep in your sights
There is so much to see, play, and celebrate during the Steam Next Fest. We are only one site, and try as we might, we can only cover so much of it. So, out of the hundreds of demos, we wanted to make sure to give a handful of games a bit of extra attention, even with the event coming to an end — to help some games leave a lasting impression with one last look and spotlight.
This eclectic list of games run the gamut of size, style, and genre, so latch onto the games that match you best and let us know which ones you're looking forward to most in the year to come!
Johnny Chainsaw is the first-ever project from Finicky Fox and it takes one line from their store page to understand its appeal. "A platformer without a jump button." Not a new idea, but then you find out the only way to platform in Johnny Chainsaw is to jab your trusty chainsaw into the wooden floors and soar through the world. Despite its off-the-wall mechanics, it's surprisingly intuitive to pick up and understand. It's all about momentum, flinging yourself from wooden platforms with as much speed as possible to soar across gaps. The demo also features a peek at one of the game's "boss fights" which ratchets the tension up as you get chased across these oddball levels. The game has an interesting 2.5D visual style, vast speedrun potential, and a plot that devolves from its generic "science experiment gone wrong" starting point into a game with a sunflower doing surgery. And I'm always about weird shit like that.
TAPE TO TAPE
Tape to Tape caught my eye with three simple words on Twitter. "Hades, but hockey." If there's anything you need to know about me, it's that I love sports games and I love when sports games try to do more than just sports. Tape to Tape — not unlike Supergiant's other great roguelite, Pyre — combines some easy-to-pick-up, arcadey sports mechanics with a genuinely engaging roguelite loop. Pick a random superstar to build your team around and hit the ice, making your way across a frozen lake to meet up with a beast waiting at the end. In between matchups with punny teams like the Meatballs and Top Cheese, you'll have the opportunity to recruit new team members and beef up the stats of your existing team through random events. It's addicting: The actual hockey gameplay reminds me of classic PSX hockey games I used to play, and the soundtrack is way better than it has any right to be.
Not unlike another demo that caught our eyes this year, Townseek, Lakeburg Legacies presents an infinitely more approachable and accessible look into a genre that frightens us to consider diving into otherwise. As a kingdom/village management sim akin to the big boys like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, Lakeburg Legacies zeroes in on one particular aspect to streamline the experience of going from a blank chunk of land to full-fledged thriving medieval nation. Dating. Marriage. Baby-making. Making legacies, in layman's terms. Your job as leader is to help matchmake your villagers with their perfect mates, keeping in mind their potential to further your village's goals with their abilities, and eventually build out a royal line with heirs and all. It has adorable character art, simple-to-understand mechanics, and the idea of building out perfect couples with children and grandchildren who will make up the future of the town.
Hot take: remakes are great. The originals are always going to be there, but for accessibility's sake (in every definition of the word) a remake can really go a long way. Finally having the opportunity to hop into System Shock, the godfather of the immersive sim, this demo showed me just how much I'd been missing. Bioshock, Prey, Dishonored, Deus Ex. All have roots in System Shock. And Nightdive's impending remake is brilliant, if its near two-hour prologue demo is any sign. With pixel-heavy textures serving as an homage to its original roots, its timeless tense bordering-on-survival-horror gameplay loop of limited resources and dangerous monsters, and its oddly prescient story of an AI gone rogue turning a ship full of humans into horrifying cyborg monsters, System Shock is well worth diving back into. Either as a return or for the first time. Try the demo and fall in love like I did.
There's something about these cozy "hot drink and chat" simulators that have started coming out in the last few years that just does it for me. VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action does it with booze, Coffee Talk (of course) with coffee, and now there's Pekoe for the tea drinkers! Pekoe has you become the new owner of a rundown tea house in a small town inhabited by adorable cats. With each villager having their own unique tastes, you'll need to memorize the exact flavors, types of tea, brew times, and more to build closeness with these cats over a cuppa. The brewing process is cozy, with a clear step-by-step and its floaty physics as you pull your tea, milk, and sugar over to a waiting teacup. And it's just all so damn cute! The cats are full of personality (shout out to the lazy king Bong Cha), the pastel color palette fits the vibe, and when you mess up, things still feel low-stakes. And between sessions of Elden Ring, low stakes are nice.
SUPER 56/DUCK: DANGEROUS ULTIMATE CARTRIDGE KIDNAPPER
WarioWare is a deeply underrated series, both for how it plays and for what it's done to promote oddball microgame absurdity. The next entry on our list is technically two entries, as they are two sides of the same coin — and that coin is the WarioWare-like. Super 56 and DUCK: Dangerous Ultimate Cartridge Kidnapper are two minigame collections with very distinct approaches to gameplay but oddly similar stories.
Super 56 sees the player taking on a cultural exchange program in Hell, rooming with monsters and spending the summer playing this 56-game collection. In gameplay, Super 56 mixes it up with every single action (menu navigation included) using just one button. RPGs, racing games, pong, and more... all with one button. It certainly captures that WarioWare tension of never quite knowing what's next, and even when you have a vague sense of what the game is, you don't really know how controlling it will work.
Then there's DUCK. Five duckling pals find a 100-in-1 game cartridge and quickly find themselves trapped by an evil spirit who's been hiding away inside of it. Each duck will have to beat 20 games (serving up 5 story-driven chapters) to free themselves from being trapped in the game forever. The minigames in DUCK break from convention a bit, playing out more traditionally and in longer form, too. These games are more involved than anything you might be used to in the genre but offer tons more intriguing variety. Both of these games are dripping in creativity and both will be out within the week, so definitely give them a look!
One of my favorite things from classic Zelda adventures, like Link's Awakening and the Oracles games, are... the fetch quests. Running to and fro between characters to bring them goods and see mini-stories play out between characters in the world. It sells the "living, breathing world" concept better than some modern open-world RPGs, and I got a lot of those vibes from Mail Time. In Mail Time, you play as a new recruit to the Mail Scouts, the only people capable of shuttling letters and packages between animals in this beautiful forest. Self-described as a "relaxing, cottage-core adventure," you'll do some light platforming to pick up goodies and meet the cozy pals waiting amid the trees. Everything is chill: conversations, gameplay, aesthetics. They encourage you to take your time, there's no risk of harm, and its simple mechanics make this easy for anyone to pick up. If you like Tearaway, Animal Crossing, or A Short Hike, you owe it to yourself to give Mail Time a look.
DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE
Sometimes all it takes is reading a one-line pitch to know you're in. Dreams in the Witch House had me sold with every other word it served up. "Open-world horror point-and-click adventure with RPG mechanics based on a Lovecraft story." HUH? WHO? WHAT? Playing the demo delivered on that promise and then some. As Walter Gilman, a mathematician with a theory about the connection between math and ancient magic rituals, players end up in the occult-friendly city of Arkham, Massachusetts in 1929. As Gilman, you'll choose how to spend your time: furthering your studies, keeping yourself fed, and most important of all, maintaining your sanity. You're just plopped in Arkham and left to your own devices. But with an adventure game framework! It's fascinating. Dreams in the Witch House is horrifying in stings and constantly toys with the player. I won't say much more... because you might be able to hear our full thoughts on the game very soon. Keep an eye out.
We couldn't just let these nine demos slide past us without some extra love. Steam Next Fest might be over but all of these nine games will be coming your way soon. So wishlist away, read our other Next Fest previews, and let us know which games you're going to check out in our Discord community!
Keep up with our week of Steam Next Fest coverage right here on Video Games are Good and then once you're done reading... try the demos yourself and consider wishlisting the games we've written about. Wishlisting goes a long way toward supporting indie developers!