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19 Standouts from the Steam Summer Festival

by Joe DeVader - June 24, 2020, 12:45 pm PDT
Total comments: 1

I played way too many demos last weekend, and I'm passing the savings on to you!

Over the past weekend Steam held yet another Games Festival. A concept that was originally meant to be something for those who couldn’t make their way out to shows like E3 or PAX but now has essentially replaced them wholesale for this weird year. An absolutely massive amount of game demos were put up on the Steam store, some old and some new. I personally installed and played a total of 40 demos in the span of four days, and I’m here to tell you about 19 of them that really stood out to me. Most of these games are already confirmed to be coming to Switch, but some of them are merely me being hopeful.

Please keep in mind that many of these games are still in development, so footage or screenshots may not be indicative of the final product.

Inmost

Developer: Hidden Layer Games

Publisher: Chucklefish

I first became aware of Inmost near the start of the year during one of Nintendo’s mini indie directs, and it immediately caught my eye. I was really excited to find out that there was a playable demo during the Steam Festival, and I’m happy to say it totally lived up to my expectations. Inmost is an atmospheric horror-themed puzzle platformer with a gorgeous pixel art style. In the demo you take control of seemingly four different characters, each feeling slightly different than the last. At first you find yourself in control of a child attempting to sneak out of their home at night. There is also a section where you play as an elderly man who walks very slowly as some beautifully acted narration plays out. Another section sees you playing as somebody with a sword and grappling hook which absolutely caught me by surprise.

Most of the demo however was played as a middle aged man as he attempts to navigate through what appears to be an old mine of some sort, threatened by various blobs of goo as well as a horrifying monster. This was the first demo I played, and it made a strong impression for a game I was already interested in. Jumping feels perfectly tuned to the type of game it wants to be, and the artwork and sound design is just masterful. I didn’t expect voice acting to be in the game, much less from someone like Cassandra Lee Morris, making an already pleasant experience even better. Inmost is currently set for a release some time in 2020, and has been confirmed to be coming to the Switch.

Arietta of Spirits

Developer: Third Spirit

Games that have an emotional punch to them are an easy way to my heart, and Arietta of Spirits opens with just that. Arietta is a 2D Zelda-style adventure game that puts you in the shoes of the titular character as she goes on a trip to the family lake house with her parents. The lakehouse belonged to her grandmother, who passed away a year prior, but the family is still determined to keep up the tradition of going to the cabin every summer. That night Arietta is approached by a spirit named Arco and learns that she is what is known as a Bound, a human that can see and interact with the spirit realm when bound to a spirit. She learns that her grandmother has not passed on due to unfinished business, and sets off on a short quest to help her.

While it’s not the most impressive demo I played during the Festival, Arietta nevertheless charmed me. Its pixel art is nice to look at, the character writing is fun, and the game sounds pretty nice. The one big drawback is the game’s slow pace both in story and in movement, which is especially obvious from the instant you swing your sword, as swings are realistically rather slow when compared to something like Link to the Past. Otherwise the various enemies and two bosses the demo provided were fun to fight, and it left at least some form of impression on me. Arietta of Spirits is currently set for release some time in 2020, it has not been confirmed for any platform but PC at this time but I’m hopeful that someday it will find a good home in our neck of the woods.

My Beautiful Paper Smile

Developer: Two Star Games

Publisher: V Publishing

In a completely different change of pace, My Beautiful Paper Smile is a horror puzzle game with one of the most visually unique art styles on this entire list. You take control of a man being held in some form of facility where “joy” is “encouraged” by threat of punishment. When you wake up you enter the day’s test chamber and after solving a few simple puzzles find yourself face to face with some form of horrible creature. That night you and your cellmate attempt to escape the facility with the assistance of a mysterious entity called only “The Lost Child.”

My Beautiful Paper Smile is memorable for just its visual style alone, but this style adds to an already fantastically put together atmosphere that kind of makes my skin crawl. Gameplay is nothing special, playing as your typical adventure game with some point and click elements. The game also appears to be doing some meta things with save files, as going back to replay the demo in order to capture footage caused what I can only assume to be The Lost Child appearing on my screen and criticising me for replaying something I’d already seen. The first chapter of My Beautiful Paper Smile is currently available in early access on Steam and is set for a full release some time in 2020. It is not confirmed for any platforms aside from PC at this time, so this is yet another game I’m just hopeful will show up on the Switch.

Metamorphosis

Developer: Ovid Works

Publisher: All in! Games

Bugs are weird and small and I certainly would not be in a hurry to be one myself, but in Metamorphosis you’re not exactly given a choice in the matter. A first person platformer inspired by the works of Franz Kafka, in Metamorphosis you play as a man named Gregor who wakes up with a terrible hangover, but as he leaves for work he finds himself slowly getting smaller and smaller, eventually realizing he has transformed into some kind of bug. He must traverse a surreal world now much bigger than he’s used to while trying to figure out why he has taken this new form, how to turn back into a human, and also what on earth these notes mean when they talk about The Tower.

Overall there’s not a whole lot crazily unique about gameplay in Metamorphosis, and the demo was also incredibly short, giving only about eight minutes of content depending on how good you are at finding keys. While there’s not a ton of time in the demo spent in your bug form, the time there shows promise as you find yourself able to jump and climb objects, the latter ability you only gain after walking through some glue on a table. The sound design and voice acting is also very fun, especially once Gregor has taken his new form, as his speech becomes slightly slurred and distorted at times. I’m very interested to see where Metamorphosis goes from here, but the demo admittedly didn’t give me a ton to work off of. Metamorphosis is currently set to release this Summer, and is confirmed to be coming to Switch.

Ary and the Secret of Seasons

Developer: eXiin, Fishing Cactus

Publisher: Modus Games

My first experience with Ary was at E3 2019 when I sat down with one of the developers and was given a guided tour of the game. Unfortunately at this time I was not able to play it myself, so seeing it made available as one of the demos during the Steam Festival had me extremely excited, even willing to install what was by far the largest demo in terms of file size at a whopping eight gigs. Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an adventure game heavily inspired by 3D Zelda games, putting the player in control of a young girl named Aryelle (Ary for short) as she journeys to save the four seasons from chaos.

Ary’s father is the guardian of winter in a world where a mage once stole the seasons. After a few fights with some goblins she’s given the ability to control winter, which manifests in her ability to create a small bubble that transports the contained area into the colder times. Combat and platforming in Ary is overall pretty alright, but the whole game has a surface level amount of jank to it that could potentially take some players out of the experience. The game was recently delayed several months from its planned release earlier this year, and after playing this demo I feel that’s likely for the best. The game overall looks good and the characters are fun, but it’s very obvious it still needs some fine tuning to be as good as it could be. Ary and the Secret of Seasons is currently set to release in September of 2020, and is confirmed to be releasing on Switch.

Haven

Developer: The Game Bakers

As somebody that lives with a roommate, I’m always on the lookout for more co-op games. Admittedly, Haven is probably not made to be played with my roommate, it seems to be more built for you to play with that special someone rather than a platonic friend. Haven is a game about romance and flying around an alien planet so that you can eat literally anything but appledews stewed in more appledews. In it you take control of either Yu or Kay, a couple who are working together to survive on a seemingly abandoned planet.

Playing Haven feels really smooth, pressing down a trigger allows you to glide through the world. Passing certain plants will cause a “Flow Thread” to appear, and gliding along it for as long as you can will collect Flow that can be used as fuel for your ship. You can also collect different fruits to use for food, and even get into battle with various frenzied animals. Everything in Haven, from the exploration to the combat, is specifically tuned for co-op play, something that was incredibly obvious even though I played through the entire demo by myself. Haven is set to release some time in 2020, and is confirmed to be coming to the Switch.

If you’d like to read more about the game you can check out Neal’s full write up of the demo here.

CrisTales

Developer: Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK

Publisher: Modus Games

A type of game I think we’re going to start seeing a lot more of in the coming years are ones that work to replicate the systems and feelings of the original two Paper Mario titles. CrisTales is one such attempt at this, while also leaning more into the anime side of art styles. In CrisTales you take control of a young girl named Crisbell who winds up with the ability to see the past and future of the world around her. Guided by a small frog named Matias, she begins to help the people of her town, as her view of the future is bleak. Overall CrisTales is your usual JRPG, walking around the town, talking to your fellow citizens, and completing small quests to help them avoid the potentially bad future. At certain points you will be asked to make decisions, as you’ll only be able to help one person avoid disaster while subjecting the other to it instead.

The combat is the main reason why I compare this game to something like Paper Mario. Action commands are present, with attacks doing more damage if you hit the button right as it lands or enemy attacks doing less damage if you hit it right as they hit their target. One criticism I have of this is that it’s not especially clear when you should hit the button during attacks. You can also use Crisbell’s time abilities during battle, with the in-demo boss requiring me to soak their shield and then send them into the future, where their shield was now rusted and they were vulnerable to attack. Overall CrisTales is one of my favorite demos of the bunch, even if it dragged on for a little long. I am now very much looking forward to CrisTales releasing on November 17th, 2020, especially since it’s already confirmed to be coming to Switch.

Jack Move

Developer: So Romantic

Publisher: Hype Train Digital

Yet another JRPG style game, Jack Move feels more in line with classic titles mixed with an aesthetic that heavily reminded me of my short time with Soul Hackers. In Jack Move the player takes control of a young woman named Noa, a vigilante hacker who’s trying to figure out why a corporation called Monomind has kidnapped her father. In terms of overall structure there’s not all that much more to say about Jack Move, on the overworld it’s your standard RPG with random encounters and chests to open and all that.

Where Jack Move really shines is some of the aspects of its battle system, specifically the mechanics around Noa’s software. Software is how Noa accesses her various hacking abilities, the game’s equivalent to magic in other RPGs, such as the ability to heal herself or use attacks based on the game’s three hacking types. Noa can only equip so many abilities at a time, in the demo she has three slots where offensive moves take up two and support abilities take up one. What sets Jack Move apart from other RPGs is the fact that you can use a turn to change up what abilities you have equipped, adding heavily to the strategy. You can also build a limit/overdrive style gauge throughout battle that, once filled, will allow you to perform a super powerful “Jack Move.” Aside from that, the game also has fantastic sprite art and by far the best soundtrack of any of the demos I played. Jack Move is currently set to release in early 2021, and I am overjoyed that it has been confirmed to be coming to the Switch.

The Dreamcatcher

Developer: Huanlin Games

There’s not actually much to The Dreamcatcher, I’m not even entirely sure what genre to refer to it as. It appears to be what one might describe as a walking simulator, and it does not appear to be a horror game though it does seem to be employing some horror game characteristics. Overall The Dreamcatcher mainly caught my eye because it’s very pretty and it got its hooks in me through the promises the demo made at the end.

In The Dreamcatcher you play as an artist who wakes up after a strange dream to find his girlfriend having already left for work. After sitting on the couch and falling asleep again, the man wakes up in a version of his home that has seemingly been abandoned for years, and what follows is a surreal journey through a dreamscape, chasing a woman with a red scarf. Eventually the dream takes a dip into nightmare territory, and this is about when the demo cuts off. It’s definitely the least impressive of the demos I played over the weekend, but it intrigued me nonetheless. The Dreamcatcher currently does not have a release window set, nor is it confirmed for anything but PC at this time, but here’s hoping that changes soon.

Chinatown Detective Agency

Developer: General Interactive Co.

I’m actually not really that big a fan of classic point and click adventures. They unfortunately tend to bore me a bit too quickly. I mainly mention this so that you know why I was majorly surprised when I walked away from the Chinatown Detective Agency demo with a positive outlook. In this game the player takes control of Amira Darma, a private investigator based in a cybernoir rendition of Singapore. Amira finds herself entangled with a secret society of the city’s super rich, as they hire her to track down a missing person of interest.

In terms of gameplay Chinatown plays exactly as you’d expect, it’s a point and click adventure through and through. You click on people to talk to them, click on objects to pick them up or observe them, etc. Where this game really seems to shine though, at least in my opinion, is the fact that it’s the first game I’ve ever played where googling answers is an expected mechanic. The case gave me a quote, implying that if I could find the book the quote came from I’d get a clue. Nothing in the world was going to tell me what this quote was from, and therefore the game told me outright that I should google it on my own, leading me straight to where I needed to go. As somebody that ends up googling solutions in these games anyways, seeing it as an intended method of puzzle solving is actually really cool, and I can’t wait to see more of it. Chinatown Detective Agency is currently set for a release in early 2021, and has been confirmed to be coming to Switch.

Spiritfarer

Developer: Thunder Lotus Games

From the first time I saw it I knew that Spiritfarer was gonna be a game that was right up my alley. An emotional game with a laid back atmosphere, good feeling platforming, and a fishing mechanic that doesn’t make me want to claw my hair out? Sign me up, immediately! Despite it being a participant in just about every event like this I’ve never really had time to sit down and play it. My only experience with Spiritfarer was sitting down to watch it be played at PAX East 2020. It looked great then, and finally getting my hands on it reaffirms my opinion that it still looks great now.

In Spiritfarer you play as Stella, a ferrymaster for the dead, helping various spirits in the form of animals complete their unfinished business and pass on to the afterlife. It’s half a platformer with quests, half a management sim where you make sure the spirits who live on Stella’s boat have a home, are fed, and feel loved. You can farm, you can fish, you even collect lightning in Stella’s magical Everlight. There’s not much more to say about Spiritfarer that Neal has not said in his PAX preview (which you can find here). The art is gorgeous and expressive, the music is fantastic, platforming feels fantastic, and all in all Spiritfarer has my attention even more than it did before. Spiritfarer is currently set to release sometime in 2020, and has been confirmed to be coming to Switch.

Ghostrunner

Developer: One More Level, 3D Realms, Slipgate Ironworks

Publisher: All in! Games

I can mainly describe Ghostrunner in two ways: it is extremely awesome, and I am extremely bad at it. More than anything Ghostrunner feels like Katana Zero got shoved into Mirror’s Edge, a first person parkour game about looking cool and slashing people in half with a sword. There’s really not much more to say than that. It's an absolutely amazing feeling even if you’re really bad at it. You can slide, wall run, air dash, grapple hook, and so much more in order to traverse through obstacle courses where obviously people also happen to be shooting at you.

My one major complaint about Ghostrunner is that just like Katana Zero if those people manage to land a shot on you it’s an instant death. This usually wouldn’t be an issue, but I never personally felt like I had the spatial awareness to justify one hit death at any point, but that potentially may just be the fact that I was incredibly bad at the game. Eventually I learned that you can block bullets with your sword if you click with the right timing, but this didn’t solve my other issue of consistently dying to shooters who were off screen. Even with that, Ghostrunner looks and feels incredible and is absolutely a game you should be keeping an eye on. Ghostrunner is set to release sometime in 2020 and miraculously has been confirmed to be coming to Switch.

When the Past Was Around

Developer: Mojiken Studio

Publisher: Toge Productions

Yet another game on this list that might as well have been made specifically for me, When the Past was Around is a game very similar to titles like Florence, a game I absolutely adore. A point and click adventure where the player follows a young lady as she seems to move in with her owl boyfriend (or something like that). I’m admittedly not 100% sure what this game is about quite yet, but I have enough information to know that it’s likely going to be emotional and heartbreaking.

But where the game truly shone in the demo was its beautiful hand drawn art, as well as a gorgeous soundtrack that I cannot wait to hear more of. The game is a point and click adventure that is more like an Eye Spy book taking place in a series of scenes, with each scene having its own self contained exploration and puzzles to solve. It’s obviously not going to be a game for everybody, but I am personally very intrigued and anybody that knows what I mean when I compared it to Florence earlier probably should be as well. When the Past was Around is set to release later in 2020 and has been confirmed to be coming to Switch.

A Space for the Unbound

Developer: Mojiken Studio

Publisher: Toge Productions

Completely coincidentally coming from the same studio as the last game, A Space for the Unbound is more of a traditional adventure game. In the demo you play as a teenage boy named Atma who lives in a rural Indonesian town. Atma has a magical red book, given to him by a creative young girl named Nirmala, and this book allows him to dive into peoples’ hearts and experience a short scene that can allow him to figure out what problems are keeping them from doing what they want to do.

Its Steam page describes it as a “slice of life” game, which is apt as it definitely does feel like an anime from the genre of the same name. Things are overall laid back and the people around you are just simply living their lives and experiencing their own problems. The sprite art is great, moving around feels fine, and none of the puzzles ever felt too obtuse (though this might just be because they were early puzzles). Once again, this game feels like one right up my alley and I am highly looking forward to getting my hands on more. A Space for the Unbound currently does not have a release window set, but has been confirmed to be coming to Switch.

Night Reverie

Developer: Somber Pixel

Yet another game that pulled me in specifically because of its pixel art, Night Reverie is yet another adventure game based around finding items to solve puzzles while exploring a world. In Night Reverie you play as a child named Matt who wakes up in a home very similar to his own, yet also very different. His little sister is missing, and now various animal people are living within the walls. Alongside the flame sprite Sparky, Matt must solve the mystery of the world he’s ended up in and find his sister, helping the inhabitants of this world along the way.

Night Reverie looks and sounds great, with a real sense of childlike wonder to it. My only real issue with the demo is that when going to use items you have to pause and equip the item you need, including things like keys. This is a minor issue as the UI is snappy and has satisfying sound design to go with it, but it does feel like it messes with the flow as years of instinct tells me that if I have a key to a door the game should use it automatically. But there’s also a giant cat, so it all really balances out. Night Reverie is currently set to release in Fall of 2020, but I have found conflicting reports about whether or not it’s confirmed for Switch. For this one we’ll just have to wait and see.

Monster Camp

Developer: Beautiful Glitch

Full disclosure: I personally backed this game on Kickstarter last year.

As a big fan of Monster Prom I have found myself incredibly excited for the sequel Monster Camp. Monster Camp, just like its predecessor, is a competitive dating sim which potentially may not be a collection of words that makes sense to you. Up to four players take turns figuring out where they will spend their time, increasing various stats and experiencing scenes with the various love interests. At the end each player will have to try asking their target date to a romantic bonfire dance. I am very happy with my short time in this demo, the writing and art is still just as great as it was in Monster Prom, but I’m also incredibly interested in some of the new mechanics that have been introduced.

I’m most intrigued by the campfire, which takes the place of the cafeteria in Prom. In my specific run there were four logs, two with regular scenes where you can choose between gaining affection from one of two characters just like the tables in Prom. However one sat me next to a mothman character who asked me for juicy gossip about one of the other players, which ended up lowering one of their stats. Another had me sit alone, implying the possibility that somebody might show up to sit with me (except this didn’t happen and my turn was wasted) which feels like a really cool risk/reward mechanic. Monster Camp is seeming like it’s gonna be more Monster Prom, and that’s a great thing. Monster Camp does not have a set release window quite yet, and is also not confirmed for any platforms outside of PC, though the fact that Monster Prom released on Switch just last month gives me hope (you can read Neal’s review of Monster Prom here).

Re:Turn - One Way Trip

Developer: Red Ego Games

Publisher: Green Man Gaming

Finally another horror game for the pile, Re:Turn - One Way Trip somehow ended up being one of my favorites of the batch. The game follows a group of college students taking a camping trip to celebrate their upcoming graduation. This trip goes south when all but one member of the group, a girl named Saki, goes missing. Saki ventures out into the woods to try and find her friends, stumbling upon a creepy abandoned train that appears to be extremely haunted. To make matters worse, somebody in the woods appears to be in love with Saki and may be stalking her from afar.

Re:Turn’s tone reminds me most heavily of games like Corpse Party, featuring exploring a setting filled with Japanese style phantoms that make the whole experience genuinely terrifying. The sound and visual design is very strong in Re:Turn, though the game does move incredibly slow. My main complaint is that the game could really use a run button, so that I don’t have to cross entire train cars with Saki’s casual saunter even when running away from things. Re:Turn - One Way Trip is currently set to release later in 2020, and according to the game’s official twitter is confirmed for Switch.

Ghost on the Shore

Developer: like Charlie

Another game that would likely be placed in the “walking simulator” category, but this one won me over simply with its characters and setting alone. In Ghost on the Shore you take control of a woman named Riley who finds herself stuck on an island with the ghost of a man named Josh in her head. Josh is an amnesiac who does not seem to remember much about the island he’s on nor about his own past, and Riley decides to help him recover his lost memories while exploring the Rogue Islands.

There’s once again nothing immediately unique about Ghost on the Shore but the beautiful visuals of the island as well as the fun banter between Riley and Josh more than make up for it. Both of them are fantastically played by their respective voice actors, and the writing is quick and witty, making both characters feel like two actual people having conversations. Exploring the island is interesting, and the demo leaves more than a few bread crumbs to make me incredibly interested in finding out the mysterious past of the people who once lived there. I honestly can’t wait to jump back in and explore more when the game releases. Ghost on the Shore is currently set to release sometime later in 2020, though it is currently not confirmed for any platforms other than PC.

Wayward Strand

Developer: Ghost Pattern

Our final demo for the day is yet another one that I am incredibly excited to go back to. Wayward Strand is probably the game who’s setting I find the most intriguing, set in a large airship that was once a luxury cruise liner but has now been turned into an airborne hospital and elderly care facility. You play as a young girl named Casey, the daughter of one of the facility’s nurses, who has been brought there to keep the residents company. She has a secondary objective though, which is to write an article about the mysterious hospital for her school newspaper.

The most interesting thing about Wayward Strand is that every single character in the game has their own daily schedule, something you’ll have to learn and keep track of over the final game’s three day story. Time is always moving regardless of what you’re doing, and even with the demo only comprising the morning of day one it became increasingly apparent that if I wanted to get to know every resident on the ship I would probably have to play multiple times. It was fairly obvious that the game is very much not quite done, with only a miniscule amount of voice acting being present at current time, but even so I am very excited to learn more about this airship hospital and the people who live on it. Wayward Strand is currently set to release sometime in 2020 and it has not been confirmed for any platforms besides PC yet, though my fingers are especially crossed for this one.

And that’s that, 19 demos played and talked about. Hopefully at least one of these upcoming titles caught your eye, I had hoped to get this roundup out before the demos went away but sadly time was not on my side. Make sure to comment about any demos you particularly enjoyed during the festival, and let me know if any of these games interested you. This event turned me on to numerous titles I hadn’t even heard of up until this point, and I would enjoy having these experiences continue in the future.

Talkback

SteefosaurusJune 25, 2020

For some reason I was convinced Spiritfarer would be on Xbox, since they presented it at E3 last year. Really liked that studio's previous game Jøtun a few years back.

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