Anime was weird last year.
Steam hosted an “Autumn Edition” of the Steam Game Festival that featured demos and developer presentations that accompanied a showcase of upcoming games expected to release at the end of this year into the first quarter of 2021. This virtual event offered nothing inherently different to the setup of the Summer Fest they hosted months prior, besides the distinction that time has passed and that the seasons have changed since. (For comparison, you can check out some of our first impressions of the games showcased during the Steam Game Fest that took place this past summer, in addition to my own Twitter thread commenting on many more that was not discussed in that piece.)
— Steam (@Steam) October 6, 2020
I went out of my way to participate in way too many virtual events during the latter half of this year that I didn’t think I could possibly endure — and yet here I am having willingly subjected myself to another gauntlet of games. So here are my impressions of several of the demos that were made available during this event that I tried out!
Buddy Simulator 1984
In Buddy Simulator 1984, you turn on an old computer terminal to play a simulation game of the same name. After some time interacting with the “buddy” in-game via text-based commands, it becomes more apparent that there is something sinister and unsettling behind this piece of artificial intelligence. Buddy Simulator 1984 is another take on an AI going rogue with some meta game-breaking mechanics, and I honestly cannot expect it to get any more subversive than that. It definitely kept me immersed, creating this illusion that there is greater complexity going on in this text-based game. But other than that, it is tackling an idea that has been executed on many times.
Carto is a puzzle game centered on your ability to manipulate and maneuver map pieces to explore and further navigate to different lands. You have to figure out how to rearrange and rotate these pieces in clever ways to find the NPCs and items you need in order to progress. In one scenario, you run into a man who says he has trekked too far from home and has gotten lost. You have to flip and place the map piece he is on to the correction orientation and location to properly spawn him back to his home based on his description of the place. The game is extremely cute and seems like it will be a great, relaxing experience without the weight of stress that often comes with many puzzle games.
CONSCRIPT is a survival horror title that takes place in the midst of the First World War. Rendered in a lower resolution style that pays homage to older horror games like Clock Tower and Alone In the Dark, the scarier parts of the game come from the literal and psychological discomfort of the tight, tense conditions that have been confronted in warfare. As someone who is not into this genre so much, I found CONSCRIPT’s more grounded, straightforward take on what is considered “horror” to be really compelling and something I am willing to dive into when it comes out. It’s also nice to see a historical setting so overused in first-person shooters through a different lens for once.
Demon Turf is a wacky multimedia-styled game that clearly is paying ode to old school 3D platformers. Colorful, two-dimension characters navigate in a 3D-rendered environment, drawn in a style that reminds me a lot of Ko Takeuchi, the key designer behind the WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven series. As stylish as this makes the game, I think it does it a bit of a disservice because it felt like these clashing styles inhibited the platforming aspect of the game, such as making it more difficult to land complicated jump combos.
Fights in Tight Spaces
Fights in Tight Spaces is a game that’s entirely just turn-based tactic fighting. Using deck-building mechanics, you have to strategize your moves to duke it out in the most efficient way possible on small maps. In its current iteration, the transitions from one mission to the next are a little clunky, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the proofreading department. Otherwise, Fights in Tight Spaces has the potential to be a fun, quick game you can easily jump in and out to fulfill a punching urge.
A story about bringing two people together, Fire Tonight takes place in the long gone year of 1990, where communication can be seriously inhibited by how limited technology was for the time period. The demo focused on the opening segment of the game in which a young woman and man are talking to each other on the phone. Before the girl sets out to visit her boyfriend in person, she has to find a payphone to reach out to him again. You have the ability to rotate the area in order to find the objects she needs to move forward. With numerous mechanics such as point-and-click stages, light exploration, and assorted puzzles, Fire Tonight was very visually appealing and charming for what it had to offer in its variety of gameplay and aesthetics.
Nine Witches: Family Disruption
Nine Witches: Family Disruption is a narrative adventure comedy following an occult specialist and his assistant sent on a mission to thwart otherworldy Nazi shenanigans. Nazi occult stuff has been overdone and I think the concept continues to be explored in very uncreative ways, especially in watering down how dangerous their legacy is out of sheer cartoonishness. So far, I don’t see this being a huge issue that will overshadow other aspects to the game, such as its visual style and accessibility. The game has a very fluid control system, which by default is mapped to the keyboard in a very seamless way in contrast to many other titles of similar genre. I also found the character switching mechanic to be interesting and am curious as to how more intuitive this ability will become later in-game.
In spite of its goofy name, NUTS is a tranquil, methodical game revolving around field research and the labors of squirrel watching. Taking post in a remote forest, you are assigned to observe and record the movements and daily habits of the squirrels. Even within the demo, I have found some of the tasks to be very tedious, such as having to constantly adjust and move around cameras you are provided just to capture the exact footage you need. For that reason, NUTS probably accurately depicts how real science and research can be pretty repetitive just to find the right answers to even simple questions. So I guess that’s why I am not a scientist!
Raji: An Ancient Epic
By the time of this writing, Raji: An Ancient Epic is already fully playable on the Nintendo Switch and will be released on other platforms in mid-October. When I first heard about the game, I was already very enthused by its concept influenced by Indian mythologies produced by a team actually based in India. An action adventure, Raji follows a young woman’s perilous journey to rescue her younger brother from demons as her story is narrated and presided over by the gods. The game switches between 3D rendered CGI and gorgeous cutscenes styled like shadow puppetry. Raji does a great job in explaining the myths it draws from without holding your hand, and it is refreshing to see more diverse voices in games help tap into tons of untouched potential out there that can make for good stories.
In SAMUDRA, a young boy who falls to the bottom of the deep sea sets out to explore the weird and strange world he soon discovers as he tries to get out. SAMUDRA is a side scrolling puzzle game with limited mechanics that rides on not-so-subtle commentary on littering and pollution of the ocean. As visually interesting the game is, at times its minimal control scheme can be a huge setback. It gets frustrating to figure out what to do, and the lack of cursor control and total dependency on walking around until the main character reacts is awkward. In one sequence, the boy has to run across an unstable bridge and wait until he lets out a specific reaction to press anything before it falls apart completely. My impressions of the puzzles just felt like you needed to time yourself to a series of quicktime events.
SuchArt! Genius Painter Simulator
In an absurd future where artificial intelligence and robots have completely taken over art, you are one of few humans who have managed to pass a test with the creative potential to potentially turn this industry around. In SuchArt! Genius Painter Simulator, you are an artist taking commissions while residing in an art studio in outer space. Although the game is incredibly silly and intentionally loose as with many first-person simulator games, SuchArt! actually functions as a competent art-making tool in itself. Not only do you have an impressive array of painting supplies you can work from, from basic brushes to a palette knife, the method of drawing and painting functions sufficiently similar to basic digital art software. It might very well be possible to create a masterpiece in-game, granted that you get a master handling of the controls to avoid constantly dropping your paint like I did.
Survival Journals is a point-and-click simulation game that has you collect material and supplies in an effort to upgrade your safehouse against the day-by-day threat of zombies. Day by day, you must take a chance at exploring a map to forage resources with the chance of running into hostile encounters along theway. At the moment, the game doesn’t offer much and only a very rough build showshow it functions on the most rudimentary level. That said, after further refinement, it has the potential to be an interesting, extremely simplified take to most action-packed zombie games.
Treehouse Riddle is a puzzle adventure game brought out by VGCC favorite Fruitbat Factory, publisher of 100% Orange Juice and its related games. Waking up in a large treehouse, the game is basically a series of escape the room-styled puzzles. My brief playing experience of the game reminded me a lot of early Flash-produced puzzle games, but alas. For anyone who wants to sink in the lull of solving nothing but puzzles, this can be a treat, but the game currently has a few buggy issues when it comes to the controls when quickly transitioning between its three different modes of playing: walking around the treehouse, navigating the game UI, and doing things on the puzzle solving screen itself. For example, in one room, you have to find a missing piece of a slider puzzle. To insert the found piece into the puzzle, grabbing from your inventory requires using a different set of controls to move around compared to the puzzle, which is considered a separate screen. Completing this simple task was far more of a chore than it needed to be.