Thanks to the quarantine, many indie developers were unable to show their games to the press or the public. Steam and Geoff Keighley stepped in, however, and allowed hundreds of developers to put demos on the PC gaming platform. Nobody had the time to play through every demo, not even us, but three of our writers played demos and had some thoughts on what they presented.
You know that (specifically) straight couple in your life that everyone finds really annoying because they’re very assertive about their relationship to absolutely everyone? Sadly, that couple exists as a video game. Haven almost drew me in with a pretty opening sequence and banging music, but then the characters started making out multiple times. And then, we got to the actual game and then they started talking. I was enticed by the promise of an open exploration game with RPG elements, not expecting to be subjected to a scene of the main characters nearly banging on a kitchen table within the first few minutes of the game. Even if one were to brush aside the cringy, awkwardly written romance (“You know what else is awesome? Your butt.” Help, I need an adult!), the game itself currently does not seem to offer much to make up for it.
You indeed can openly explore and forage a vast environment, but there really is nothing much else to see and it feels pretty empty. The controls are still pretty funky and despite a game promising co-op to be the better experience, there is also currently nothing distinct about switching between the two characters. In a game that also has opportunities where choices are made in dialogue, Haven also does not really know what role you are taking and is not really clear on that agency, especially in a single-player experience. Who am I in this relationship? Or am I just a third-party voyeur looking at a couple’s banter from the outside? I truly appreciate the idea of seeing a healthy, loving relationship pre-established before the story since that is something we rarely see, especially for younger characters—but if only it wasn’t written by someone who sounded like they are still undergoing puberty. A +1 for heterosexual representation but a -1 for my interest. -Elvie
I am this website’s resident Skating Games Boy and I’m sorry to tell you this, but SkateBIRD is absolute wank in its current state. I’m always down for something to try to recreate peak Tony Hawk, and while SkateBIRD is certainly very twee and cute, it’s being shown in such an early and presumably unfinished state that it’s hard to muster up any sort of enthusiasm for what it’ll eventually be. Right now, it’s virtually impossible to do anything without the physics breaking, while the bird itself sorta just flops around in the air in ugly fashion. It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t look good or move well, and for a game whose success is entirely reliant on replicating an all-time great, this isn’t an encouraging start. I understand it’s early, but this really feels like a build that shouldn’t be in anyone’s hands right now. -Niall
I love the art for this game. I can’t think of anything that looks like Cris Tales. Unfortunately, under the wonderful art and enchanting music, there’s an RPG with no meat on its bones. The basic conceit of the game, the ability to see the past and future on the left and right of your screen and then jump into them, is a neat gimmick on paper, but in practice it’s nothing more than a quick button press to solve an issue. In combat, the same gimmick either de-ages or ages your foes, and again, it’s a neat hook when you think of it, but all it is is an attack lowering spell when you’re in action! It’s basic, bland mechanics swaddled in pretty wrapping paper. -John
There are so many interesting, and pretty good cyberpunk-themed media out there to explore, that you shouldn’t feel pressured to get something like Cyberpunk 2077 just because it is the big talk of the town (especially since it’s just been within an endless encirclement of controversy). Never settle for less when there are so many other titles! But unfortunately, Solace State is not one of those other titles. Solace State boasts itself to be a “3D” visual novel, but when it says that it just means the camera moves around to follow text segmented and splattered across different layers of a big image, broken apart on a three dimensional plane. This game is a nightmare to the senses and I can’t imagine how deeply inaccessible and unplayable this would be to someone who may have vision impairments. This “3D” concept is not quirky or dynamic, but is just merely frustrating to look at and bad design.
Solace State has pretty cool character designs set against these textured, very abstract backdrops, but these otherwise interesting ingredients are just blended together in a confusing, visual salad. There is no proper, tutorialized segment to help guide you before you are thrown into the heat of action and nothing is really indicative about the sort of paths you will end up taking through the choices you make. Essentially, the crux of this game’s problem is that nothing is explained properly. I think a lot about Prezi and how the moment that one person in your high school class started using it for their projects, everyone else followed suit because understandably, Powerpoint is pretty lame. But even if it is lame, it can still do the job, can it? I don’t understand the premise for Solace State to feel the need to try to defy traditional visual novel conventions the way it does, especially if it is not servicing the text at all. -Elvie
The good thing about funny games is that they’re always gut-bustingly hilarious. I love witty dialogue that reads like a Reddit post for which the commenter would receive a hearty “you have won the internet, good sir”. I love epic memes, bacon and doggos, and I hate cringe normies. Borderlands is the height of comedy. KUR is the experience I’ve been waiting for; yet another also-ran boomer-shooter with horrendous voice acting and a protagonist who will not shut the fuck up for even a second, because she’s got just so many witty quips and goofs to spew. The action feels terrible, and betrays a clear lack of understanding as to what made the games it’s aping, the Quakes and Duke Nukem 3Ds of the world so successful. There’s much more to Quake than just sliding all over the place like an out of control Ferrari on an icy road, and trying to ape the one-liners of Duke Nukem while not understanding that those lines were never good doesn’t help. Platforming feels bad, the shooting isn’t satisfying, and I wanted to die when I picked up a shotgun and the player character did a dreadful Elmer Fudd voice. In a genre that’s rapidly reaching the point of oversaturation, it’s impossible to imagine caring about KUR. -Niall
I know, I know. It’s actually pretty good! I put this here because I thought the demo was kind of a bad showcase of the type of game Ultrakill wants to be. I know this now especially because the developers told me as much. Ultrakill’s demo puts you in tight rooms with holes in the floor, and your character, a robot powered by blood, can’t maneuver as well as it should. Running in and out of mobs of enemies while refilling your health, sliding and leaping while facing huge bosses, it’s all very cool! I just want to get my hands on this game when the level design allows for more movement. Again, not a bad game, I just wish the demo showcased it a bit better.
A Space For the Unbound
A Space For the Unbound takes place in a rural Indonesian community in the late 90s, focusing on a group of kids coping with the troubles of anxiety, adolescence, and what appears to be the threat of the end of the world. The game uses a pixelated art style and muted palettes that beautifully capture the countryside, all while accurately depicting elements so familiar to Southeast Asian culture. The game reminds me a lot of the works of Makoto Shinkai, specifically the film, Your name, another slice-of-life story that covertly has something fantastical and science fiction in its underbelly. As someone who is Southeast Asian, I am always drawn to work that culturally beckons to me because it is always refreshing to see that representation. I really love what I have seen so far and the intrigue of the story is really promising. -Elvie
Gestalt: Steam & Cinder
I think steampunk sucks, so the fact that I came away from Gestalt: Steam & Cinder feeling like it’s the clear highlight of the summer festival says a lot about how good it is. It’s not exactly a Bugsnax style revelation to elevate the artform, but it’s hard to fault any singular aspect of it; it looks great, it feels good, and it seems like there’s some decent chops to the writing. It’s pretty easy to see Gestalt catching on in a decently big way when it comes out for real, and could be the rare Metroidvania-ARPG hybrid that genuinely works on all levels. A lot of it’s gonna depend on how well they tell this story and how well they realize these characters, but there’s a ton of potential here, and Gestalt could be something special. -Niall
Pokemon pastiches are a dime-a-dozen these days, but Coromon feels like it’s getting it right. There’s a style to it, and passion that you can feel radiating off the game that you don’t get from a simple ripoff. While it doesn’t have the AAA polish of a Pokemon title, Coromon has its soul, and that’s what counts. I believe as long as the devs continue to add onto this title, it could be the real indie monster-catcher that people have been demanding. As a Pokemon fan, please indies, give them a run for their money, they need to innovate. -John
Starstruck: Hands of Time
There are a lot of games out there that claim they are “Earthbound-styled” or “-inspired”—when in reality, I think they really mean to say that they have similar RPG mechanics. On the other hand, I think Starstruck: Hands of Time actually captures what those other titles claim, through not its mechanics, but through the dark charm and goofy spirit that Earthbound embodies. You play as a literal, disembodied hand, reaching into a diorama-like world to help the lives of two kids to prevent a doomed future. The game switches around perspectives, from causing destruction as the hand or jumping into a rhythm game sequence by shredding a guitar. In the demo alone, Starstruck went from Katamari Damacy, to Gitaroo Man, to End of Evangelion. It not only is an interesting combo of genres, it has an incredible synthesis of mixed media, featuring fully modeled clay figures of the characters, papercraft, and surprising moments of live-action thrown in. It is definitely one of the most impressively unique things I’ve seen in a long time and I’m really looking forward to what madness the full thing will bring. -Elvie
I detest roguelikes. I have never once played a game in the genre that’s kept my interest for any length of time or left me feeling like I’d spent my time wisely. It’s a style of game that just doesn’t click with me, and until I played Golden Light, I was pretty sure it’d never even have a shot at doing so. I’m not saying that I’m all in on Golden Light whatsoever, but it’s definitely earned itself an extended look thanks to its grotesque horror vibes and bizzarro sense of humor. The Meat Zone is suitably gross in every aspect, and at a time where low-poly PS1 style graphics are heavily in-vogue, Golden Light seems like an anomaly; it’s almost impossible to imagine this thing working with any other look and feel, and that speaks volumes to how well realized it is. -Niall
Those sickos, they did it. They actually made a Windjammers 2. And it’s as good as the original! Yes, DotEmu pulled it off and Windjammers 2 is a solid arcade sports title that I can recommend to anyone. They didn’t re-invent the wheel here, but solid controls, gorgeous visuals, and a cute sense of humor are all you really need to revive memories of a bonafide classic. Karnov and Chelnov are even little cameos in this! What else do you need? -John