Time really does feel like an illusion of late. In what seems like a heartbeat, summer has come around again. The days are at their longest, the weather pendulum swings between cloudless skies rivalling the Mediterranean and monsoon downpours straight out of the tropics, Steam provides its 7 day smorgasbord of indie gaming goodness — this time under a cool new moniker. And of course I, the resident Steam Festival fairy for Filmhounds, was there to flit around, soak up all of the action and wax lyrical about the three titles that kept me coming back for more!
Running from 16th – 22nd June, ‘Steam Next Fest’ showcased the whole spectrum of virtual magic that indie gaming has to offer with demos, live streams and Q&As from well-known developers and up-and-coming newbies. This festival in particular exhibited a wide range of distinct visual styles, the 2D pixel art and hand-drawn styles being exceptionally striking. Every game was a feast for the eyes. Add top-notch quality and entertainment to the mix and your gal was in a tough spot picking out her top trio.
So, after much deliberation and replaying, here are my Top 3 demos from Steam Next Fest:
Already in development for half a decade by a single developer, Death Trash by Crafting Legends is a twistedly beautiful blend of old and new, simplicity and complexity. An open-world isometric RPG, Death Trash sets the scene of humanity travelling the solar system and settling on the mysterious planet Nexus, home of flesh and stone. But when the planet’s deepest secrets were unearthed, civilised society was forced to flee and shut themselves away from the outside world. You are an outcast, expelled from your habitat with a heavy burden, and now must make your own way in the unforgiving wastelands of Nexus.
Despite having a borderline obsession with pixel art, I can be a little picky with certain pixel art aesthetics. Death Trash gets it right on the money, however. The animation is slick and the art style is wonderfully intricate in its simplistic approach. If the visuals remind you of an oil painting, that’s pretty much because they are. All locations and settings are hand-painted, literally painting a picture of this enigmatic planet of flesh-like creatures and stone temples. The isometric view also harks back to old school RPGs like Fallout or Baldur’s Gate and lends itself perfectly to both the setting and the gameplay.
With a completely customisable character and attributes to suit your playstyle, players are given complete freedom to explore and experience the game as they see fit. Want to commune with the flesh creatures and become best buddies with a Fleshraken? Go ahead. Want to let loose and attack everything you see? Knock yourself out. All of this shapes your character’s journey and customisation; you make the decisions and the decisions make you. The only slight downside is the amount of skills and attributes can be a little overwhelming for newbies and may take a little getting used to.
Like the outcast in Nexus, Death Trash looks set to carve its own unique path through the RPG genre, embracing modern approaches yet honouring the elements that came before it. What kind of wanderer will it make you?
Wishlist and play the demo on Steam HERE.
PLANNED RELEASE DATE: 5th August 2021
PLATFORMS: PC, Mac, Linux, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Greak: Memories of Azur
Fantasy adventures and hand-drawn animation are simply made for each other and nowhere is this more apparent than in Navegante Entertainment’s 2D puzzle platformer Greak: Memories of Azur. You take control of three elf-like ‘Courine’ siblings: Greak, Adara and Raydel on a quest of freedom through the lands of Azur, which have been beset by the invading Urlags for some time. The only way to be free is to flee Azur by airship, but building one will be far from easy. Greak must rescue his siblings and work together with them in order to source what they need, overcome taxing obstacles and defeat the Urlags that would have them in chains.
It’s hard not to be completely captivated by the stunning hand-drawn visuals in this little title. The Courine protagonists are unique and expressive and so much is conveyed in just a few seconds of animation without a single word uttered. That’s saying nothing of the beautiful level design that accompanies the siblings’ adventures. From ethereal forests with glowing flora to underground caves and crystal clear pools, an unbelievable level of care has clearly gone into their creation — similar to fellow 2D platformer Seasons After Fall — and the world of Azur is as thriving and expressive as its heroes. The exquisitely mystical atmosphere would not be quite the same with another graphical style! And as if that wasn’t enough, the spellbinding soundtrack that punctuates this adventure is performed by a live orchestra.
If you’re familiar with or a fan of single player co-op play (e.g. The Cave, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons), then Greak’s gameplay will feel like an old friend. Once rescued, players take control of Greak, Adara and Raydel and must alternate between them to overcome and remove obstacles. Each has their own unique skills: Greak is quick and agile, Adara can use magic to levitate or use magical projectiles and Raydel is a hardy warrior with a sword, shield and grappling hook to reach high ledges. And in true metroidvania fashion, there are many branching paths to take and explore in order to solve tricky environmental and logic puzzles. Your wits will be tested as well as your accuracy, so both will have to be sharp to outsmart the Urlag!
Winner of ‘Best Upcoming Game’ and ‘Best Art Style’ at VJMX 2020, Greak: Memories of Azur looks set to be a shining star in the world 2D platformers and those looking for an atmospheric fantastical chronicle about the power of union in difficult times will find themselves right at home.
Wishlist and play the demo on Steam HERE.
PLANNED RELEASE DATE: 17th August 2021
PLATFORMS: PC, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch
Take the planetary exploration of No Man’s Sky and the vibrant vibes of Steven Universe. Mix them together with an extra sprinkling of cartoonish charm and you get Lost Nova by Jon Nielsen! This wholesome space romp sees Mia, a sassy workaholic space traveller, forced to go on a long overdue vacation which takes an unexpected turn when her ship crashes on a mysterious planet. The ship in dire need of repairs, Mia sets out to find materials to patch it up, but it soon becomes apparent that hers is not the only craft to crash here. What on the planet is causing ships to crash, why is it so difficult to leave and what are the locals hiding?
Within the first few minutes of playing Lost Nova, you’ll find a smile creeping its way across your face. With bright and colourful visuals reminiscent of Cartoon Network animation and witty, snappy dialogue to match, the experience radiates pure unadulterated fun. Don’t get me wrong, I love a dark, gritty story as much as the next person, but when a game dives head first into the fun factor it’s wonderfully refreshing! The colour palettes are sumptuous bright and the character designs effortlessly charming — some even honour classic styles seen in the likes of The Pink Panther and Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
Exploration is the name of the game here; as well as jumping long distances with her jetpack, Mia can use her trusty blaster to extract valuable materials called ‘glems’ from various minerals and vegetation scattered throughout the planet. These glems can be used to fix her ship, purchase upgrades and trade to complete quests from the planet’s inhabitants, sometimes gaining valuable items. But there are no restrictions on how to approach a goal; players are free to explore at their own pace and soak up what the planet has to offer however they choose. Whether it’s frolicking under a magnificent glowing tree or helping a single bear father find his mischievous children, the choice is yours.
With our own planet looking to be in a state of unease for some time yet, there can never be enough vibrant wholesome games to stimulate and soothe. And Lost Nova certainly shows the promise to do both exceptionally.
Wishlist on Steam HERE.
PLANNED RELEASE DATE: Autumn 2021