The first Steam Next Fest of 2024 is here, allowing game developers to share limited-time demos of their upcoming games to get feedback and hype up players for previously unknown games. This Next Fest actually features the demos of some higher profile games, like the first public demos for Appeal Studios’ Outcast — A New Beginning, Surgent Studios’ Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, and Mintrocket’s Wakerunners. The true beauties of Steam Next Fest are the more experimental titles that tend to fly under the radar, though.
With hundreds of demos available to play, it’s tough to spot the games that are worth your time. I played a lot of Steam Next Fest demos ahead of the event’s kickoff this year, and the following six games stood out as the cream of the crop. From experimental narrative games to exhilarating titles focusing on a few core engaging gameplay hooks, these are the Steam Next Fest: February 2024 Edition demos you should check out.
As you can probably tell from its gameplay teaser, INDIKA is shaping up to be one of the weirdest games of 2024. Developed by Odd Meter and published by 11 bit Studios, this is a third-person narrative adventure game that follows a Russian nun constantly being taunted by a demon. While it might seem like your basic narrative adventure game on the surface, underneath those layers is a very unsettling experience. INDIKA is keen to highlight the inconsistencies and contradictions of religion by gamifying it.
Doing things like lighting an altar or picking up a Biblical item earns the titular character points, which then cause her to level up and choose between skills like “Guilt 5” and “Repentance 7.” So far, those appear to serve no purpose but to earn her more points to keep leveling up. The devil will constantly taunt her and cause the world around her to change, so players have to pray in order to shift realities and progress. It’s impossible to get a full sense of how INDIKA will play out from this demo, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable games available this Steam Next Fest.
INDIKA launches on PC in Q1 2024 and is also in development for consoles.
On a much lighter note, we have Duck Detective: The Secret Salami. Inspired by games like The Case of the Golden Idol, this title from Happy Broccoli Games follows a hardboiled detective duck named Eugene MacQuacklin as he pieces together clues and solves mysteries with a skill this game calls “deduction.” In practice, Duck Detective: The Secret Salami tasks players with surveying environments to find keywords they can then piece together into a sentence that solves the case.
This game is a tongue-in-cheek experience that plays up the ridiculousness of having a divorced and distraught duck as its protagonist. It also looks pretty and features some solid voice acting. It’s cute and seems like it will offer up a cozy comedic experience when it launches on PC sometime this year. Duck Detective: The Secret Salami’s demo is quite short, only clocking in at around 10 minutes, so it should be an easy demo to squeeze into your playtime even if you’re quite busy.
My most replayed demo of this Steam Next Fest is Balatro from LocalThunk and Playstack. A self-described “Poker roguelike,” this demo alone is a must-play for fans of traditional card games. Each encounter, players have a certain point total that they’ll need to meet within a limited number of hands if they want to progress. Every kind of poker hand offers up unique point values and multipliers. The depth of Balatro comes from figuring out how to best play your cards to reach that high score as quickly as possible.
Balatro is a roguelike, so there are things that spice the game up from run to run. Cards can be upgraded mid-run to gain unique properties to boost the points they earn or multipliers they apply. Players can also buy Joker, Tarot, Planet, and Spectral cards between rounds to further modify the deck build for maximum point efficiency. It’s the kind of roguelike that will make you think, “Just one more run!” when it’s 3 a.m. and you need to go to bed.
While I thought I’d be burnt out on cooperative action games after playing so much Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, Alvios Games’ Vellum is quite fun. It’s yet another roguelike where magic is the main form of attack. Players use quip attacks to build up energy that can then be used on more powerful jot abilities. Each time players clear an arena of enemies, they can choose from a variety of ability upgrades and modifiers to improve their abilities and make each run feel fresh.
The game’s cel-shaded art style gives it a memorable look, and as a writer, I chuckled at all the literary puns the developers sunk in with various ability and mechanic names. Although it’s not that complex, Vellum is an engaging action game that encourages players to keep moving and smartly time their abilities. I can only imagine it’ll be a lot more fun when you’re playing with three other people playing at the top of their game, too.
Vellum launches into early access on Steam on March 28.
Until Then is the kind of slice-of-life game I didn’t know I needed. It follows a high school boy in the Philippines as he goes to school, does assignments last minute, and navigates complex friendships in a fictionalized 2014. As someone who was in high school during the early 2010s era in which the game is set, I found Until Then‘s demo to be a very relatable experience. Well … that is until things got supernatural at the end.
Much like INDIKA, some odd forces might be at play underneath this seemingly grounded slice-of-life adventure. The official description for this game teases “a fateful meeting sets off a chain reaction, upending Mark’s life,” but the demo does not seem to include this event, only hinting at it. As such, I can’t wait to dive into the full thing when Until Then eventually releases for PC and PS5.
Inti Creates made a name for itself with plenty of excellent 2D platforms like Azure Striker Gunvolt, Blaster Master Zero, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, and Dragon: Marked for Death. Its next platformer is Umbraclaw, which follows a cat named Kuon as it tries to escape the afterlife and get back to its owner. Umbraclaw’s painterly art is immediately eye-catching, as was its premise as someone who lost a pet last year. And although its level-based platforming isn’t as silky smooth as some of Inti Creates’ other titles, Umbraclaw makes up for it with a unique gameplay twist.
As a cat, players can’t do much at first other than jump, dash, and squeeze into tight spaces. Every time Kuon takes damage, he gains a new ability. Get hit enough, and you’ll become a more humanoid-looking cat with even more abilities. That makes playing through Umbraclaw easier, but its tutorial suggests that completing the game this way could have negative ramifications on the game’s narrative. This setup makes Umbraclaw a great test of skill for skilled platforming players, as they’ll have to determine just how much damage they want to take in a given level.
I’m interested in seeing what the consequences of this system truly are when Umbraclaw launches for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch on May 30.
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