“I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.” – Mae West
What is Next Fest?
Steam’s Next Fest (formerly Steam Game Festival) launched on the 16th June this year and will run until 10am PST on 22nd June 2021. Alongside numerous livestreams, playthroughs and developer interviews, Next Fest also has over 700 demos for exciting upcoming games available to play throughout the event!
Top Picks from the Next Fest Demos
Freud’s Bones is a narrative-driven, point-and-click game that pays homage to the birth of Psychoanalysis and its founder, Sigmund Freud. Set in Vienna, 1925, the game starts with Freud pacing across a dusty Persian carpet trying to decipher the reasons for his insomnia and breakdown. The player, acting as part of Freud’s subconscious can choose to take on the role of demon or guardian angel, helping him along the path to becoming the greatest psychoanalyst or forcing him to face repressed desires.
The game utilises a range of mechanics to help players monitor Freud’s wellbeing and help him with his own problems all on top of treating patients. There are letters to analyse, patients to talk to, medical records to be examined and added to. There is also a wealth of information collected or written by Freud, such as notes on the id, ego and superego, or references to other psychologists such as Carl Jung.
The art style is in a soft, cartoon style and uses muted but warm colour palettes. The UI is stylised but clean and very easy to navigate. The music is a stand out feature and includes quaintly ominous, almost mischievous tracks with twinkling noises and short staccato notes. There are a few ambient sound effects and exclamations from Freud but there is no voice acting. The writing is great, with an intriguing story and interesting characterisation. The English translation is far from perfect but is easy enough to understand and doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.
Overall, this is a great experience that is sure to leave players itching for more. It has a lovely aesthetic that matches the tone of the game well. It explores some interesting themes not often touched upon in games and certainly not in such a thorough and engaging way; Freud’s Bones is well researched and informative and the demo is very easy to recommend.
No Longer Home
No Longer Home lets players immerse themselves in the lives of Bo and Ao who must let go of the life they’ve built due to circumstances beyond their control. Players can learn about Bo and Ao’s dreams, frustrations and fears.
This prelude/demo is a very relaxed and pensive experience that focuses on the endearing relationship of Ao and Bo as they are about to part ways. This is emphasised by the meditative and ethereal drones that make up the soundtrack. Players explore the isometric environments as Bo, conversing with Ao and interacting with objects to trigger memories or thoughts about the other protagonist and their behaviours. The game’s colourful art style with block shapes and simple designs really draw focus to the narrative, the immersion is further accentuated by the realistic and well-implemented sound effects such as horns and sirens outside in the distance. Overall, this is a pleasure to play and I am eagerly anticipating the full game.
Nummels is a delightful mix of puzzle-platformer and Lemmings! Player are expected to solve a range of conundrums, scale obstacles and most importantly, lead the daft little nummels safely back home! Creating routes can be achieved by distracting nummels with things like gum, placing ladders, digging through walls and much more. It has a simple 2D aesthetic with clean lines and bright colours and the cute sound effects and retro but energetic electronic tunes that play throughout match perfectly creating a great overall aesthetic.
Whilst rescuing a certain number of nummels per level is required for progression, the game is quite forgiving as far as the platformer elements go and it is definitely a more puzzle-based experience overall. Many levels have coins behind extra obstacles that can be collected and spent on cosmetic items. They are also awarded for the first completion of any level as well as extra based on how many nummels were saved. Additionally, player progress throughout each level is timed and compared to a par time, meaning there is plenty of scope for more competitive or difficult play for those that desire it.
Nummels is a fun game that has a lot to offer and will appeal to a wide range of players. It has the potential to be both a casual and relaxing experience but also lends itself to more competitive play or even speed runs. This was a highly enjoyable demo and I look forward to seeing what the full game has to offer!
Unpacking is a zen puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. In a cross between Tetris and House Flipper, players are invited to create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life they’re unpacking.
This demo provides two unpacking experiences and four different rooms for players to organise and does a great job of illustrating what the finished game will be like. It is relaxing but strangely engrossing with little to no pressure besides having to get items in the right place, but this is very loosely defined allowing for some creativity and variation. Each set of boxes, and the isometric rooms they are to be unpacked into, reflect the era indicated at the start of the puzzle. Time progresses with each house move but the consistency of key items inform players that the owner remains the same. All of this, teamed with laid back, retro, electronic tunes and some beautifully detailed pixel art make this an utter joy to play.
Toem is a delightful point-and-click adventure in which the protagonist sets off on an expedition through a range of Scandinavian inspired landscapes helping quirky strangers with the vintage camera!
On a quest to reach the highest peak and experience the phenomenon of Toem, the optimistic protagonist sets about earning star stamps in order to travel by bus to different areas. They will meet an eclectic bunch of characters along the way, often offering photo-based tasks to earn stamps from. These include straight up photo challenges to games of hide-and-seek, paparazzi-style shots and even solving the mystery of which horse a ghost used to be! In addition to the fun characters, the dialogue is jolly and well written making for some fun and varied conversations.
The game has a simple but cute cartoon art style, hand-drawn with chunky lines and presented in greyscale, which works surprisingly well and helps lend an air of calm to the experience. The music too is very relaxing with a mix of twee twinkles, synth sounds and more lively numbers, courtesy of Launchable Socks and Jamal Green.
Overall, this is a wonderful little demo, the tasks can be tricky at times require some thought and exploration but there are no time limits or pressures making this a very chilled out experience overall. This was a highlight amongst the Next Fest demos and I eagerly await the full title!
These games have been a joy to play but are merely five of my top picks from over 700 demos that are playable during Next Fest. There are heaps of fantastic games being showcased, from a range of developers and spanning just about every genre you might have a taste for. This list is at best a starting point and my main recommendation is for people to check out the event for themselves!
Looking for full games that can be played in the same amount of time as a demo? Look no further:
Three Free Games Short Enough to Play on a Lunch Break! – Five Free Short Games on itch.io for Busy Bees!