I might as well take this opportunity to further the point I started my previous article with. Steam’s Next Fest event has become my firm favourite event in Steam’s calendar, firmly ranked above their myriad sales. A wee Scotsman enjoying an event with such a multitude of free demos to play? Say it isn’t so! All jokes aside this event, in my opinion, does wonder to highlight a variety of fantastic titles that are just waiting to be discovered and picked up. It’s an excellent opportunity to broaden your gaming horizons and support some fantastic creators and folk while doing so.
Starting out on a chillaxed tone, my first pick of this Steam Next Fest is A Castle Full of Cats. Developed and Published by Devcats.
An awful, awful human being has cursed the titular stately home and its feline residents and it’s our job to find all the cats, click them and return them to their frolicking Felidae ways. A simple premise that’s executed delightfully.
Search the scenes, and click the cats. Clicking the cats allows you to wander into new areas of the castle, unlocking new scenes and more cats to click. A delightfully simple gameplay loop executed perfectly with an adorable wee story to join it. There isn’t much more I can say to encourage you to try this. I highly recommend it.
Plus it’s adorable. How can you say no to cats? According to the Steam store page, the expected release date is “🦇 Halloween 2022 🎃”. So best keep an eye out!
Next up is Pile Up! Developed by Remoob and published by the fine folks over at Next in Game.
It comes to absolutely nobody’s surprise that a little city builder title made it onto this list. I could promise you I’m not the type of person who is an incredible bore who revels in spreadsheets, minutia and pedantry but I would risk lying to you. Pile Up! tasks you with building houses, mitigating risks and juggling the needs of the people who move into your little island. The important thing to note is that space is at a premium, instead of sprawling outwards in a metropolitan mass, you have to construct upwards, balancing buildings on top of one another and managing a small footprint.
Creativity thrives when we’re presented with limits, restrictions and restraints. It is this itch this game scratches perfectly in my opinion. While it might not offer you as much depth as the number crunching and chart chewing you’d find in the likes of Sim City, there’s a generous amount of depth to be found in ensuring citizens are happy. If they’re unhappy, you’re unhappy.
Now I’ve painted a fairly rosy picture of the potential conurbations you can build, but nothing is without risk. Water tanks can leak, and gas tanks can explode. Mitigate these risks and you can build your city to great heights. Slated for a release in the first quarter of 2023, I can’t wait for this to come out.
Suggesting I’m a fan of the minutiae of management wasn’t just a slip of the tongue. It was part of my master plan!
No? Okay. Well, we are going to have a wee look at Masterplan Tycoon developed by Bureau Bravin and published by Ravenage Games.
Masterplan Tycoon immediately piqued my interest with its presentation. Whenever I, and many others I’m sure, play management games or city builders we eventually stop seeing individual buildings as buildings, we see them more as nodes on a flow chart, many smaller processes forming parts of a greater design we had in mind. Masterplan Tycoon presents itself as how I see playing this sort of game and coming to think of it, it surprises me that no one had stopped to try this before.
More than a delight to the eyes, it’s a wonderful-sounding game too! The addition of little ambient sounds such as the sawing of wood to the sawmill or the bleating of sheep on the sheep farm, accompanied by little text flourishes around the node generating that sound is such a great touch. As with Pile Up! (at the time of writing,) Masterplan Tycoon is expected to release in the first quarter of 2023.
Time for a shift in tone. From bright and inviting to dark, dank and oppressive. My next pick for the lineup is Spark in the Dark. Developed and published by Stellar Fish
The above sums it up so much more eloquently than I can. Spark in the Dark is repressive, unpleasant, unforgiving, brutal and so damn good!
You take the role of a nameless hero, cast aside and forced to venture into the pitch-black, endless, procedurally generated depths of a dungeon that was here long before the time of humans. It’s clear right off the bat that you are not welcome here and you will have to fight for every inch of progress you make. Combat is merciless and unforgiving, you commit to each swing of your weapon. The UI is deliberately sparse, only allowing you access to the information you would know at that time; how much stamina and health you have, how good you feel, and how close you are to killing an enemy.
Your field of view is limited. No luxuries like torches are afforded to the adventurer and if you are fortunate to find a light source to take with you, it won’t last long. You aren’t even safe in the light. Terrible, ugly creatures will find you. There is so much hidden away in this dungeon and there’s so much to love. Like Dark Souls, every swing of your weapon is deliberate. No cancelling out, you commit to an attach for better or for worse and I love it!
I’ve sunk a good couple of hours into this and while seeing the “You Died” screen much more than I care to let on, I’m gripped. I’ll be back for more. This is one to add to the wishlist and keep an eye on as the planned release date is yet to be decided.
Next up is Path of Ra, a delightful puzzler developed and published by Oneiric Tales.
In another tonal shift, Path of Ra grabbed my attention in a similar manner to Masterplan Tycoon; its presentation. You play a nameless Pharaoh whose soul has become a hieroglyph on the walls of his tomb. This cracking wee puzzler tasks you with finding out the truth about the Pharaoh’s death by rearranging the tiles to ensure he makes it to the exit door of each puzzle safely, avoiding various obstacles on the way.
The game sets a beautiful tone right from the get-go from the beautiful, hand-drawn art to the darbouka and pipe motifs in the soundtrack that really sends you back into the Pharaoh’s time. The soundtrack is beautiful and I highly recommend sitting down and listening to it. If you take the time to sit and critically listen to the background music, you’ll be surprised how much there is to find and enjoy. It’s wonderfully orchestrated.
There’s so much to love about this intuitive little puzzle title. It’s so easy to play, just grab a tile and pop it on top of the tile you want to replace. It is delightful and I highly, highly recommend giving it a go. Unfortunately, there’s no planned release date according to the store page so add it to your wish list to avoid missing out on updates.
Finally, to end this article on an adorable note, we’re looking at Chicken Journey! Developed and published by loonyware.
In this adorable pixel-y platformer we take on an adventure in the quest to ask the deepest, philosophical question on such a cute creature’s mind. “What came first? The chicken or the egg?”
Everything about this title is super chilled. From the soft, soothing tones of the soundtrack to the delightfully vibrant, pixel graphics and its wonderful sense of humour there really is so much to love about the game. Curiosity is rewarded as you explore and peck at things that pique your interest. There’s no combat to worry about so our chicken is safe. Between the range of little puzzles to play with and characters to meet I can guarantee this one will peck its way to your heart. With a Q4 2022 release date at the time of writing, we won’t have to wait for much longer to get our beaks into this.
That concludes my wee selection for this iteration of Steam Next Fest. I’d love to hear what games piqued your interest, do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve picked out here? I can’t wait to hear about your favourites.
Take care and have a good ‘un!