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Here Are Some Cool Steam Demos I’ve Played

There's another Steam Next Fest going on, which means lots of games to try

A screenshot from the game "Wax Heads:" a character in a green shirt stands in front of a record store counter, saying "I demand a very good bargain!"
Wax Heads

There’s another Steam Next Fest on, which means my hard drive is once again full of tiny slices of games I wish I could play all of, but I can’t. The writer in me wants to find some kind of narrative cohesion to put all the ones I’ve checked out into the same blog, but their main connecting thread is that I liked them! Maybe you will like them too.

Wax Heads

Wax Heads was announced earlier this year. In real life, I’m not a big fan of collecting things, including records, but I do love a video game where you have to do chores. In the demo, you play as a new record store employee who has to fill a steady stream of customer requests, searching the store for their desired record based on what customers tell you. Some are pretty straightforward: a brand new record, or one that’s on sale. Others are more complicated: do you recommend the newest album from a risque band to a young teen requesting it, or offer them a tamer, earlier release? Which album will satisfy this guy with a lot of opinions about a band’s membership over the years? What is this dude in a mascot head actually asking for? 

It could feel like a hidden object game with music fandom slapped over it, but the world-building of the shop elevates the game into more than just hunting through rooms until you spot the right item. Albums have history and connection, the shop is full of rich little details, and there’s a plot percolating about the shop owner’s history and the shop’s future. Each album has a thoughtful track list and cover art, creating a real sense of a fictional music scene. Combined with side tasks like a flyer to make and an arcade game to play, even though the demo is just one day in the shop, Wax Heads feels full and engaging.

Reka

Reka was announced last year, and comes to Early Access in August. In the demo, you play as a girl who wanders into helping a witch, Baba Jaga, with a ritual to rebuild her home. That home is a customizable hut on giant chicken legs, in which you’ll travel the game’s world in the full release, but in the demo are confined to just stomping around dramatically at the end. 

Most of what you do in the demo is fetching things the witch tells you to and helping her with a ritual, but rather than feeling simple, this paints the witch as a standoffish, mysterious character with secrets to impart that immediately made me want to know more about her. I’m a sucker for any game with woods, and the Reka demo has a beautiful slice of landscape to explore, full of items to loot for spells and little quests to do for the superstitious townspeople. The demo prevents you from stomping the town to pieces in the chicken hut, but lumbering over the treetops felt cool as hell, and I’m excited to see how the hut plays into the full game.

One Btn Bosses

I’m not a big fan of boss battle games–or maybe, I want to be, but I suck at them. One Btn Bosses joins games like Titan Souls in bringing limited mechanics to boss battles–here, that you only press one button, which in the demo changes the direction of your geometric character along a track. There’s a bit of Vampire Survivors in the auto-shooting bullet hell vibe, but rather than increasing the number of enemies as that game does, each level in the demo brings a new attack to look out for. The levels are short and chaotic, asking you to manage your speed (moving in the same direction increases your damage output) and avoid the boss’ varied attacks. Your character can only take a few hits, and things get tough fast, but basically all you’re doing is dodging, which is mostly what I do in boss fights anyway. 

Grunn

Grunn is by Tom van den Boogaart, who you might remember from indie “walk around a weird space station” game Bernband. In Grunn, you’re walking around a dilapidated garden, with a list of chores to complete over a weekend. The game’s trailer makes it very clear all is not as it seems, but I was still taken by surprise when things got weird. (Be aware there’s jumpscares, which are objectively not scary but scared the heck out of me because I’m a horror wuss.) The demo has multiple endings to see, and I’m curious about what’s really going on despite how loudly I yelled “No!” at the faintest whiff of creepiness. At the very least, it’s satisfyingly inefficient to cut the entire estate’s grass with hedge clippers.

Fruitbus

Fruitbus is by Among the Sleep studio Krillbite, but it has the opposite vibes of that game’s horror: you drive a food truck around a brightly colored world, serving little animal characters fruit salad. There’s a lot of buttons to press (my favorite) to turn the bus on and off, open the counter, and buy items at shops. While it seems you can buy a backpack to carry more stuff, I was incredibly charmed by how you can only hold two things in your hands at once, which led to me ferrying fruits I found back and forth, making multiple trips for change at shops, or fumbling with knives, bowls, and apples while characters waited for their food. There’s a plot about convincing people to come to your grandmother’s funeral, but I mostly careened around the game’s island in my bus, honking my horn and angering the locals.

Morse

I’m not sure if Morse is part of Next Fest or Next Fest just led me to realize it has a demo, but it’s a game that’s been on my radar for a while now. You play as a Morse code operator in World War 1, fending off enemy soldiers, ships and planes by attacking squares using Morse code. At first, I struggled to get my head around it, frantically glancing between the dots and dashes of the various letters and the battle. But once it clicked, I started to feel accomplished in both strategy and Morse code, confidently tapping out letters and bouncing between rows. I’m really into the minimalist art style, and I love the whole idea of the game, so it was cool to play some of it. I don’t have a Playdate console, but there will be a version of it on there with a custom physical controller that looks deeply cool.

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