Updated: Oct 4
Steam's doing another Next Fest, so that means it's time for me to do another demo roundup post. There are approximately 700 demos this time, most of which I had already marked ignore from seeing them on Steam previously. I went through probably a few hundred more store pages yesterday and ignored most of those as well, which left maybe 30 that felt small enough to be on this list and that I hadn't previously played demos for. Since making games is hard, only 9 of those were promising enough and in a good enough state that I wanted to recommend them. Let's get to it!
Rise of the Third Power (Stegosoft Games/Dangen, TBA)
This is the game I'm most familiar with on the list, because I backed its Kickstarter run back in 2018 with an expectation it would release that year. As you can probably guess from its presence in this post, it didn't come out in 2018, and this was just about the last time I ever risked backing a video game KS.
Still, not that it's at last finally playable in some form, it's pretty promising. It's running in RPG Maker, but it looks and especially sounds far more professional than any RPGM game I've ever seen. Combat seems to be focused on setting up synergies and there's weapon crafting and skill trees to help with that. So far so promising, but what I played of the demo only had a brief lore dump at the beginning, so it's impossible to comment on the quality of the story, which will be the most important part for me. I can say that they desperately need a copy editor, though. That brief lore dump managed to drop the apostrophe from every single possessive.
Mahokenshi (Game Source Studio, Q1 2022)
I'm deeply skeptical of their scheduled release date since this game is covered in alpha stickers and it's so early that they don't even have the right model for the one playable character. Still, while it clearly has a long way to go, I'm very interested in what it's putting forward. You're a magical warrior doing quests on a chain of fantasy islands, and you're accomplishing that with Slay the Spire-style card battling. But unlike StS, there's no separation between the overworld and combat. You can spend energy or cards to move around the map, terrain has effects on combat stats, and you engage enemies simply by getting near them. You're on a timer to reach the end of the map within 35 turns, but there are also optional villages, quests, and card drops just slightly out of your way that might offer nice rewards. If they can deliver on this game's promise, it could be a real breath of fresh air for a genre that's been getting a little same-y. And not for the last time on this list!
Alina of the Arena (PINIX, 2022)
No need to stay in suspense: the other card battler I'm talking about is Alina of the Arena. There's no overworld map in this one, but combat takes place on a hexagon made of hexes. Your cards give you movement effects on top of standard StS-style buffs and attacks, and you can also find weapons and equipment lying on the floor of the arena.
You get an elite fight after five battles, but you have three stacks of events to pick from to set your progression. You could take the store event on stack 2, but maybe it's better to get some more money first from the fight on stack 1? Even better, the non-combat events have multiple choices. You can train instead of resting (exactly like StS, admittedly), buy equipment instead of cards, and always have two choices in random events.
It's very hard to tell if a card battler has enough variety to survive from just a demo, but the mechanics here have a ton of promise.
Move78 (Michael Josephs, "Soon")
This game is about as transparently Zero Escape as you can get, although it restrained itself a little by only having 8 characters instead of 9. That shakeup aside, a bunch of seemingly unconnected people have been dumped into a mysterious building full of escape room puzzles without any memory of how they got there, and they're playing some kind of game led by an evil mastermind. I'm convinced by the potential of the escape room puzzles so far, which depart from ZE tradition by being fully navigable in first person 3D.
I'm less sure about the writing. Part of that is inevitable: the 15 minutes of demo I played weren't exactly ever going to drop an Uchikoshi twist in that time frame. But I am a little worried that it seems to be going a bit harder on the Saw angle than ZE ever did. While there is an option to censor the worst of the body horror stuff, I'm not thrilled that it's going there at all.
Anno Mutationem (ThinkingStars/Lightning Games, 2021)
AM showed up on my last indie games list as well, but I'm letting it get the two-peat because (a) I didn't make it to 10 this time anyway and (b) I've actually played a demo now. I'm happy to say its blend of high-res sprites and 3D environments looks even better in motion than it does in screenshots, and also that they nailed the atmosphere and music. The combat might be good, but the demo didn't really do enough with it for me to tell if it can stay interesting for a whole game.
What I'm more concerned about, though, is the writing. It's not bad, but the devs are (I think) Chinese, and they've either tried to translate it themselves or gone with someone whose grasp of English is just shy of fluent. It's all perfectly comprehensible and largely free of grammatical errors, but many of the sentences nonetheless don't pass muster as something a real person would actually say. I am hopeful that this is a temporary state, though, because the game page says that it'll have full audio in English, Japanese, and Chinese, and there's currently no voice acting to speak of. If it gets another localization pass before it goes to recording, it might come out fine. And if it doesn't, well, maybe the Japanese text will be better.
Hunt the Night (Moonlight Games/DANGEN, TBA)
You kind of have to look past the edgelord name on this one. If you can, ther