As we watch the corpse of E3 gently float down the stream with golden coins placed over its eyes for The Riverman to grant it safe passage, we find ourselves in the midst of constant press events that look to fill vacuum E3 left in its wake. One of these events came in the form of the now concluded Steam Game Festival, where developers could directly market their upcoming games via Steam and allow us to download demos of upcoming games. I played a couple of these demos and wanted to provide a little bit of insight into each of the games I got my hands on.

I want to preface with the fact that most of, if not all of the demos I tried, were of games that were not done and clearly needed more work. I am not judging these demos as full products, nor would I want to imply that was the case. These games are in development and are subject to change, so consider this article as a time capsule that describes what these demos were like.


GRIEFHELM

Griefhelm is a side-scrolling action game that sees you, a knight, sword fighting their way through waves of increasingly deadlier enemies. While it sounds fun on paper, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The controls feel floaty and unresponsive at times, often resulting in the mistiming of blocks and strikes. Griefhelm uses a similar combat system to Nidhogg in terms of having to correctly angle your sword stance between low, medium and high, in an attempt to parry and hit your opponents. While technically that system works in Griefhelm, it doesn’t feel anywhere as responsive or satisfying as Nidhogg.

There’s also another layer to the game that lives in-between skirmishes, where you select which mission you want to go on. Each mission offers a different kind of objective, although they all boil down to just killing dudes and not dying with the promise of some sort of reward that you can use in other levels being bestowed upon you, as well as new pieces of armor for your knight.

While I don’t think Griefhelm is there just yet, I think with some refinement to the controls and mission variety that it could be a really fun game.


UNTO THE END

Remember everything I said about Griefhelm? Then get ready for Unto the End, a game that is cut from the same cloth as Griefhelm, but does just about everything better. Well, except for showing me anything outside of the combat mechanics of the game, because the demo is literally just the combat tutorial and nothing else as far as I could tell.

Unto the End is a much more visually appealing version of Griefhelm, that’s easier to control and more satisfying to play. It uses a similar combat system that seems to be a little more fine-tuned and responsive than Greifhelm. Outside of those examples however, there isn’t really much else to glean from this demo. I look forward to seeing more of Unto the End despite knowing next to nothing about it though.


WINDJAMMERS 2

Windjammers 2 is a game that I forgot existed at all despite it being the sequel to one of my favorite Neo-Geo games, Windjammers. If you have no idea what Windjammers or its sequel actually is, you could call it a mix between pong, air hockey, and that aggressively 80’s attitude that we all love so much.

Windjammers 2 boasts a new hand drawn art style that I’m actually really into, along with a couple of new offensive and defensive capabilities that allow people who know what they’re doing to completely devastate others. Completely unrelated, the demo only allows for online play at the moment, and I definitely didn’t get obliterated by every opponent I faced.

I will always champion Windjammers as a game everyone should try at least once in their lives, although I don’t know that I am foaming at the mouth in anticipation of a sequel. I’ll see how I feel about it when the full game is released, but for now I’m okay with the first installment that currently lives on my Switch.


RUSTLER

Long before the days of Shark Cards and orbital strikes, the Grand Theft Auto series started as a top-down action game where driving a car in a straight line was borderline impossible. The early GTA games also showed off some of that trademark humor that Rockstar is infamous for, but nowhere near as loudly as they do it now.

With that history lesson out of the way, Rustlers is the fantasy version of those old GTA games, emulating everything from the top-down camera angle to the inability to ride a horse in a straight line along with some really hit and miss attempts at humor.

The combat is sluggish and unresponsive, often times defaulting to you just mashing the attack button in the hopes you land a hit on an enemy that’s also flailing wildly, but somehow better at it than you are. Riding a horse is a laborious process that will almost always end in you crashing into something and falling of said horse, which ultimately became the way I dismounted my horse every single time.

The only somewhat redeeming factor is the sense of humor Rustlers has. There were some moments where I might have softly chuckled to myself, like when I saw a cow on a roof that had the word, “horse” spray painted across its body, or when the medieval cops were after me and had one of those rotating red and blue police lights on their helmets. There were also a lot of not so great jokes that I endured, most of which involved being drunk, excessively cursing or soiling yourself.

I don’t think I like Rustlers at all, but maybe you’ll enjoy it. If that’s the case, more power to you.


THE BLOODLINE

A while ago I wrote about the newest Mount & Blade game, specifically mentioning how I thought it was way too much for me to contend with. I know that it’s a very beloved series, but it just wasn’t for me. I only bring that up because I share a lot of the same feelings with the Mount & Blade series as I do The Bloodline.

The Bloodline does itself a massive disservice by starting you out in a mostly abandoned castle with barely anyone around. You create your low-poly character and head out on an adventure that is mechanically similar to something like Mount & Blade. Just like those games, you’ll split your time between first or third person combat, traveling and exploring the over-world, and recruiting allies to join you in what I’ve heard are fairly massive battles.

One of the first things I encountered on my travels was a massive tower that was devoid of any enemies, but had a big bell hanging at the top of it. The game and I agreed that I was to make it to the top of the tower and ring that bell. Luckily The Bloodline gives you a grappling hook that works about 70% of the time which is all I needed to make it to the tippy-top. That and I don’t think there’s any fall damage, so that helped too. I got to the apex, rang the bell, and got 1500XP for my trouble, and was teleported back to the world map. Then I traveled to a town, looked around for people to recruit, and the game crashed.

I haven’t loaded it up again since, but the demo is so rough and janky that I think I’ll wait for a more polished release to continue on my The Bloodline adventure.


NIGATE TALE

Do you like rogue-like games? Do you also like unnecessarily horny representations of anime characters? Well friend, you might just love Nigate Tale, a game that apparently is both of those things and I had no idea. Not like there’s anything wrong with liking these things, it was just a lot to absorb all at once.

See, I don’t enjoy rogue-likes at all. It all just feels a little too grindy for my tastes, but I get the appeal of them, and for what it’s worth Nigate Tale seems like a pretty competent one of those kinds of games. The controls are responsive, the enemies provide a real challenge, and the game has a pretty good look to it as well. From the perspective of someone who doesn’t know what makes a good rogue-like, this seems like it’s all right.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m trying to “yuck anybodies yum” or anything, I just was not prepared for the 3 scantily clad anime ladies I would encounter within the first 5 minutes of playing. All of that confusion immediately faded away when I met a large hamster-like creature who gave me some special powers, cause their presence alone was easily the high point of Nigate Tale.

I played a little bit of Nigate Tale, and I genuinely have no idea if it’s good or not. It felt good to play, but I was constantly at a loss because the in-game translation isn’t fully there yet which made it genuinely hard to understand what powers I was picking up or even what the story was. I hope this thing gets properly localized and people can get their hands on it, cause it seems all right for what it is.


SKELLBOY

Skellboy is the kind of game that I can get behind. It’s this action game where you play as a skeleton that acquires new body parts and weapons from their fallen foes, and wears it on themselves. A new head might give you more health or the ability to spit projectiles, while new feet could make you run faster. It seems ripe for a puzzle solving game where you’re swapping parts of yourself out to progress through certain obstacles, but you don’t have an inventory so you just pick up and discard things as you go.

The game also boasts this almost Paper Mario-esque art style, except instead of everything being made of paper they’re just chunky pixels. But the way the perspective shifts as you move through a level gave me some really strong Paper Mario vibes that I very much appreciated.

The only criticisms I really have with Skellboy is that the combat not only feels slow, but there isn’t much impact to anything you’re doing. I found myself losing a lot of health because I just didn’t realize I was getting hit, and the same thing can be said about attacking. Outside of that however, I really dug what I played.


There it is, my not-so-comprehensive coverage of The Steam Game Festival. Overall, I like how Steam has run this event and gave people access to a lot of neat upcoming games that I would have otherwise not known about. Considering E3 would be over by now, it’s been nice to get a constant trickle of announcements and events like this one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other publishers tried similar things. Everyone has their own launcher these days, so it wouldn’t be outrageous to see someone like Ubisoft announcing a game one day and simultaneously allow people to try a demo or beta of said game on their own platform. We’ll see what happens over the course of this summer I suppose.

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