It’s times like these that I’m really grateful that my internet provider hasn’t saddled me with data caps, because I’ve downloaded a ton of demos from the ongoing Steam Game Festival that would certainly have resulted in some sort of additional charge on my bill. But the point is that as of February 3rd, 2021, you can open up Steam and download a bunch of demos for upcoming games. While I could never play all of them, nor would I ever want to be in a position where I had to, I did play some of the titles and have a few thoughts about what you should try and what you should avoid.
Lunark was the first demo I jumped into once all of my downloads from the festival completed, and while that might sound like some appraisal of its value, it was just the first one I clicked on. Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad I got it out of the way first because I really didn’t enjoy my time with this particular demo.
Lunark is a 2D side scrolling action and puzzle game that boasts a chunky-pixel aesthetic and plays kind of like the original Prince of Persia or Out of this World. If those references go over your head, it’s a very deliberate game that prioritizes the animation of what you’re doing over responsive controls and easy to use controls. Everything from running to climbing feels like there’s a giant lag between your button press and what happens on screen. It’s clear that Lunark is trying to illicit the same feelings of those other games, but it ends up feeling more convoluted and tedious than anything else.
Aside from mechanical issues, the game looks pretty cool with those big and beefy pixels even if it isn’t necessarily my aesthetic. The soundtrack also seemed pretty decent as well, but neither of those things seemed good enough to make me want to play the full version of this game. I don’t know about Lunark, but maybe it just isn’t for me.
Now here’s a game that I could really see myself spending a lot of time with. Chicory is a delightful little game about being a cute little dog person who has the ability to paint in the world around them. There’s context as to why they’re able to perform these artistic feats of magic that tie into the central plot of the game that (obviously) wasn’t fully explored in the demo, but it left me eager to see where the story goes.
Your quest to find out what happened to all the color in the world isn’t just a fun story hook, but it has mechanical repercussions as well. Your magic painting powers will allow you to navigate the environment, solve puzzles, help random citizens and oddly enough, fight enemies. I’m really curious to see how the mechanics evolve over time as you progress through the story.
For as delightful and joyous as Chicory appears on the surface, the end of the demo really takes a turn that I didn’t expect and basically transforms it into something of a bullet-hell. The controls work without issue for most of the demo, requiring you to use the right stick to move your brush around and the right trigger to actually paint, but it gets a bit dicier when you have to manage your paintbrush and move around at the same time. I’m sure it’s one of those things you get better at as time goes on, but even with that slight hesitance, I really think Chicory could be something special.
It feels mean to say that Retro Machina is squarely in the camp of “style over substance,” but I really felt that it was a game I’d rather look at than play myself. In Retro Machina, you play as a robot who was working at a nondescript factory alongside of their other identical robot buddies, who suddenly decides to not follow their orders because they saw a butterfly. I’m sure there’s more of a story there, but that’s all I gathered from the demo.
You escape the robot police and somehow get launched into the wilderness where you begin your search for a robot mechanic or upgrade station or something? Whatever the motivation, you end up in this different factory/office building where you have to solve puzzles and fight other robots to continue on. From a perspective that’s purely based on presentation, Retro Machina is great, but when you find yourself engaging in combat is where the experience kind of fell apart for me.
It isn’t that the combat is aggressively bad or anything, it just lacks any feeling of momentum or impact. The biggest thing that bugged me about the combat was the way that enemies can destroy you incredibly quickly, but not because they’re super powerful or anything, but because the game isn’t great about letting you know you’re taking damage. That led to a lot of moments where I’d exit a combat encounter with a fraction of the starting HP despite only having to fight like one robot. What I’m saying is that there isn’t great feedback for when you’re taking damage.
Aside from the combat issues however, the puzzle-solving aspect of Retro Machina seems promising. Despite needing or wanting an upgrade, your robot is extremely capable, boasting the ability to possess other robots to make them flip switches or navigate through otherwise inaccessible areas for you. There wasn’t a ton of innovative stuff I saw in the demo in regards to the puzzle mechanics, but it seems like that’s all primed to get insanely complex later in the full game. Overall the game seems neat, but I don’t think it’s something that I’d end up putting much of any time into.
While it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Sherwood Extreme sure seems like it’s trying to do the whole Bulletstorm thing in a low-polygon art style, replacing space marines with a Robin Hood-looking character who’s killing orcs. Sherwood Extreme is a level-based arcade-styled action game, where you’re trying to rack up the highest score you can by chaining together kills and acrobatics throughout a level in order to keep your combo meter up.
You run around with a crossbow and shield and shoot orcs while flipping in the air in slow motion like you’re in some medieval version of The Matrix. The shooting and score chasing aspect of Sherwood Extreme seem pretty solid, I just hope you unlock some more abilities or something because after only two or three levels, I was looking for some more variation. However, the game moves a lot slower than I initially thought it would because there isn’t a good feeling of momentum to running around or flipping, and it all just feels a bit janky. But hey, it’s a demo of an unreleased project.
Obviously I can’t speak to how Sherwood Extreme is as you get further into it, but there’s something there that’s worth paying attention to, I just wish it controlled and flowed a little bit better than it currently does. Hopefully that gets ironed out as the game develops, but even if it does, it’s one of those weird circumstances where I don’t dislike the game, but something just isn’t clicking with me. I wanted to enjoy Sherwood Extreme more than I actually did, but I don’t know if that’ll happen.
Speaking of games I wanted to like more than I actually did, let’s talk about Narita Boy. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Narita Boy is a 2D pixelated action-platformer with Metroidvania elements. Right off the bat I will say that Narita Boy presents itself very well, both in terms of the art style and the soundtrack. And when you eventually do get to fight things, that feels pretty dang good too. You get this very cool sword that feels great to swing around and slash up monsters with, but you can also turn it around and use it as a shotgun which is objectively rad as hell.
While I think Narita Boy looks cool and has some neat combat mechanics, I don’t think this demo does the full product any justice. Like a lot of these demos, it starts with a world-setting cut-scene, but then it dumps you into a portion of the game that would probably be way more tolerable if it wasn’t the first and longest thing you do in the demo. You have to suffer through endless dialogues about the world and your place in it before you actually get to do anything cool. Even when your task is to go find the cool sword you have to trudge through more dialogue and an obscene amount of screens where you literally walk in a direction until you can press a button to open a door, just to do that again in a different room.
I’m sure the story is interesting, but they front load so much of it in the form of people just talking at you in dialogue boxes that I began to lose interest almost immediately. And it isn’t like a few sentences, these are full on paragraphs that talk about how cool it’s gonna be when you get that sword but first they have to describe the sword’s power in excruciating detail. Needless to say, I buttoned through a lot of dialogue because I just wanted to play the damn game. I think Narita Boy is really cool, but if that demo is indicative of what playing the full product is like, I don’t know that I can handle the pace of it.
Yes, okay, Steel Assault is a pixelated 2D action game. I feel like I’ve written that so much today, but that’s not the point. Steel Assault reminds me of Bionic Commando, Contra and even the Metal Slug games a bit. It’s very much a “shoot everything” kind of game, but it has this interesting tether mechanic that I unfortunately was never able to wrap my head around, but was still very cool when I did manage to use it correctly.
The basic rundown is that you have a cool laser whip that you can kill bad guys with as well as the ability to fire a tether in two directions at once to make a zip-line or tight rope that you can use to traverse distant platforms. For instance, if I’m on a platform and fire the tether up, one end connects to my current platform and the other tethers to the one above me. From there I can climb up the rope and also whip guys while hanging from the rope which looks very cool.
Yet despite how cool it looks, I found Steel Assault to be difficult in kind of bullshit ways. First and foremost, the enemies constantly spawn, leaving you no respite whatsoever. Now I’m sure that’s not an issue a lot of folks out there, but when I was trying to get a handle on what was going on it became incredibly frustrating. But that alone wouldn’t sour me on a nostalgia-driven action game, however what did get me was the readability of everything that was going on. I rarely have this issue in games, but I had a really hard time clocking enemy projectiles. The first sequence of the demo is you fighting a flying robot while you’re on a boat that’s speeding through the canals of a city. That robot fires bullets at you that basically vanish into the colors of the boat as well as the background, which might be more of an issue with the heavy retro-styled filter they put over the screen. I died a lot because of that.
Steel Assault was the only demo that I wasn’t able to get through just because of how difficult of a time I had with it. I don’t think it’s a bad game, I just couldn’t get into a groove with it. You’re mileage may vary, but if you think you’re a bad enough dude to play Steel Assault, you should go for it.
And that’s really it for now. I have a couple of other demos I want to try out before the Steam Game Festival wraps up on the 9th, so maybe I’ll gin up a “part 2” before that happens. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what demos are currently available, so I recommend you check out the offerings for yourself because there’s definitely stuff that’s exceptional that I didn’t or probably won’t end up covering here.