Last week was Steam’s Autumn Games Festival, which is a showcase for upcoming games from mostly indie developers who, due to COVID-19, haven’t really had the chance to show off their games at any game shows this year. I played quite a few of the demos this festival and have decided to give my thoughts on them generally from worst to best.

Hybrid Beasts

“Hybrid Beasts” is a game that so blatantly rips off “Worms,” I couldn’t help but think of anything it did differently in comparison to that particular franchise. From the basic mechanics to the tools that you use to fight, the only two differences that come to mind when it comes to this demo was the fact that the game had different animals instead of worms and had a strange unnecessary voice over during the game that read out the turns to the players, which “Worms” knows it doesn’t need to do. In short, the impression that the demo gave me was that the only selling point of the game so far seems to be for people who like everything about “Worms,” but don’t like the worms in particular, and also want a voice constantly telling them information that could have just as easily been shown on screen without any loss in messaging.

Undungeon

A very polarizing game, “Undungeon” is a pixel art, exploration, real-time, top-down RPG with stereotypical gameplay and breathtaking visuals. I mentioned pixel art, but this game takes it to the next level. The cutscenes and standard animations in the game give it the extra flair the game needs to really stand out amongst the deluge of pixel art games on Steam. The only real weakness of the game is how repetitive the combat feels right now. There is not enough variety for the game to stay fresh even for the limited time I played the demo. However, I expect that the game will expand far beyond what the demo provided due to the amount of content that the demo did have and the infrastructure that was always in place around the things that I thought were rather limited. In short, the demo showed a rather decent chunk of content with the combat, scenery and cutscenes, so I expect a lot from this game in the future.

Drone Swarm

“Drone Swarm” is a game that has rather interesting gameplay surrounding the titular drone swarm that surrounds your base. The way you control the swarm is rather intuitive but kind of clunky at parts. An abbreviated version of the controls is that you use the mouse to draw lines where drones will go to attack or defend the area. The issue that I have is that it sometimes feels like the lines that you draw for your drones are too short for some of the scenarios it puts you through. However, because of the general gameplay, it is a tolerable compromise for the management of your units, which are very entertaining to watch with how seamlessly they move across the screen and through your enemies. After figuring out the limitations of the drones, I actually found the game to be fairly easy all things considered. The demo was well-made and had a plethora of interesting ideas and content.

Pumpkin Jack

“Pumpkin Jack” is about how Jack, the bad guy, is supposed to stop humanity from saving itself from the devil. The game is generally structured like “Crash Bandicoot” in that the platforming and enemy layout is often in a more linear format rather than a sprawled world. Sometimes that changes when more interesting platforming is expected of the player, and you have these areas where you’re expected to be more flexible with your movement. While the presentation and platforming of the game is quite nice, I can’t say the same for the combat. It’s clunky and leaves a lot to be desired. In general, the demo was good but left a lot to be desired in some key areas.

Skellboy Refractured

“Skellboy Refractured” is a 3D RPG where you play as a skeleton whose main power is to replace his body parts with random objects or pieces from other monsters. A very entertaining premise with a nice-colorful pixel art style that also doesn’t take itself too seriously. Each body part that you can get has the potential to change how you play, from giving projectiles to giving a brief stun. It also has a wide variety of weapons that all play quite differently to one another. It also showcased very briefly some sort of moral choice where you were offered the opportunity to either spare or kill someone for different results. A good demo that showcased what the rest of the game has to offer once it comes out.

Ponpu

Much like “Hybrid Beasts,” “Ponpu” strongly imitates a very popular series of games: “Bomberman.” However, the big difference between “Hybrid Beasts” and this game is how they innovate. With interesting mechanics, such as the reflective ability that the character gets, it is able to remain fresh despite its obvious inspiration. Another major difference is the art style of the game. It feels like nearly everything in the world is a liquid of some kind. A major difference in artstyle from the rather cartoony and static style of the “Bomberman” franchise. With these major differences the game feels very similar to its competition but separates itself through its wacky art style and new mechanics that allow the player to interact with the environment and bombs in a way “Bomberman” couldn’t do. I expect good things from their full game. 

Backbone

“Backbone” is a pixel-art detective game where you are a racoon doing his job as a private detective. Its dialogue is pretty decent with a fair amount of variety in responses from both the main character and the people he can speak with. The first case is interesting and kept my interest through its puzzles and sudden stealth elements. The scenery changed a lot, too, with the wide variety of different locals like the streets of a city, the inside of a bar, an alleyway and a couple other locations that would be spoilers for the game. The demo shows a lot of promise and is an entertaining romp through a decently written world.

Black Skylands

A standout amongst the games that I’ve played in the festival. An open world top-down shooter with farming and other resource management for the ships that you can pilot in the game. There was an immense amount of potential in the mechanics laid out in the demo. I very much liked how the combat in the game allowed players to experiment with how to approach enemies. However, I feel that the field of view should either be increased or reduce the vision cones of the enemy. It feels very strange to have some pretty decent tools to stealth as well as a stealth mechanic but discourage it by the massive vision cones of the enemy. The ship sailing is nice and the controls for the sailing (and for the whole game) were very well thought out and effective. The story that was given in the demo was okay; nothing crazy, but not everything has to be. In short, the demo was very good and left a pretty decent impression on my time playing it.

Fights in Tight Spaces

With a sharp aesthetic and tight mechanics, “Fights in Tight Spaces” is a tile turn based combat card game. With its strong visuals that give all the information you need, the demo so far has a plethora of different cards (i.e. moves) that allow you to duck and weave through the already many opponents in the game and allows for the kind of freedom that is rarely seen in a card game. I very rarely enjoy card games, but this mash-up between a tile-turn-based combat system with a card game gave me more than what I expected. The demo provided a wealth of different scenarios and cards that kept the game fresh despite the lack of much context.

Webbed

Adorable, funny and creative, “Webbed” is a game where you play as a spider creating webs to catch bugs to eat and meet other insects. The game has general quests that you can do for other insects as well as others that you can just meet. Some, after finishing their quests, give you something to play with such as a cute little skateboard. However, the main reason why I am the most impressed with this demo is the mechanics surrounding the spider’s web. You can practically create spider string and attach it to nearly every surface in the game allowing for the huge potential surrounding the mechanics of webmaking. Certain objects also interact with the spider string differently allowing for a number of different interactions that lead to cute or funny events. Judging from the demo, I feel that there may be a dark edge surrounding the story of the game which isn’t implemented yet, but currently the mechanics of the game lend itself to an incredibly entertaining experience.

I hope that Steam does more of these as COVID-19 still is plaguing the world preventing countless events that these games would have been shown at. Despite my obvious hatred for one particular game on this list, I do hope that all of these games are given the time they need to truly show off their potential.

 

Edward Park is a third year student with a BsED writings track. EP909767@wcupa.edu

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