Welcome to the start of the season’s first Next Fest! All the free indie demos you could hope for just went live, and the celebration is continuing on through October 10. I’m going to be submerging myself in every small bite of gameplay I can this week. Hopefully, that means tons to share. In order to get all my thoughts down, I’m going to write up a brief summary of today’s favorites and honorable mentions as I play them. So, this list will continue to grow throughout the day. Be sure to check back to get all my thoughts on the coolest demos I got my hands on. And let me know if there’s a title I need to try out!
In Stars and Time
This monochromatic turn-based RPG takes plenty of inspiration from beloved games in the genre, but has no problem finding it’s own distinct personality. First, the art style is eye-catching; very anime characters, very picturesque environments. Combat too, has it’s own interesting twist. It has a “types” system reminiscent in theory of Pokémon, but instead of elemental options, In Stars and Time opts to make encounters a kind of giant rock, paper, scissors competition.
Each of the four characters I played in the demo were assigned a base type. Two were scissor, one rock, and one paper. Then, when I’d encounter enemies — all of which had gloomy names, like triste (which is sad in French) — I’d look for clues for what the creature’s type might be (hint: it’s in the hands). Attacking rock enemies with my paper ally deals extra damage, and so on. It’s a fun variation on this kind of battle system, and very easy to remember.
There’s also hints of cool worldbuilding. The characters are not all from the same region, and cultural differences popped up in dialogue in a way that made me want to learn more. However, I will caution players that the writing can be enthusiastically quirky, so if that’s typically not your thing, consider yourself warned. Nearing the end of the demo, the “fighting through a dungeon with locked doors” experience takes an unexpected turn as the game’s time loop element unceremoniously changes the game.
The world as we know it has ended, and you have decisions to make.
Floodland began by letting me choose my clan. Each possible option comes with a set of different worldviews and perks. Clans like Oakhill Survivors are rooted in the ways of the Old World, believing in past social structures and, helpfully, requiring less food than its counterparts. However, I went with the Fire Brigade. This group was founded by a firefighter and is looking to build a new kind of life in their watery world.
Survival games like Floodland are all about managing resources and juggling people’s needs. Though this can be stressful, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, the developers have included four different difficulty options to help all players enjoy the title. Just want to see the story? There’s an option for that. Need to test your mettle against the harshest of challenges? One setting is titled “prepare to fail.” I fall somewhere in the middle, sticking to the game’s first suggestion.
My initial task is to find food so we don’t all starve to death on the first day. The prompt that explains how to accomplish this comes with character art that is wildly beautiful, capturing a impressionistic painting aesthetic. The world has a hint of this with its stylized graphics. The game so far is a treat for the eyes, despite the dire circumstances.
Important note: Raccoons suck. While objectively a personal opinion (bordering fact), it’s highlighted in the game when the first fruits of my labor are pilfered by the little trash creatures. In foraging for sustenance and exploring a new place, I’ve gained the ability to build a storage unit that should keep them out, but I need more supplies. So, it’s off to explore again, hoping my people don’t run into and trouble. Oh. And I need water, like now.
Friends Vs Friends
Graphic is a good one-word description for Friends Vs Friends. The imagery looks like it comes straight of the page of a comic, and the hyper-ridiculous competition of guns and cards ends in brutal kills.
I started the game in quick play which pit me and one other player against each other head-to-head. The cartoony figure in the other corner of the grimy urban map, is supposedly one of my best friends. We find ourselves at odds after a dubious investment in a game from the dark reaches of the internet. The result is a colorful death match that armed me with gun in one hand, and cards in the other.
The gameplay was as fast-paced as it was outrageous. I leapt from rooftop to rooftop attempting to obliterate my opponent with several tools. I started with a simple hand gun, which I always had access to and could shoot from the get-go. At the same time, I was also gifted a random series of cards that could shake up gameplay. One might grant me a sniper rifle to pick my frenemy off from afar, while another — and my favorite so far — allowed me to nuke the entire world, dramatically changing the landscape. The last player standing at the end of five rounds wins.
Five rounds went by in the blink of an eye, and left me wanting to jump back in immediately. Especially because I lost…and I really want to discover all of the abilities I can to manipulate Friends Vs Friends silly, mindless, action.
A lonely lighthouse watches over a foggy sky. A fishing boat captain stares, as if in a trance, at the sea as he steers his vessel. He doesn’t blink as the ship shudders and begins sinking into the murky waters.
This isn’t a cozy little game about fishing. I find that I’m playing the fisherman, now stranded on a strange dock belonging to an unfamiliar town. The city’s helpful mayor strolls up to greet me, noting my shipwreck and the boat’s destroyed state like he’s observing the weather. Like my predicament is the most natural thing in the world. It’s unsettling.
Then he Tom Nook’s me. He’ll loan me a new boat to get me back to fishing, but I have to pay him back. Every catch, a small percentage of my sold fish goes back to the hamlet’s leader. And I’m abruptly pushed back out to sea to get some fish before the dark and fog roll in. I definitely don’t want to be out after dark, I’m warned.
Floating around on my boat, I can explore the vast ocean. There are other coastal locations to visit, but the clock steadily edges towards night. So, I get on with the fishing. The catching part is a kind of minigame that challenged me to hit the button at the right time to speed up my reel. The second obstacle is storage. My fishing boat can only hold so much, and with my equipment, there’s even less space for every Tetris-like haul.
I couldn’t resist seeing staying out past sunset to see what dangers lurked. And it seems like fear is the biggest enemy. According to a helpful pop-up, being on the sea at night will pump up my panic levels, perhaps prompting me to see real or imagined sights that drive me to make deadly decisions.
A whole new way to fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, WikiArena could be a good way to spend some downtime.
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