Weekly Updates: Steam Demos

It’s not that this was the only thing I did this week, it’s just that there are enough of them to more than make enough reading for a weekly update. We’ll probably talk about The Mandalorian and Ragnarock next week.

Steam seems to be doing the Steam Next festival very regularly now, and I am totally cool with that idea. It’s a great chance to try out new games. A friend of mine once pirated games to play the first few levels as a “demo” and would buy the full game if he enjoyed that. It was an interesting practice, but certainly not one I would trust most people with. But the Next Festival is a good idea.

Verne: The Shape of Fantasy

I was excited about the title to this game, as I’m a big Jules Verne fan and read 20,000 Leagues and Journey to the Center of the Earth when I was in high school. I didn’t expect it to be a straight video-game adaptation, but I thought it might be a clever twist on it.

It certainly is a twist, but the cleverness is… a bit dubious. It sets up the whole thing in an alternate earth, where Nemo is a rebel against “The Nation”, a totalitarian English power, and Verne has been gifted with a magical power called the Imag by the remnants of the ancient Atlantean race, which were dominated by these super-humans called the Primordians.

It’s not a terrible fantasy story, as things go, especially since Nemo is in the original an anti-colonial figure (in the first book he’s suggested to be Eastern European, in the second book he’s explicitly stated to be Indian). And the pixelated backgrounds are kind of cool. But the walking animations are terrible, the “puzzles” are insultingly easy, and the exposition is clumsy. I’m not enthused about this one.

Little Orpheus

The title on this one made me think of Little Nemo in Slumberland, the graphics reminded me of Trine, one of the undersung platformers. Alas, it doesn’t really measure up to either. While the framing device of a Guybrush-esque Soviet agent sent to drill into the earth’s core and find a secret land full of dinosaurs is amusing, the gameplay itself is flat and unimaginative, with no combat and simplistic puzzles. I did like the dinosaurs, but the entire game was essentially walking your character to the right and swinging from vines.

Islets

This was a surprise. Polished and surprisingly expansive for a demo, the bright colors and clear animations were solid and enjoyable. Combat was simplistic, as were the enemies, but transversing the different zones offered a slight challenge–enough to be fun, but not too much to be frustrating. And the larger story seemed compelling, though perhaps disappointingly straightforward.

It had the same issue, though, as Ruby in the last festival. There just wasn’t anything unusual about it. It was a solid game, but the tricks, the combat, the aesthetic weren’t anything that hadn’t been seen before. It would do well as a free game, but I couldn’t see myself paying more than three bucks for it.

Kingdom Shell

This game had at least an original aesthetic to it, which made it interesting. There were clearly some mysteries going on with the lore which caught my interest, and the animals and environments had an austere 70’s space vibe to them.

The combat was very stiff, though, with your character unable to attack more than sideways and up. The attack animations were very basic and my character had no agility to speak of. Again, this struck me as a three dollar game, though a brilliant story (or fine-tuning the gameplay, some of these games aren’t quite in a finished state) could move it up a notch.

Demeo

Demeo is actually a game in wide release already. I had it tagged as a game I was especially interested in because it has a VR mode that allows people to participate as if they’re around a table moving around dungeon characters before jumping down into the dungeon AS that character to battle Rodents of Unusual Size or whatever.

Sadly the demo was just for the PC mode, but the PC mode was impressive in showing off the graphics and gameplay. If I was big into Dungeons and Dragons I might be over the moon, but while I do play DnD with my friends, I found it enough to be moderately entertaining but not enough to grab me on its own. Of course, if I could get a group together and do the VR version, even with my friends doing the PC version.

CONCLUSIONS

Nothing too standout or innovative. Fun to see some of the varied premises that people video games allow for, but unfortunately nothing I’m likely to pick up. Maybe Demeo.


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