You might remember last weekend I published my belated round-up of a few of the games I liked from Next Fest. Well, shockingly, here’s the second half, with even more virtual worlds I spent my time pleasantly demo-ing through. Some of these, astoundingly, are even already released. This one has a handful of absolute standouts that I’d definitely recommend playing – which, you ask? Read on:
These epic boots were made for walkin’
Recently, I said that Vampire Survivors was a back-to-basics approach of the roguelite – Walk Hero takes it a step further and removes the moving-around element. It’s definitely got more influence from the similarly-titled Loop Hero more than anything else, except without the looping and the tile placement elements that define that game.
It’s maybe a bit too back to basics, but I sort of liked it, as you wander ever forward picking up gear. I think it’s for sure too passive, as you only get upgrades every five levels and you’re otherwise entirely bound by item generation RNG. However, I’d definitely play it again if it’s within budget – I just hope that the permanent progression roguelite mechanics make it worthwhile to do multiple runs rather than just praying to the gods of loot drops.
Wishlist: I did indeed list it upon my wishes
MMO raid-management RTS where it’s all about the micro
Raid Off is a game about RTS-style micromanagement as applied to a raid group in an MMO. It’s a cute concept that combines well with the game’s ragdoll-physics sense of whimsy, but I think the micro elements are a little too intensive for my tastes. Moving your wee guys out of ‘the fire’ would definitely take a Korean level of Starcraft ability that I do not possess.
This seems to all be connected to a permanent progression system based on building up your village/guild hall and distributing loot from successful raids. I suppose it’s thematically appropriate that this involves redoing the same bosses a few times, but it wore a little thin for me. All the text wasn’t there yet in the demo, and the text that was occasionally featured incomplete translation.
Wishlist: Nah, but it’s a cool idea
Hammer of Virtue
Unintentional (?) physics comedy
Alright, I feel bad for making the jank Unity game comment about Myriad in the last one now – Hammer of Virtue is like a poster-child jank Unity game. There are two levels. In the tutorial you fight a cyber-bear in a featureless warehouse as a text to speech voice insults you. In the main level you wander around a forest and ragdoll monkeys halfway across the map (good?). There’s a house with physics (also good). The camera is, to be generous, pure ass.
Hammer of Virtue is funny as a demo, but I would not pay very much money for it; it would probably overstay its welcome after approximately 1 (one) more level. The directional-attack combat is not the absolute worst I have ever seen, but it’s not good. Visuals are basically as you would expect, though the concept art on the loading screens indicates it isn’t an asset-flip. I wish them all the best – why did you have a text to speech program read out a .png of the story when you first enter the game? Mysteries.
Detained: Too Good for School
Beat ’em up with a bunch of extras blended in
Detained: Too Good for School is a Streets of Rage-like that blends in Persona-type time management mechanics as well as XP distribution, crafting and item collection. The core gameplay will seem quite familiar, and conceptually this schoolgirl-duo game is a bit similar to River City Girls from 2019 (aside: the River City games are a lot funnier if you’re familiar with Glasgow soap River City).
The demo introduces all the mechanics, including some fairly standard brawler combat and, oddly, a card memory game for schooltime, which raises stats. The combat is fine, if not as punchy and satisfying as the best in class – the audio design is a bit weak. You can juggle enemies a lot, which is tons of fun, but some enemies have so much health it’s a bit of a timesink. Aesthetically it reminds me a lot of a Vanillaware game, if not quite as slick in execution. I’m actually really interested to see where this game goes – I’ll be sure to give Detained: Too Good for School a review when the full game releases.
The Heroes Around Me
Atmospheric familial emotions in the Chinese countryside
The Heroes Around Me is a languid, slow-paced narrative game (almost visual novel-ish) about life, family and fatherhood in rural China in the 1990s. It’s got a lot of chatting, really lovely pixel art, and some laser-focused emotional button-pushing about having a child with a serious illness. Occasional imperfect translation is noticeable here in the first of our two Chinese games, but doesn’t hamper the overall experience.
The perspective is one I’ve not seen very often, a view into late-20th century China as villages adjust to becoming towns and family members disappear to the city. The gameplay is a mashup of wee mini-games interspersed through the dialogue – a little rhythm game here, rock-paper-scissors there, a Pokémon parody there as you play pretend. Going to check this one out again when it releases – this is the sort of game that would have become an indie classic in 2010.
Intriguing Lovecraftian adventuring (that I couldn’t figure out)
Depersonalization is our second Chinese demo on the list. Unfortunately, I bounced off this one, though it might be an issue of just not having enough time. This game has a super cool idea; Lovecraftian time-travelling where you roll up characters with customised stats and randomised traits. The art style is absolutely solid and I was totally onboard. Apparently the game features branching narratives and multiple endings for the given scenarios; I was sent to investigate a cult at the behest of a noble with an ill daughter, and took along a cautious scholar with high intelligence.
Unfortunately I got super stuck within the demo. I don’t know if I just rolled up the wrong guy, but I had to get through some doors and couldn’t find any way to do so without just saving and rolling checks over and over. Again this is a matter of time – I had a lot of demos to get through and frankly couldn’t be arsed rerolling my character because I’d soft-locked the game. Perhaps I was missing something fundamental to the gameplay – it’s hard to tell because this game has a much worse translation than The Heroes Around Me; some parts of Depersonalization look machine translated. I’m tempted to give it another go because it looks like a really cool concept for a game, and it seems to integrate RPG mechanics how I’d like them (except for the bit where I couldn’t progress).
Wishlist: No, but I wish it was
Cult of the Lamb
Saving the best for lamb-st
Note: It’s actually taken me so long to write this up that Cult of the Lamb has released, so it’s out now.
I think that of all the demos I played during the Next Fest event, Cult of the Lamb might be the one that feels the most like a demo for a clean, complete product. Much like Anger Foot it’s published by Devolver, which seems to be a reasonable mark of quality, and comes complete with a well-defined aesthetic and multiple gameplay systems. Basically, you’re a wee lamb, sacrificed to the gods by the Old Faith and brought back from the dead by another slightly dodgy god to spread the word of his cult across the animal world. To this end, you cut through the cult that killed you and recruit other adorable animals to your cause.
The gameplay on Cult of the Lamb was clean and classic, with fairly standard branching-path roguelite choices and Binding of Isaac-like distinct rooms. You pick weapons and spells for offense and complement these with Tarot cards, which give bonuses for a given run. In a run you’ll collect materials and followers for your cult, which you’ll then use to unlock stuff and more areas. There’s one boss in the demo, which was the most Isaac-like thing about it. Combat is alright but there seems to be a sense that enemies can realign after the hit-warning flash, which somewhat undermines the dodge-roll (though it’s possible I’m just bad). Cult of the Lamb plays good, looks good and sounds good – a definite must-check for fans of the roguelite genre.
Wishlist: For sure