The Steam Next Fest has become a regularly anticipated occurrence that drops every few months, endowing the libraries of curious customers with fresh demos for upcoming games. Considering the sheer number of Steam releases at any given time, the discoverability offered by each Next Fest must certainly be appreciated by the up-and-coming creators behind these demos. With so much on offer, finding the best demos from the Steam Next Fest is always a top priority.
I’ve covered two other Next Fests in the past and walked away with a handful of treasures each time, often without much of a fuss. But, I have to admit that this go-around was surprisingly… underwhelming, for lack of a better term. While I excitedly started off this collection with a little over 20 titles, only eight managed to really capture me enough to include here. Nevertheless, the fact that these titles did stick the landing at all is to be commended, and I genuinely look forward to their full releases. Perhaps it might be your cup of tea, too. Or rather…coffee?
Here are the best Steam Next Fest demos I found
Espresso Tycoon — Flavorful fun
There were a surprising number of coffee-themed tycoon titles in this Next Fest outing, but DreamWay Games’ Espresso Tycoon proved to be the cup that hit the spot for me. The roast was flavorful due to its charming aesthetic and simple-but-effective building system. While not as in depth as some other building-heavy tycoons, the customization options on offer are good enough and varied enough to truly craft the look and feel of your own café.
The pleasing milk art at the top of this virtual cup proved to be Espresso Tycoon‘s gameplay mechanics, such as employee and customer mood management. For instance, employees will complain if their working hours aren’t to their preference and customers are surprisingly picky about the look and feel of your establishment. All of this plays into the shop’s rating, so it’s up to you to keep a steady eye on the needs and suggestions of just about everyone.
Cool little touches like the custom create-a-coffee feature also added a burst of flavor that had me unexpectedly wrapped up in this demo, especially once I got into the rhythm of having a steady customer flow and keeping track of my supply usage. The one glaring omission I noticed was that weather doesn’t play a factor. It would be neat to see rain or cold temperatures cause more people to flock into this store. But, even if such a mechanic doesn’t get added in, I still already feel that this title is going to send me away into a steamy trance when it fully launches. And I’m sure other tycoon aficionados may come down with a similar new addiction.
Builder Simulator — Nutty nuts and bolts
Just as I was building a new affinity for coffee, Builder Simulator by Live Motion Games was also making me a fan of the trusty, yet highly eccentric “Bill Derr.” This bucket of bolts of a robot guided me through the demo, offering pun-filled dialogue and corny dad jokes that I couldn’t help but chuckle at due to his enthusiastic and maniacal delivery.
Truth be told, I actually found Bill Derr to be more entertaining than the game itself. He adds a lot of pizzazz to what would’ve otherwise been yet another mundane sim. Sims are known for their monotony, but Builder Simulator seems to understand that and tries to remedy it.
This is achieved by neat little shortcuts that are weaved into the game’s mechanics. You can place multiple blocks at once and eliminating what would’ve been tedious micro tasks to keep the pace moving, for example. While the demo didn’t offer too much in the way of customization and flexibility to see just how powerful Builder Simulator‘s actual level of building complexity will be, the bits and pieces on display did make me anticipate its full release. But, yeah, I really just wanna hang with Bill Derr again and listen to how he’ll probably, not so subtly, throw shade at my shoddy craftsmanship.
Food Truck Simulator — No glamour, just grease
Speaking of poor assembly, I know for a fact that I am hardly of any use in a kitchen. When I lived alone a few years ago, I always looked forward to “outside food” far more than my own. Yet, I’ve noticed I have this strange interest in cooking videos and games. Thus, just like a good menu item, Food Truck Simulator from DARGO Entertainment captured my attention with only a few screenshots. Spending some time with the demo was the special sauce that got me greased for its upcoming full version.
Its mechanics work very well, from buying the supplies to making sure you store store them in the correct places for freshness. The actual cooking and food assembly process was also surprisingly addictive, though a bit wonky in the demo version when it came to picking up and placing items down.
I also, ironically, found the driving portions to be my least favorite part of the experience. The small map was strangely hard to navigate due to the lack of an on-screen mini-map and constant roadblocks. If the team at DARGO Entertainment can get the feel just right when the full experience releases, I’m sure this will cook up a storm on the Steam charts.
Birding Simulator — Feather framing
Precision is certainly needed when making good food, but that, too, is also necessary when it comes to framing a good photo. Birding Simulator turns the hunting sim sub-genre on its head by replacing a rifle with a high-quality camera and a long focus length lens. All of this is to help your childhood friend with her forest conservation efforts by capturing photos of majestic native birds.
The objective is to get stellar shots of the birds to raise awareness, and you can also use your best photos as gig opportunities in order to get cash for even better equipment. It’s a neat system that the team over at T-Bull studios has put together. The demo alone contained a decent variety of birds, but the full game promises a wide selection across varied landscapes. Not to mention that there’s a neat educational aspect to the experience, as these birds are virtual renditions of real species.
As someone who does enjoy real-life photography, I was also really impressed with how in depth the camera features were. With Birding Simulator definitely being on the laidback side of the spectrum, I can already see myself losing many hours to it.
Meteora — Space rock(s) n’ roll
On the far more frenetic end of the spectrum is Big Boot Games’ fast-paced Meteora. Space games aren’t anything new, but this one has the unique spin of putting you in control of a hurtling meteorite rather than a spacecraft. The on-rails action allows you to speed up and slow down your meteor on command, with the ability to either push it left or right or snap it instantly in the desired direction. Precision, speed, and snappy reflexes are the name of the game as you compete with gravity chipping away at your meteor every second and a ton of asteroids that will destroy it after too many collisions.
With speed crystals and health boosts to collect, the high octane action of Meteora provides a breakneck experience that genuinely stands out. The intense visual flare of all the bursts of color, immense sense of speed, and huge explosions make this both an intense experience for the eyes and the adrenaline.
I especially liked how the use of rumble really made each impact and burst of speed feel that much more intense. While Meteora definitely has a difficulty curve, I look forward to seeing just how extreme its challenge factor gets in the full game.
Race Condition — Low-poly pole position
Coming down from speeding in the stars, Race Condition from Ravine AB offers a similarly fervent experience on the track. Various fictional circuits are the proving ground for this open-wheel-focused racer, offering sharp turns and breakneck straightaways. Speed boosts aren’t even required, as these cars have more than enough horsepower on their own. Combine this with the lack of assists and upgrades, and Race Condition quickly proved to me that it’s one of those titles that expects you to “get good” all on your own in order to progress.
Though its difficulty was frustrating, this little indie racer has some admittible charm. The low-poly aesthetic is timelessly beautiful, but the truly neat thing about its presentation is the neat way sound is used.
Very minute touches stand out. The dynamic chime that goes off as you ascend and descend positions in the grid, and even how the action and sound gradually slow down and speed up when you pause/unpause, are easy to miss but really cool once you notice them. Details like that show when a dev has real thought and passion behind their project, and Race Condition‘s solid mechanics prove it.
Grand Mountain Adventure: Wonderlands — Putting the “ice” in isometric
For a slightly more chilled out experience, there’s Grand Mountain Adventure: Wonderlands from Toppluva AB. Taking inspiration from the early winter sports titles that had an isometric camera angle, Grand Mountain Adventure’s controls take some time getting used to.
Since your character is always moving toward you in what is still a full 3D space despite the limited viewing angle, it takes a bit of practice, especially when it comes to landing tricks. But, once I got the swing of things, I thoroughly enjoyed the nugget of challenges that the demo had to offer.
While this isn’t anywhere near as ambitious as the likes of titles like Steep, Riders Republic, or even SSX, it’s actually nice to have a more simple take on the winter sports genre. Combine that with the crisp stylized visuals, ambient soundtrack, and healthy variety of large, open-world style mountains, and this truly is shaping up to be quite the grand indie adventure.
Golfie — A slight twist
Last and certainly not least is Golfie from Triheart Studio. There’s a shockingly wild amount of different golf titles in the gaming world, so it’s really awesome that Triheart managed to produce such an interesting take on the formula with this little indie.
Featuring procedurally-generated courses, Golfie has you guiding a little robotic golf ball throughout a wide array of different challenges, as each course features unique elements. Some might have the hole on a floating island that you’ll have to cross a wide gap in order to reach it.
Others courses might take advantage of physics by having you make use of powershots and the terrain to climb up steep inclines and precisely bounce off of walls to reach the hole. To help conquer each challenge, there are various cards that’ll grant you different power-ups. There’s one that spikes the ball upwards, while another amplifies your shooting power. There’s even one that gives you an entire jetpack to cover big distances. What makes this system even more intuitive is that these power-up cards can stack and combine to further amplifying their effects.
All of this combined with its charming art style and essentially infinite replayability made it the most interesting golf game I’ve played in a long time.
As I stated in the onset of this piece, I found it hard to love much of what I played during this Steam Next Fest, but these eight demos in particular all genuinely stood out to me. They’re each charming and engaging in their own ways, and even though they’re similar to titles I’ve played in the past, they’re definitely unique enough to offer a pool of entertainment all on their own. With some even coming out in a matter of days, if not later this year, they’re certainly worth checking out yourself.