Remember when game demos were really prevalent? Well, with June’s Steam Next Fest now officially wrapped up, it feels good seeing them make such a grand return. What really wowed me about a lot of the titles on offer is that I had never heard of them beforehand, yet now I can say that I’m legitimately a fan. Right from the start, Steam’s Next Fest demos met one of its primary goals with me: increasing discoverability. Without much hesitation, I’ve wishlisted all of the games that I’ve played these last few days, as they all not-so-subtly ask you to do. The selection below includes the 10 best demos I played during Steam Next Fest.
The collection in question mostly consists of sims. However, I also gave myself a bit of a variety to choose from by targeting sims from different sub-genres and also trying a few completely different kinds of games, too. Though all of these titles stand out on their own, what really impressed me is that I actually enjoyed all of them; they turned out to be as cool as their store listing suggested.
Here are the best demos I found during Steam Game Fest
Car Detailing Simulator – Cathartic chrome
I’m the kind of person that doesn’t love doing chores all that much, but gets really into it when I’m in the right mood. So playing a sim that’s about one of the chores I procrastinate with the most in real life is a bit hypocritical. Yet, very strangely, though cleaning a real car wipes me out, I found Car Detailing Simulator extremely satisfying. The mechanics are simple: clean the specified area of a vehicle. Each job requires something a little different, as some vehicles might only need their tires cleaned while others need their interior cleaned. There are specific tools to tackle each area of the car, and they’re all easy to use. For instance, you use foam to cover the exterior, a spray solution and microfiber cloth for the windows, and a dedicated tire brush for the rims and rubber wall.
As one would expect, the act of cleaning, even virtually, is pretty repetitive and monotonous. But somehow, Car Detailing Simulator proved to be really entertaining. I don’t know if it’s because the shiny visuals make the cars look exceptionally awesome after you’ve finished cleaning them, or the funky rock/country soundtrack that kept me working quite efficiently. The icing on the cake is that you take a photo of each car you clean once it’s done and then pin it to your memory wall, allowing you to go back and admire your work whenever. I still don’t get why such a mundane thing as car washing turned out to be really cathartic in virtual form, but it works and it works well.
Endlight – Surreal stress
Your mind ever felt like it was cracking? Like it’s all just flashing lights, that fuzzy black and white noise on a TV? Where everything just feels detached and whipped up? That’s basically how I would describe by experience with Endlight. It’s a game about, well, I haven’t figured that out yet to be honest. I completed all of the levels available in its Steam Next Fest demo. But still, I walked away intrigued, yet also a little fearful(?).
Endlight has you control a cube hurtling through different dimensions, and you must collect a certain number of square/diamond-shaped Hoops to clear each level. The goal is to fly through the hoops while also avoiding collisions with the thousands (millions?) of debris in your way, though grabbing a hoop will make you temporarily invincible. Admittedly, smashing through them looks cool. And really, “looking cool” is about the only thing that makes sense in Endlight. It’s bright, flashy, and bombastic in every sense of those words — like a never-ending fireworks show.
Absolutely avoid this demo if you’re epileptic because it legitimately never ends with its barrage of colors and explosions. I still don’t know what the game is really about. But with its promise of hundreds of levels, I’m very intrigued to see what the full experience brings. That and it literally shamed me into wishlisting it, because I do not want to lose to that in-game sign that said: “Even losers wishlist.”
Hotel Renovator – From poor to posh
Once you’ve stayed in enough hotels, your taste in room aesthetic and layout should become pretty clear to you. Thus, Hotel Renovator spoke to me from the very beginning, and its design system carries it through the entire way. The name speaks for itself. You take an old, run-down hotel that you’ve inherited from your grandfather and must turning into a hot new place for everyone to love.
As stated, the building system here is very efficient and robust. Most actions deal with room demolition and cleaning. Also, repainting is quick thanks to the very nifty mechanic of being able to cover a large area with a longer mouse click. Moving on to the more meticulous design aspect, I was pleased with a large variety of different materials, themes and patterns of each piece of furniture and the decorations. And that was just from what was available in the demo, so the full game will have even more to offer.
Not to mention that everything looks gorgeous; the textures are very crisp and the different materials react to light very realistically. The shading effects are also very believable. Much like Car Detailing Simulator, this sim’s jazzy soundtrack really helped with productivity and perfectly fit the aesthetic of the whole experience. I can easily see this being a title that I’ll lose hours in as a decompressor from a long day. All I would like to see is a snap feature to make wall-mounting more precise. At that point, it’ll be golden.
I Am Fish – Aquatic escapade adventure
Remember that scene in Finding Nemo near the film’s climax where the fish from the dentist’s office tank escapes while they’re wrapped up in plastic bags? I can’t help but think the developers of I Am Fish saw that and decided to make an entire game out of it. Not to mention the titular character here is an orange juvenile fish that looks very similar to Nemo’s design. Regardless, the concept is interesting and the mechanics even more so.
Though this is a 3D platformer, you’re unable to jump. Rather than running and leaping, you control your fishy friend by using the momentum of his swim speed to roll his ball-shaped glass tank in different directions. Think Super Monkey Ball, but slower. It takes time to speed up and slow down, so the game’s difficulty comes from balancing your speed as you traverse the world. Using the environment is essential to traversal, as you can bump into objects to puck the tank off into specific directions or make a sudden stop before falling off a ledge.
Caution is needed as dropping the tank from a decent height or smacking too quickly into an object will crack and shatter the tank. I Am Fish‘s demo focused on the escape from the pet store using the rooftops of San Francisco to get down to the bay. The full game will feature even more varied levels and mechanics, but this was a great first impression and definitely a standout concept for a game. And it was one of the best demos I experienced during Steam Next Fest.
Lawn Mowing Simulator – Grande grass
If machinery sims weren’t intriguing, then Farming Simulator wouldn’t be such a big deal. Thus Lawn Mowing Simulator seems poised to capitalize on that interest with its full dedication to virtualizing the experience of driving fancy rideable lawnmowers. As you complete different jobs for clients, each requests that their lawns is cut to specific heights. And, of course, precision is needed to ensure that everything stays neat and tidy.
The driving mechanics in the demo weren’t half bad, though a little stiff. What really impressed me, though, were the sim’s visuals, which look very realistic. The grass, especially looks very fluid and reacts realistically to the virtual winds. I feel like I’ve mentioned graphics with basically every title in this list thus far, but this sim and the others here really have broken the tradition of the basic asset-flip sims of the past. These titles don’t just look fancy but their mechanics are actually well made, which remains true for Lawn Mowing Simulator.
While it may not be as wide-reaching as Farming Simulator, I’m very curious to see if it’ll build a decent community of its own when it fully launches.
Let’s A Build a Zoo – Playful park building
One of my favorite games from my childhood is Zoo Tycoon 2. Thus, this new indie, Let’s Build A Zoo, follows in the footsteps of that series and tycoon sims in general with robust management systems and features. You’re tasked with taking a humble plot of land from a small zoo to an animal empire by collecting various different species from all over the world, taking care of them, and keeping guests happy with park beautification and a variety of amenities. None of these ideas are new, but Let’s Build A Zoo’s pixel-based art style really stands out.
This is definitely one of those titles that you jump into and it’ll steal hours away from you as there’s always something new to do. It appears to have a lot of different layers to it that go even deeper than some management sims of the past. For example, you don’t just hire new employees, you actually have to create an application process and evaluate each potential employee beforehand. Little things like that help to give this tiny tike its own voice in the jungle of other management/park-building sims out there, and I hope to see it be well-supported for its efforts.
Lifeslide – Paper plane therapy
If the aforementioned Endlight is supposed to be a visual metaphor for mental chaos, then Lifeslide must be its much prettier and calming alter ego. Here you control a paper airplane that sails across beautiful nature-filled levels. The plane is kept afloat by flying close to the ground and using physics that causes the speed and wind flow to provide lift (any aviation aficionados will know this as ground effect). Using this tactic is essential as crashing or falling out of the sky will result in a game over. But, there are little “mental” power-ups to help along the way.Collecting Integrity gems keeps the plane aloft. However, they slowly tick away each second. Other power ups, for example, include knowledge gems that grant access to various alternate paths scattered around a given level. With the action constantly moving forward, Lifeslide beautifully honors its namesake by, from what I can gather, basically being a metaphor for how we sail through our own lives. Every moment of the day we need integrity to keep ourselves from stopping on our journey, and attributes like knowledge allow us to venture onto new paths. I definitely want to see how the developers expand upon such a great concept in the full release.
Ship Graveyard Simulator – Titanic tasks
Ships can look majestic as they slowly glide over the waves, but eventually, they all meet the same rusty fate. Following the mini-recession of 2020, ship graveyards have become even busier, so Ship Graveyard Simulator is really on the nose with its timing. It tasks you with using various tools to destroy various parts of ships and gather the raw materials from the rubble. You can then sell these materials and from that money you then buy new tools and upgrades for existing ones. Some tools also have limited durability, so the process of destroying, material-gathering, and selling become routine very quickly as you try to build up more funds to take on tougher jobs. Ship Graveyard Simulator even has secrets hidden within locked chests and doors that you can pick, throwing a little puzzle-solving into the experience too.
This is the kind of sim that can get pretty addictive just from its resource gathering and management mechanics alone. I’m not quite sure why such sims end up becoming so addictive to watch and play. Just from the short demo I tried with Steam’s Next Fest, I saw myself briefly locked into its engaging monotony (if that’s a real term).
Super Woden GP – Drift dreams
Though I’m a race fan, top-down racers have never been my favorite. Yet, Super Woden GP stood out to me for some reason, and I’m glad I tried it. Its driving mechanics are some of the most fluid I’ve ever felt in a racer, making drifts both look amazing and feel great to successfully pull off. That said, it definitely takes some practice to learn the game’s mechanics and execute each turn flawlessly.
Its charm is in the presentation, as it has a strange somewhat retro stylized art style that’s really striking. There’s also a lot of filters to give it an even more retro look, and that somehow further adds to its enjoyment. Not to mention its catchy soundtrack fits the racing vibe extremely well, and definitely got my blood pumping. Though I really need to brush up on my drift skills, I really want to try the full game when it releases.
Terra Nil – Environmental engagement
What’s the easiest way to get people to care about the environment? Make it look gorgeous. And Terra Nil certainly wins in that department. Its stylized visuals complement its message beautifully. The entire experience of this management sim involves bringing life back to a dead landscape by using various “green” tools. Wind turbines provide power for irrigation systems that water the surrounding soil, giving life to grasslands and rivers which you can then convert to new biomes with even more tools.
It’s a continuous process that even involves a little bit of strategy as you seek to create a biodiverse environment by placing the right tools in the right spot. Before placing, it’ll show you how many Leaves you can collect, which is the in-game currency.
Seeing the grid come to life is truly majestic and soothing. The game’s ambient soundtrack wraps up the experience quite fittingly. I’ve said this about nearly every demo I tried during Steam’s Next Fest, but this is yet another title that can and will sap hours away from me.
Steam Next Fest 2021 had literally hundreds of game demos available, so it was hard to find all the best. Just these 10 alone kept me entertained with hours of fun. I can’t believe that just last week I didn’t even know that any of them existed. Now, I patiently wait for their releases, which are all surprisingly just weeks away. Even if just one stands out to you, I definitely recommend the entire list.
On that note, I also hope that game demos become more plentiful. In the first few minutes of each title, I already knew I wanted to play more. This is exactly the feeling I used to have as a kid, and it made me really happy to find that again. Thus, I’m really looking forward to more Steam Next Fests in the future. And a hats off to all of the developers out there creating these passion projects. They all prove that Steam isn’t just shovelware and AAA-games. These titles, though small, are all charming and impressive in their own right and truly deserve their time to shine.