The first Steam Next Fest of 2023 has recently wrapped up. With the dust now settled, I decided to collect my thoughts on some of the best demos I tried during Steam Next Fest 2023. While I initially downloaded a batch of 16 new demos, only 12 managed to make the final cut. These 12 choices are in no order of quality; they’re all pretty interesting in their own right. That said, there is some overlap as the vast majority are classified as sports titles, sims, and racers.
The best Steam Next Fest 2023 demos we tried
Baldy Bounce — Ball(room) blitz
There’s an interesting sub-genre of “sports” games that involve taking control of a sphere of some sort. Whether that’s a marble (usually), or an actual ball, these ball-themed titles are surprisingly plentiful. Yet, Baldy Bounce seeks to bounce higher with the more novel concept of operating part ball-puzzler, and part 3D platformer-adventure game.
Baldy Bounce has the wild premise of you taking control of a soccer ball after aliens come to earth, zapping a population of humans and transforming them all into various balls. Now, you must embark on an adventure that will have you rolling, bouncing and kicking your way through various environments.
The one city level in the demo was already a good indicator of what the full game offers. It immediately introduces you to the various abilities your ball has, which includes double jumping, forward dashing, short hovers, and even the ability to stop immediately in the air and drop. All of these are in addition to the core mechanic of being able to “kick” the ball by aiming its height and trajectory, which is the key way of traversal.
Chaining these abilities together is the key to not only moving through the environment, but also completing the various challenges scattered throughout each level. For instance, the demo level had challenges like a game of basketball, landing in a moving target zone, rolling through a checkpoint course, and destroying crates. There are also various chests scattered about that contain customization items and secrets to find.
Baldy Bounce is quite a fun, little indie with an ambitious premise. Its presentation is a little rough around the edges, but other than that, it’s a solid 3D platformer that certainly stands out.
Baldy Bounce is out now.
BandRoll — Rock and rolling rhythm
Keeping up with the theme of pure ball-based titles, BandRoll is a pretty sick rhythm game and one of the best Steam Next Fest 2023 demos I played. As your ball rolls along the track automatically, you must keep up the momentum by switching to a new line as soon as the previous one ends.
This all follows the beat of the music, and thus you must time your switches with the beat.
Another trick to help keep up the beat is switching just as the lane is about to end, so you have both a visual and audio aid. Yet, timing is everything in BandRoll, and missing a single beat will result in you having to restart the entire song. That said, the beats are absolute fire. The flashy, hyper colorful visuals also provide a sweet flare to the entire package.
BandRoll is expected to release in 2023.
Driftwood — Head empty, just sloth
Skateboarding games aren’t new, but one where you control a super-chill sloth as he gracefully glides down a winding road on a longboard is definitely a novel concept. Driftwood is just as such, offering a lo-fi vibe with its beautiful style in terms of both its somber beats and colorful visuals. As you glide down the road, you’ll kick up leaves, drift around corners, pass closely by cars, and catch some air to gain more points.
Driftwood offers a very fluid experience, and is definitely one of those games that you throw on to just zone out and enjoy yourself. It’s not an intense trick fest in the vein of something like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Really, the only true similarity between it and most other skate games is the fact that it involves skating at all. Other than that, it stands on its own as a unique, casual experience that’s definitely worth checking out.
Driftwood is expected to release in 2023.
Eggcelerate! Race to the Tropics — Slaloms, sunny side up
You might be familiar with the concept of an egg race: run with an egg in a spoon and keep it from falling until you get to the finish line. Eggcelerate! Race to the Tropics takes this idea and turns the heat up considerably, as you’re tasked with transporting an egg rolling around in a basket that’s mounted to a motorbike.
With the speed of the bike, combined with the roughness of the terrain and even the way you take corners, there are so many ways that you can (and will) send your egg flying. So, the goal here is to master the art of keeping your speed up while also making sure not to send your egg shooting out into the stratosphere.
Each course features various types of challenges, such as tight corners, narrow pathways, and even big jumps — all in an effort to get you to lose the egg. This is all while the clock is ticking showing you the time to beat.
Between its low-poly art style and funky visuals, there’s at least a lot of goodness in the presentation department to help ease with the inevitable frustration of continuously dropping your egg. As challenging as this little racer is, however, I still had a lot of fun with it.
Eggcelerate! Race to the Tropics is expected to release in 2023.
Formula Retro Racing – World Tour — Virtua racing madness
Harkening back to the classic days of early 3D racers like Sega’s Virtua Racing, Formula Retro Racing – World Tour features ultra low-poly visuals and relatively simple track design. It’s one of the best Steam Next Fest 2023 demos I played in regard to racing games. Despite the simplicity, the game has a completely arcade-like flair, right down to its menu timers and basic car customization.
There are two types of cars to choose from: open-wheeled racers and traditional race cars. The latter are far more slippery and prone to drifting, though that’s by design. So, depending on which type you drive, you can end up with a very different on-track experience.
Regardless, the sense of speed is apparent. And considering that there aren’t any power-ups, your speed is all you have to try and beat the competition. Well, that and smashing their wheels off — as I found out practically by accident.
There is a damage meter that accumulates with each impact to your vehicle, though you really don’t gain that much as long as you’re not careening into walls. Other cars, however, seem as if they’re made out of Lego bricks. Merely tapping into them at the right angle triggers a cartoony explosion of wheels flying, and the chassis hurtling off into the distance.
While its driving model isn’t the slickest nor most refined, Formula Retro Racing – World Tour still manages to offer a decent representation of how racing games used to be “back in the day.” There’s a sizable number of other indie retro racers out there, but this is definitely one of the most polished I’ve played yet.
Formula Retro Racing – World Tour releases on March 31 as an Early Access title.
Octane Remix — Vaporwave vibes
Borrowing a lot of its style from vaporwave and retrofuturism, Octane Remix has you piloting your vehicle through a simulated course as you boost, drift and dodge your way through a harrowing series of obstacles. Lasers, chainsaws, slamming pads, homing rockets, and more will gradually inflict damage on your car.
The impetus in Octane Remix is to progress through each segment of the map as much as you can while trying to avoid taking on a full gauge of damage. The progression operates akin to classic racers like OutRun, where you have branching pathways that will gradually take you to different sectors of the map.
While I think the concept is great and it does a good job with its overall style and sense of speed, I find the track design to be rather crude, to an extreme. A lot of the corners and inclines are simply not smooth enough, and feels a little janky. This results in more collisions than what’s reasonable. It doesn’t completely impede the flow of gameplay, but smoother tracks and some clean-up of the more crude animations and other visual elements would really smooth this racer out.
Octane Remix has a TBD release date of “Coming Soon.”
Pan’orama — Picturesque puzzles
Pan’orama takes the puzzle match genre and infuses with a dash of city building all with the aesthetic of a digital diorama. The result is a very Zen-like puzzler that has you trying to grow your floating island with different landscape tiles, all in an effort not to run out of new tiles.
There are structures that can be built which will grant you extra points, but you must match the corresponding tile types in order for the structure to be built. Tiles can range from something like a field tile, to rock or water tile, just to name a few.
Truth be told, it took me a few minutes to really get the gist of how the game works, and in some ways I still think I’m a bit lost as to the entire length and breadth of its strategy. But, again, this is meant to be a relaxing puzzle title. Its gorgeous visuals and atmospheric soundtrack only add to that notion, resulting in an easy recommendation and one of the best demos I played during Steam Next Fest 2023.
Pan’orama releases March 14.
Rallygator — Trials, with tails
Ubisoft’s Trials series is probably an easy guess when you think of a physics-based racer. Rallygator takes a page out of its book by offering a similar style of gameplay, but it’s combined with elements of a 2D platformer, making quite an interesting mix.
As you traverse the levels with your monster truck piloted by an alligator and his fox friend, you’ll find yourself tackling environmental puzzles that often lead to hidden collectibles, all in addition to the various cogs that you consistently picking up.
Drive, sub, fly, and more in the game. There’s a lot of instant transformations for your monster truck, in addition to power-ups which grant new temporary abilities like shooting torpedoes or a twirling helicopter propeller in order to fly.
The combination of a physics-based racer along with the exploration that’s synonymous with 2D platformers make for an interesting stage design. Plus, the overall flow of Rallygator‘s gameplay feels uniquely fun. It’s just different enough from both genres that it’s based in to have a standout identity, and it’s all the better for this.
Rallygator is expected to release in 2023.
RoboDunk — Nothin’ but nuts and bolts
While the NBA2K series may have a vice grip on the basketball sub-genre of sports games, there was a time when more wacky, arcadey basketball titles got more time in the limelight. RoboDunk definitely fits into that mold the best, as it is not at all meant to show off any sort of basketball realism.
These balling bucket of bolts are capable of some serious finesse. You can pull off some insane flips and jumps, even as far as jumping into outer space in order to pull off a super slam dunk. Just like regular basketball, you must outmaneuver your opponents on the court, as well as snatch the ball from them to keep them from scoring.
Rather than just stealing and blocking the ball, however, RoboDunk gives you arms and armaments. In addition to being able to shove opposing bots, you can also shoot a cannon to temporarily stun them, as well as wait for a court hazard such as explosives, tornadoes, and even asteroids to knock them down long enough for you to grab the ball and sink a bucket.
Rather than assigning points depending on where the ball is shot from, you can only deliver the ball to the basket by dunking it. Thus, points are calculated based on how long you can charge your dunk jump. The frenetic nature of RoboDunk is definitely more disorienting than a typical basketball game. But this is also what completely sets it apart, even when compared to other arcadey basketball games like NBA Playgrounds.
RoboDunk is expected to release in 2023.
Slopecrashers — Tricks and critters
Snowboarding games aren’t anything new, but Slopecrashers is clearly forging its own path with its all-animal cast of characters. Not to mention the use of power-ups and even the ability to glide in the air after big jumps is also a standout difference.
As you hurdle down the slopes, you’ll pull off stunts, grind rails, and stick the landings to keep the momentum going. There are various power-ups along the track, Mario Kart-style, which can either directly aid you by providing huge speed boosts, or temporarily impede the progress of your opponents by stunning them.
All of this puts it in a different lane compared to the likes of other snowboarding favorites like SSX and more modern titles like Steep and Riders Republic.
One modern similarity it does have is that you can either select between either a “Regular/Racer” or “Trickster” control scheme. The latter offers more direct inputs over tricks at the expense of assists. This along with the varying difficulty modes allow Slopecrashers to have a healthy bit of a skill valley for both casual and experienced players alike.
Slopecrashers is expected to release in 2023.
SORTED! – Trash day speed run
Another match-puzzle title, although, again, with a unique premise. Sorted! has you handling the conveyor belt operations at a trash-sorting facility, where you must place the correct piece of rubbish in the appropriate bin. The challenge comes from the fact that there are six different bins, and oftentimes it’s not immediately clear where an item belongs.
For example, a glass bottle clearly goes into the “Glass” bin. But, what about a styrofoam food container? You might think “Plastic,” but that actually belongs in the “Mixed” bin.
Combine the challenge of figuring out the correct placements, along with both the speed and volume of the trash consistently increasing, and you have yourself a challenging puzzler. With a strong emphasis on co-op play, this may also be fun twist of a party title.
Sorted! has a TBD release date.
The Ranch of Rivershine — Horse stables and serenity
This is easily my most questionable discovery out of my array of Steam Next Fest demos. The Ranch of Rivershine is not typically the kind of game I’d go for; the amount of (often bad) equestrian-themed life sims is shockingly high. That said, this little life sim’s “cute” aesthetic and simple gameplay, while painfully shallow in terms of depth, do at least offer yet another option for a cozy pick-me-up style of game that you may find relaxing.
Its very stylistic visuals are romanticist of mid 2000s games, which, at least for me, added a bit of a nostalgia to the overall package. You take the reigns of a new townsfolk who has just moved into the humble village of Rivershine.
Here, you’ll live life on your new ranch as you raise your horse of choice, training them and then competing with them in cross-country competitions. The more you ride your horse, the more its skills improve. You must also feed, clean and care for your horse to ensure it remains happy, healthy and strong.
There’s a cast of characters to interact with, fetch quests and buy goods from as you progress throughout the story. Again, this is by no means a deep, super-engaging life/farm sim. And, it doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to be. But, for a humble little title about a humble little horse-riding villager, it hits the mark.
The Ranch of Rivershine is expected to release in 2023.
Best Steam Next Fest 2023 demos – The event continues to provide a slew of great new demos
While I didn’t find a huge amount of demos that I find personally interesting in this Steam Next Fest, these 12 do still all hit some high notes for me. They’re each well made in their own right, with some showing an exceptional level of polish and potential.
I continue to love each Steam Next Fest demo event, as quick as it comes and goes, as it always showcases at least a handful of smaller titles that I’d probably otherwise gloss over or never would have even seen before. Thus, here’s hoping this list allows you to discover some fun gems, too.