The Steam Game Festival February 2021 Edition is over. The digital event featured nearly 500 demos of new and upcoming indie games. We obviously didn’t get a chance to play them all, but we did try over 20 demos. Note that for most of these games, the demos are still available to download and play.
Here are our 12 favorite demos and indie games you should add to your radar, and to your Steam wishlist.
Alekon is an indie, PC version of Pokémon Snap, Nintendo’s beloved photo-taking game, which is finally getting a follow-up with New Pokémon Snap in April. As in Snap, players are tasked with taking pictures of cute and interesting creatures, called fictions, while traveling on an on-rails ride through different regions. The first time you capture a creature on film, it’s added to the dreamworld hub, where you can complete side quests and mini-games such as ring toss, hide ‘n seek, or a game of pong. It’s charming, easy-to-play, and violence-free.
Release: Q2 2021
Dorfromantik is a lovely little tile-laying game that takes about eight seconds to learn. Every turn you’ll place a tile from the stack, which could contain wheat fields, forests, villages, or train tracks, and build out a pastoral countryside. The goal is to earn a high score within a certain number of tiles. Every once in awhile a “quest” will appear on a tile, requiring a certain number of neighboring tiles, such as a 6-tile train track or a forest with over 100 trees. Despite the easy gameplay I found the experience rewarding and enchanting. An easy recommendation for fans of tabletop games like Carcassonne.
Release: March 25
From 3D Realms, the designers of classic 90s shooters like Duke Nukem, comes Graven, the latest game to use the Build engine of pixelated 2D sprites in a 3D world. Graven takes the genre into a medieval fantasy world suffering from a plague and a rash of zombies and other monsters. Thankfully you can wield magic spells to trigger different effects, such as firing lightning bolts to stun enemies while they’re in water. Graven checks all the right boxes for first-person exploration, puzzles, and combat in that glorious retro style.
An expedition has gone missing after discovering something deep beneath the ocean floor. You control the second team in Hidden Deep, an intriguing 2D action-exploration adventure. Using grappling guns and ziplines to carefully navigate through twisting tunnels remains tense due to your squishy team, and the dangerous beasts that lurk in the darkness are always hungry. Auto-saves and checkpoints are generous, but you only have a limited number of lives to complete each level as you search for answers and avoid a grisly fate.
While most zombie apocalypse games feature gun-toting action, Highrisers is all about crafting and surviving in a 35-story office building. Thankfully your four characters are incredibly resourceful, able to break down everything from table and chairs to pinball machines in order to craft weapons, tools, and supplies. Using a single screen and a colorful arcade aesthetic, it’s easy to scroll through the many levels and quickly switch between characters. You’ll need to keep everyone busy in order to survive the increased danger when night falls, and ultimately work to repair the helicopter at the top to escape the city.
Idle RPGs are popular time-wasters, but Loop Hero evolves the genre by building the pixelated world as your hero makes their way around the track fighting monsters and gaining loot. As you grow stronger you’ll earn cards that represent monster nests, buildings, and terrain, granting bonuses and spawning new enemies to conquer, all while earning rewards to last longer and longer. Loop Hero features a lovely 8-bit RPG style and soundtrack, and a mysterious world that acknowledges the randomly generated world of forgotten enemies and characters.
Release: March 4
Lost Words: Beyond the Page
The demo for Lost Words features one of the most delightful prologue sequences I’ve ever played, as our youthful protagonist runs and jumps on words on each page of her journal like Winnie the Pooh. The 2D platformer features a whimsical world and rich story-telling, with words appearing directly on the screen as she voices the narration. She can add certain words to her magic book, like Rise, and use them to manipulate the environment and solve puzzles. Lost Words is rated E for Everyone and currently available on Google Stadia, launching on PC and consoles later this year.
We all agree that Mario Odyssey was a great game, and possessing creatures and objects is a fun game mechanic. Retro Machina takes that concept and applies it to a post-human earth of the future, run by oppressive robots. While our intrepid little hero can attack enemies with a trusty wrench, your primary tool is the ability to hack into other robots and control them. As a neat evolution of the mechanic, you still remain in full control of your body, letting you control both characters simultaneously to solve puzzles and defend against robot jerks who want to put you back to work.
Release: Q1 2021
Tower defense games haven’t been as popular in recent years, but The Riftbreaker aims to jump-start the genre by giving you a fully-powered mech suit on a hostile alien planet. Riftbreaker is one part action-RPG, one part real-time strategy, and one part tower defense as you mine resources, set up factories, and defend them with walls, turrets, and your own awesome mech weapons. It’s satisfying watching turrets mow down hordes of enemies as they try to break through – but even more satisfying to wade into the action wielding a mech-sword and a flamethrower.
Slay the Spire is spawning a lot of deckbuilding clones and spin-offs, and we’ve loved them all. Roguebook combines the increasingly familiar card-based combat system with a hexagonal map. Each level features a nearly blank parchment map that must be uncovered by using inks and paintbrushes earned from defeated enemies. It’s far more interactive and rewarding than the simple branching routes and paths from other deckbuilding games, while each run can feature different combinations of heroes for a variety of card combos and tactics.
Release: June 24
This little space game about trading may be my personal favorite demo of everything I played. Slipways starts by using probes to search for planets, then colonizing each planet with different resource requirements and production. Simply dragging from one planet to another creates interplanetary trade routes, sending resources from one planet to another. Using this intuitive system, you can create a satisfyingly massive trade network that spans dozens of planets. Add in happiness requirements, research upgrades, and progression quests, and you have the makings of a delightfully addictive, yet relaxing strategy game.
Release: Q2 2021
City management and building games can be daunting, but what if it were more like playing with Legos? Tinytopia scales down city building to a literal tabletop, as you place tiny roads, power buildings, services, and homes. Making bigger buildings is as simple as building and stacking the same kind of building, like an apartment or shop, next to and on top of each other. And it wouldn’t be a city builder without the ability to rain down meteor showers, tornadoes, alien invasions, and giant monsters.