9 of the best Steam Next Fest demos to try before it’s too late

Another month, another Steam Next Fest packed with new and exciting demos for you to try. We’ve picked out the best, so you don’t have to.

The best Steam Next Fest demos: Mullet Madjack is at the wheel of his car, with long dark hair and hands gripping the wheel

Ah, Steam Next Fest, the only recurring event throughout the year where you can kick back with a nice, cozy, relaxing simulation game and then immediately be thrust into a chaotic FPS with a twist. All of the genre skipping does emulate feelings of whiplash, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I love diving in for a taste of such a huge variety of upcoming games from big budget studios or solo indie developers alike. This time around, I’ve discovered one of the most relaxing games you can get your hands on, a beautifully heartwarming story of loss, a world-building sequel with a titanic spin, and many more. Without further ado, here are the best Steam Next Fest demos I’ve uncovered.

Reus 2

Reus 2 is a sequel, perhaps unsurprisingly, to 2013’s Reus. Created by Abbey Games, Reus 2 is a world-builder with a twist. Taking control of up to three gods, you must terraform a barren planet, and settle nomads who will progress their individual cities to their own tastes, strengths, and conditions. Add mineral deposits and certain trees if you’d like a small settlement of talented scientists, or head to the desert if you’re interested in trying to have plentiful food in a dehydrated environment.

Each milestone will test your ability to place items in the most optimal locations, and the demands of the cities’ people must be met within a limited amount of time or resource consumption. The graphics are what sets this apart from other strategy and management games, with adorable animations and heartwarming leaps of excitement from your civilians. When Reus 2’s full release comes around, I’ll be cozied up under a blanket desperately trying to appease the demands of the people … in a cute way.

Tales of Kenzera Zau

Tales of Kenzera Zau immediately introduces a dynamic that sets it apart from other Metroidvania games. Zau is bargaining with the god of death for his Baba’s spirit, and he can wield either the Sun or Moon mask for different powers. The Moon mask allows you to manipulate time, freezing enemies in place or bringing waterfalls to a halt to enable easy traversal back up them. The Sun mask has not yet had its full power realized, but matching elemental damage to enemy types is satisfying and fluid.

The world of Kenzera is stunningly beautiful, with the environment changing seamlessly until you realize you’re in a deep underground crystalline cave, or dashing across a rainforest cavern. While the demo cuts off around 40 minutes in, the story of Zau shows huge promise, having been inspired by actor Abubakar Salim’s (Assassin’s Creed Origins) own journey through grief and loss, paying tribute to his late father. When the Tales of Kenzera Zau release date rolls around, this will be a must-grab for fans of the Ori series, or anyone looking for an engaging, heartfelt story-led journey through a bewitching game with responsive, satisfying movement and fresh, exciting combat.

Mullet Madjack

This 80s comic book-style, fast-paced FPS is actually set in the future, 2090 to be precise. Our protagonist, Jack, is tasked with shooting, slashing, and dashing through each floor on a mission to rescue our missing “influencer” from a hostage situation. Oh, and the entire thing is being live streamed. The anime fans among you might spot that Jack is inspired by Guts, the iconic character created by the late Kentaro Miura for the ever-iconic Berserk.

You see, in 2090 a human being needs dopamine every ten seconds otherwise they’ll die. How do you get that dopamine? Slaying enemies, of course. For every enemy you take down, more time will be added to your ten-second countdown, and the more creative ways you find to end their existence, the more time you’re given. The synthwave soundtrack is a wonderful accompaniment to the almost-constant robot murder.

Hurtling through corridors of enemies with regular health regeneration points and plentiful ways to extend that dreaded ten-second timer is chaotic, joyous fun. More than a few times I’ve caught myself cackling at a robot being decapitated by my blade, or deciding to self-destruct rather than face my wrath. I’m Jack, and my mullet and I are on a mission to save our influencer. Get out of our way.

The Land Beneath Us

This turn-based roguelite promises “endless replayability” and, after getting my hands on the demo, I couldn’t agree more. In this pixel art dungeon crawler, you’re tasked with seeking out and rescuing The Creator, a modest person who believes she has saved humanity from itself. Unfortunately, not all of humanity agrees, and she’s been taken hostage as a result. Yes, this might feel similar in premise to Mullet MadJack, but the upgrades are far more varied leading to unique approaches to each battle, and the gameplay is entirely different. You can move one square at a time, with indicators for enemy attack zones and options to skip your turn to evade injury.

Entering a room marked with an exclamation point will take you to one of many NPCs – so far I’ve met the blacksmith, who promises to upgrade my weapons, and an angelic figure who’ll help upgrade any of my power-up cards to provide more damage, defense, healing, or stacked effects that can help me topple the plentiful foes in my path. The Land Beneath Us never allows me to tread the same path twice, and so the repetitive nature of a roguelite is somewhat dulled, for the better.

Kamaeru

Kamaeru is possibly the coziest and cutest game on this list. You’ll be tasked with discovering over 500 different frog species via a series of minigames. Customizing your frog refuge with new furniture is adorable, and the options that are unlocked as you progress through the game are varied enough that you could create the frog palace of your dreams. Each furniture item attracts different species of frogs, which you can photograph for your frog journal or just personal keepsakes. In order to attract more frogs, and be able to spend money on more furniture, you’ll also need to work hard to restore the wetlands. Digging ponds and planting native wetlands plants to harvest will allow you to transform your crops into things like Berry Jam, to sell to buy yet more froggy furniture.

Through feeding the frogs you’ll begin to tame them, where you can then take them to the greenhouse for breeding to uncover even more varieties and combinations. A warm cast of welcoming NPC characters will explain all you need to know about Kamaeru, and help you while away the hours without even realizing.

Meta-Ghost The Breaking Show

Meta-Ghost The Breaking Show is a reality show where you’re faced with a multitude of battles, each progressing to the next arena until you face-off against a boss. At the end of each room, you’ll be granted differing rewards including cybernetic enhancements and weapon modifications. It’s the second game in my list to feature a live streamed format, with each battle earning you likes or dislikes depending on how well the audience feels you fought. A handy tier-system is present for each battle, and you can watch your rating soar – or sink – in real-time.

‘Drives’ are awarded for some battles, and at varying intervals you’re given the opportunity to combine these to create newer, stronger Drives to aid your combat preferences. I chose to create a Leap Charge, a drive that grants 30% increase to your ultimate attack each time a battle starts. By the time I reached the boss, my ultimate was regenerating almost instantly and causing hilarious devastation. Meta-Ghost The Breaking Show draws similarities to Hades in its structure of individual arenas, enemy clearance, and reward options, but its visuals, storyline, characters, and bosses are all very distinctive. I’m yet to learn much about ‘The Soul’ who promises to watch my every move, but I’ll definitely be picking up the full version of the game to find out more.

Steam Next Fest demos: the main arcade of Harold Halibut

Harold Halibut

I was skeptical about Harold Halibut to begin with. It might be the funny name, it might be the unusual handmade art style, or it might just be my own preconceived ideas, but I didn’t have hope for the demo, let alone the full game. You play as Harold, and one of the most important early-game tips I have is that Harold can actually run. His slow-paced walk led to some frustration as I wanted to explore every inch of my home, an ark-like spaceship that has landed in an alien ocean and remained there for 250 years. Harold works in the ship’s lab with professor Jeanne Mareaux, who is one of the only inhabitants remaining that refuses to accept a life confined to the ship.

The strong themes of friendship are heartwarming, and Harold’s aloof nature becomes endearing as the demo progresses. It’s one of the longer demos on this list, I had clocked up three hours without really meaning to, but the strength of the narrative and the constant feeling that there’s something to do somewhere held my attention far longer than I first anticipated. The handmade environments, puppets, and lighting are all unfathomably impressive on top.

Chicken Police Into the Hive!

Another sequel, and definitely weirder than others on this list, is Chicken Police Into the Hive! Two rooster detectives head into the insect-led underworld with a global conspiracy to either prove or debunk. Best described as “animal noir” this detective adventure is nothing short of hilarious, with the witty back-and-forth between chicken cops Marty and Sonny proving one of the highlights of the game.

We start our adventure seeking out some aspirin for Marty’s rather intense headache – the result of a gnarly hangover caused by a relationship break-up. But, we end the demo speaking to the Spider Queen after having smooth-talked our way into her lair by convincing Mr. Bart Ender, the bartender, to give us the required information. Along the way, I participate in a drinking game with an inebriated pianist who’s never played the piano, set up a snail and a bug on an unexpected date, and try not to get my head bashed in by an over-eager doorman. Chicken Police Into the Hive is chaotic, sure, but it also provides enough of a compelling narrative that I want to continue long beyond the limited progress the demo provides.

Crypt Custodian

Crypt Custodian is an adorable Metroidvania that sees you in the shoes, sorry, paws of Pluto, a little black cat who has, sadly, been hit by a vehicle and died. Despite the mournful beginning to Crypt Custodian, its gameplay, soundtrack, and storyline are all very heartwarming. You’ll begin your journey as Pluto by being refused access to the “palace” – the place where the good kitties go after death, for smashing up some statues on your way. Oops.

Instead, Pluto is sentenced to be the afterworld’s janitor forever, and along the way you’ll meet a huge range of enemies and other doomed kitties in a stunning environment with a twinkling original soundtrack. Don’t forget to clean your trash up in order to power-up your weapons and skills, and fulfil your janitor role to the Afterlife Guardian’s satisfaction. With mysterious locked areas, collectibles, and boss fights, the full version of Crypt Custodian will be a must-have for any fans of similar platformers and Metroidvanias such as Tunic or the Ori series.

There you have it; the best Steam Next Fest demos. You’ve got a range of Metroidvania games, one of the most whacky but brutal FPS games, and a range of cozy and relaxing games to see you on until the next Steam sale comes around. Which one’s your favorite?