Round Up Time: Seven Video Game Demos from Gamescom

Holy cow I am SOOO behind on posts here!  Unfortunately, the whole COVID thing has been heck on ye’ ol’ mental health and getting stuff done, especially the longer it goes on.  I’m still working, which I’m grateful for of course, and have been working from home since mid-March at this point.  Actually have some good stuff I need to post about that too, in terms of stuff learned on the current project, but said project is a big one, we’re behind, and already putting in a bunch of OT, so it is hard to stop and make a decent enough note enough to remind myself to post about something later. 😅  That said, we’ve hit some fascinating (and at times frustrating) things while doing the app, too much of which is lacking documentation so definitely want to get it down later.

For now, though, let’s do some video game catch ups!  Starting with game demos.  Gamescom 2020 was done virtually this year, for obvious reasons.  It included an Indie Arena Booth on Steam that included a variety of demos of upcoming games to play, and I managed to play seven before they expired.  So here are my very quick thoughts and screenies for each (titles will all link to the Steam page).

A Juggler’s Tale

In this platformer, you play as a string puppet named Abby, who lives in a string puppet world.  Tired of living in a cage at a circus, she makes a break for freedom.  Visually it reminded me of Yarny, which I enjoyed, so it certainly seemed like my sort of game.  It also had an interesting twist: is the narrator really someone who is on Abby’s side, or a twisted watcher that she may also need to escape?   Alas, there isn’t much more I can really say about this one as the demo was extremely short and pretty much just gave you a feel for the controls and the basics of Abby’s escape.  Still, it was enough to have my wishlist it as soon as I was done, so it did its job well!

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Out of Place

This one has a nice, enticing Steam page, with the screenshots showing an intriguing looking game of a boy with his floating mechanical companion taking on other mechanical beings.  Despite having some typos and grammatical issues, the sales copy indicated it would be an action-adventure about just that, helping the boy and his companion find their way home.  A tale of “friendship, hope, and courage.”   All sound pretty good to me!   Further down in the copy, it then says it tells of a relationship between two teenage boys who form a strong bond… okay, so guessing the metal companion is the other boy or something?  Maybe.  Whatever, we need more stories showing healthy male friendships, let’s go!

And… WTF was that game?  Either of those games?  Because it sure wasn’t anywhere in this demo.  When it starts, you are just dropped in a scene, no context, no tutorial, no instructions at all.  Pretty much just figure it out on your own.  Now, I’m fine with a story starting with no context, it can work well, but then immediately throwing you in a battle scenario without any kind of clue on what controls do what yet?  Yeah, less than ideal and made for a miserable experience all around.  The companion’s purpose is also left pretty much unexplained.  It does at least tell you button presses to change something, but good luck figuring out just WTF those are, how to use them, or what they should do.  Overall this demo left me with no idea what was going on, what to do, how to do it, or why I should care about any of the characters on screen.  Suffice to say, a no go for me.

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To the Rescue!

This one was certainly something a little different:  a dog shelter simulator.   What more could you ask for than a colorful, cute looking game where you get to take care of and find homes for puppies!   Maybe a game that wasn’t so buggy as to be nearly unplayable?  Yeah…

It “supported” controllers, but only for movement, everything else required using mouse and keyboard.  It did have plenty of tutorials to lead you through running the shelter, but the instructions didn’t actually match the key and mouse button presses that would eventually work to do it, especially trying to leash a dog to take it to a kennel.  And the place to get water had no actual bucket to get water, though it said it did.  It also froze on me three times while playing the demo for a relatively short time, which just isn’t a big selling point.

From what I could see before I finally noped out, the character and companion dog options are limited to the point of being almost pointless in offering a choice at all.  Even the intake dogs seemed to be limited to just a handful of possible breeds that all look the same.  Having generated unique traits and all is great, but surely it can’t be that hard to at least include the most well-known breeds and some good old mutts? And while the game itself has a very cutesy, cheerful job, it also has players having to make the had choice of potentially euthanizing dogs to make space for those that are rated as being more adoptable.  Realistic?  Sadly for a lot of rescues.  Just not something I expect to have at me in an otherwise saccharin-looking game.  (there is an option to “release” them instead of euthanizing them, but that’s just a more horrible choice, I mean really???

(no screenies because of all the buggery)

8Doors: Arum’s Afterlife Adventure

2D platformer?  Yep, already listening… Based on the Korean afterlife where Arum is a living girl who goes to Purgatory to find her father’s soul and ends up helping the afterlife deal with specters and saving fugitive souls?  *shut up and take my money!*  Well, maybe that fast, though if it was available it would so be in my currently playing list now!

8Doors features a beautifully done gray tone visual design that uses splashes of red and white for maximum impact.  Arum is cute, tiny, and can kick ass while wearing a frog on her head!  LOL.  The gameplay felt smooth, controls were easy to pick up, and it has enough unique touches with the use of both Arum and her companion’s abilities to keep it from feeling like “just another” platformer.

The story is likely going to make me tear up, but it covers it with a delicate touch of humor that provides needed relief without distracting from the overall seriousness of the situation.  So yeah, the demo is still available, so if you like platformers, go play it!  If my budget allows, I will be backing their Kickstarter!  If not, it will be purchased when it’s out because so far every bit of it is awesomeness.

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Death and Taxes

It was described as a narrative-based game where you play as an office-bound Grim Reaper deciding who lives and dies, with your choices having consequences to the world around you.  Okay, sounds like a pretty good set up and again, good looking pics on the store page.  Except, the game seemed to just literally spending every single “day” at a desk with a sheath of papers on people to choose from, the live/die stamper, a cell phone, a fidget, and an instruction note that may tell you how some of your choices should be done.  No take-backs, so once it’s stamped, it’s stamped.  When you’re done, send the papers off then you have a “review” session Fate, your boss and creator.  Rinse, repeat.

The conversations with your creator, Fate, seem to imply you are not limited to following the instructions, that you could choose to rebel against it all, and that perhaps there would be more to the game yet to come.  The demo, however, did a poor job of demonstrating it being anything but a tedious office simulator where you just check papers, stamp, submit, and go.  I was pretty disappointed as I liked the art style, the hints of humor, and there’s a kitty!  It isn’t a 100% no go, I’ll keep an eye on it, see if there really is more past that, but for now, it would be a pass.

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The Fabled Wood

The very generic title and its rather amateurish typesetting weren’t the most promising, but still, I have a weak spot for narrative walking simulators, particularly when it speaks of a beautiful place sullied by dark secrets.  Yay horror bend!  So yeah, let’s try the demo, why not?

Wow… talk about a hot mess.  The MC, who is nameless, starts in some woods.  No context for getting there, just “oh, I’m here” and then you’re being talked to by some voice who I was pretty sure was a ghost.  And while he babbles about looking for his son and being annoyingly vague, we walk through these lovely woods to find campsites with enough blood-soaked rocks to make it pretty clear whoever was camping there is pretty dead.  And MC is apparently faceless, nameless, and completely lacking in personality, as there is no reaction, no anything.   100% self-insert I suppose?

From the opening, I basically got the idea that some sort of monster is on this island thing, murdered our ghost companion, murdered some campers, and may have something to do with the ghost man’s missing son (or is the missing son, my personal guess).  We find the ghost guy’s corpse, and then suddenly he is bound to stay at that cabin and can’t go with us anymore even though he was with us for all the rest of the woods, wut??  Hello, consistency much?

The store page compares this game to Gone Home and Firewatch, which is rather bold considering how far from them this demo seemed to be.  There was no indication of why we, the protagonist, should even stick around in this place versus just leaving and calling authorities to report some deaths.  I mean seriously, who would just go “oh, sure Mr. Ghost person, there is a lot of blood, at least two dead men killed by something, and yeah, I’ll look around for you.”  Ugh.

Really is a shame, the animation looked good and there were some lovely water and landscapes.  The music was nice, and while the controls were occasionally wonky, overall it looked and felt fine.  Alas, flash just seems to cover generic and ill-fleshed out plot.

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This was a demo I’d been looking forward to awhile, featuring some drop-dead gorgeous trailers and indications that the gameplay would have the couple doing coordinated actions that could still be done either playing alone or with someone else playing the second half.  Plus, a story of a seemingly mature couple willing to risk it all, leave their world, to be together when society wouldn’t let them.  So many checks on my score sheet!

This one, alas, also ended up being a little disappointing, though not as badly as it could have.  It actually did meet all of the expectations I had in terms of that first description.  Graphically: stunning!  Gliding is awesome and the characters even snark if you dare to walk too much instead of using a clearly superior transportation method.  And the world they are in certainly has some interesting elements, including being made of floating chunks of earth that you need to use special paths to get between, and it’s a place the characters themselves don’t know so they are having to learn about as you go.  And you can nice long scritches to the sweetest, most adorable lizards ever!

And yet, when the demo was done, it all felt lacking somehow.  The opening gets a little overly long on establishing that they are stuck, bored with the same food and that they are a couple who have been together a while, presumably, and yet seem to not know basics about each other?  Like she forgot what he studies?  Not just a little, but totally different areas of science.  The coordinated actions are awesome, once you figure out the controls (the actual mechanism wasn’t quite clear when the game introduced it), and I love that when fighting creatures you can pacify them to calm whatever made them angry because they are usually harmless!

Perhaps it was simply that it was already feeling repetitive.  You glide around, collect any food resources on the screen, try to glide along the blue lines to gather energy for some purpose, and can interact with some of the friendly creatures.  You eventually find some rust stuff infecting parts of the world which turn the creatures angry, so you clean that up by gliding through it, maybe fight and pacify infected creatures, and then on to the next island.

It was interesting when the rust was found, but then it quickly became commonplace and there was little feeling at the end of the demo that it was going to change and that more was to come.  Perhaps the demo kept back too much, the game is just a slow starter all around, or if perhaps the game is lacking the substance to go with the impressive start.  Still, I want to be hopeful on this one and will be keeping an eye on it, see what the reviews say, and if a newer demo is released, maybe even try it again.  It won’t be true wish list material yet, but there is promise there that I hope it fulfills.

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