You can keep your fancy AAA showcases, because the February 2024 Steam Next Fest is here to let us go hands-on with a wealth of exciting, in-developments titles. But with such a ridiculous number available, where should you start? Well, we’ve cannonballed directly in the demo pool to seek out delights among the deluge. Below you’ll find the best Steam Next Fest demos we’ve found so far.
The best Steam Next Fest demos we’ve found so far
A quick note: The list below is a work in progress. With the February Steam Next Fest ongoing, we’ll be updating this list as we discover more of the best demos for you to try.
Children of the Sun
Imagine taking Sniper Elite’s main character, giving them bullet-redirecting abilities to impress even James McAvoy in Wanted, and then feeding them nothing but mushrooms and LSD for a week straight. That’s about the level of psychedelic, supernatural deadliness that Children of the Sun’s protagonist reaches.
Hunting a cult that led to the death of your presumed parental figure, you have but one bullet to take out every single goon on a given level. The good news? You’ve also inherited the ability to redirect the shot after it rips through a target.
More of a puzzle game than a shooter, Children of the Sun sees you rotating around a venue to find the ideal initiation point before pinging a shot through every soft target in the vicinity. The demo includes a generous selection of levels, and introduces a few extra mechanics along the way. It’s an brilliant showcase of the core concept and the potential for plenty more evolutions in the full release.
Your standard jumping? That’s an old-man’s game. Leave it to grandpa Mario, because Pepper Grinder is here to add a literal spin to the 2D platforming format. Protagonist Pepper can hop about like a regular joe, sure, but equipped with a sizable and sharply pointed grinder, she’s also capable of drilling through the earth to find new paths and launch herself into the air, and spiral through unwise foes in her path
Pepper grinder’s narrative set up of a shipwrecked pirate on the hunt to recover lost treasure perfectly sets the stage for its colorful cartoon world. Undulating through the earth to your next big leap, it’s hard to keep from grinning at both the ridiculous nature of the world, and your own ingenuity in carving a path through it. The best kind of grinding a game can offer.
Spirit City: Lofi Sessions
The ever studious YouTube Lofi Girl has scribbled away in the background for countless hours of our work days, and sparked myriad imitators while she’s at it. Spirit City: Lofi Sessions is easily one of the most impressive. Designed as a focus tool more than a game, it lets you customize your own character before setting a relaxing scene with options to adjust including their location, the time of day, and background sound effects like a crackling fire or rain on the window.
Once your view is set, you can tinker with lofi playlists, create to-do lists, and set timers for yourself to get tasks done. Spirit City: Lofi Sessions does include a game of sorts, with collectible spirit companions appearing based on certain environmental settings, but it’s designed to be interacted with sparingly. Crucially, it also runs naturally in windowed mode, making it ideal background or second-monitor fodder while you focus on your pesky real-life tasks. The full version promises further room and character customization, as well as the option to set habits and record a daily journal.
For even more pastel-shaded, lo-fi relaxation, but with a little more interactivity in your game, check out Minami Lane. A very, very light touch city-builder game (more of a lane-builder, really) in which you try to maximize joy for the residents of a single street. Build Ramen stalls, Boba shops and bookstores to bring in the dough, and don't forget to space out your houses and businesses with parks and onsen baths to keep your beauty stat high. You also have to do a bit of store management, Theme Park-style, by adjusting the ratio of ingredients and the profit margin to match the tastes of the residents. Tip: youths are broke and like pork in their ramen, but olds are rich and like shrimp.
There are two mission-based levels in the NextFest demo to show you how the objective-oriented game plays (achieve a certain satisfaction rating in a certain number of days, bring in so much money per day, etc) but the full release will have a sandbox mode so you can just keep plonking down shops and parks to your heart's content. Very pleasing plonks they are, too.
Lysfanga: Time Shift Warrior
If you’ve ever complained about a co-op partner, try working with yourself for a change. In Lysfanga’s hack-and-slash arenas, you’re given multiple time-limited runs at taking down every enemy in your path. When the clock runs out (or you manually trigger a rewind) you’ll be zipped back to the start, where your previous attempt will then repeat its actions alongside you. The challenge, then, is plotting out careful paths for each instance, optimizing your route and time to eliminate as many targets as possible.
It’s a system that transforms Lysfanga into as much of a puzzle game as combat one. Some enemies need to be taken out simultaneously, demanding you work in tight timing with your previous selves. The hook comes as you realize the ways you can combo with your previous selves, or manually rewind to maximize your time and power efficiency. The demo’s final, multi-stage boss has you working with more than five previous versions of yourself in a barrage of strikes, dodges, and screen-covering explosions
Tired of punching trees in survival games? Pacific Drive will put you in the driving seat from the get go. Navigating the mysterious Olympic Exclusion Zone, you're reliant on a humble station wagon – albeit one loaded with several fancy gizmos – as the only means of survival against dangerous anomalies and deadly rolling storms which ravage all in their path. Scavenging anything and everything you need to keep it running is therefore the utmost priority.
Guided by a few friendly voices, you'll have the chance to repair and upgrade your vehicle in a home base of an auto shop before heading out for a single venture. One that's likely to see you encounter some unusual and unfriendly anomalies. With Pacific Drive set to release on February 22, the demo is the ideal chance to see if it gets your engine revving before buying in.
Tony Hawk has done a lot of gnarly stuff, but we’ve never seen him slice through a demonic eyeball mid-kickflip. Not on camera, anyway. But within five minutes of Hellskate’s demo, cut through demons just as often as you kickflip. Each level of this skateboarding roguelike is loaded with a selection of monsters to chop apart, but you’ll likely spend far longer chasing down hidden secrets and challenges, many of which have been taken straight out of the Pro Skater playbook.
The skating itself is far more forgiving than Pro Skater ever was, but you’ll appreciate that when trying to balance attack-boosting trick combos and dodging incoming attacks at the same time. Make sure to stick on a pair of HyperX headphones so you can rock out to the punk soundtrack as you tear up environments and enemies alike.
The Land Beneath Us
Roguelikes on Steam now pop up faster than zombies in a necromancer’s test lab, so it takes one doing something particularly interesting to hold our attention. The Land Beneath Us brings an immediately intriguing mix of turn-based grid combat with directional weaponry. Each run through its cyberspace realm will see you equipping blades and guns to your up, down, left, and right slots, then carefully navigating around enemies which move at the same time as you.
You’ll quickly unlock weapons and abilities which shift you and your enemies about each other and around the arenas. Equip the right selection and you can set up chained strikes for maximum damage. A solid demo for the tactical roguelike tinkerers.
Solitaire used to be a staple time filler back before proper video games became widespread, and while Balastro's cards have far more game to them, it's hard not to feel like it fills that same niche. A roguelike played with a regular deck of cards – at first anyway – your aim is to play poker hands to beat each levels "blind" value. That target increases as you head towards the current boss level, which throws extra hurdles like drawing every other hand face down.
As you progress, you're able to upgrade both the cards in your deck and the poker combos you're scoring, create larger multipliers and honing your deck to a design. Skew the big points toward scoring straights, or boost cards of a certain suit before converting your deck to their color – there are plenty of options for engine building, and the demo's generous length lets you delve into them thoroughly.
Enjoy the idea of hack-and-slash games like Hades or Deaths Door but find them a touch too demanding? Crypt Custodian's may be just the entry point to have you purring. Playing as the spirit of a recently deceased cat, you find yourself tasked with an enternity of cleaning up trash and trash monsters with little more than a broom in hand. Unless, that is, you can find a way to enter the promised land of the Palace. Crypt Custodian features a wonderfully gentle art style that suits the setting and level of challenge perfectly. Exploring the first realm of the afterlife, you'll have the chance to unlock a few powers, face the first boss – arachnaphobes should note this sequence includes spiders, albeit cuter, blobby ones – and even make a friend.
We’ll be updating this list with more great demos as we discover them, so check back again soon for more of the best Steam Next Fest demos you should play! And while you are enjoying Steam Next Fest, ensure you're getting the most out of all the games above and more by picking up high-end HyperX gaming gear.