From Oct. 3 to Oct. 10, Steam held one of its seasonal Next Fest events, an online celebration that collects hundreds of free playable demos of upcoming independent games for players to choose from. It’s an opportunity for up-and-coming developers to show off their latest work and for interested gamers to fill up their wishlists. Here are a few that might be worth keeping an eye on.

"Stick it To The Stickman"

Harkening back to the heyday of flash game websites like Stickpage and Newgrounds, "Stick it to the Stickman," releasing next year, is a comedic physics-based beat 'em up about stick figures climbing a ruthless corporate ladder through slapstick violence. "Stickman" is a humorous and surprisingly slick game created by Free Lives, known for their action film parody game "Broforce" and VR gladiatorial arena "Gorn." Build your fighting style by learning upgrades that add new moves or empower old ones. Be strategic about it or just mash the attack key to fling enemies out of office windows. The grind has never been this fun. You can play with a friend, too!

"Friends vs Friends"

The card game renaissance in video gaming, as evidenced by anime-styled first-person shooter "Neon White" and the spookily meta "Inscryption" amid countless others, continues with "Friends vs Friends." Opening with a delightful animated intro, the game is a deviously tense FPS where cartoon animals gun each other down while drawing bonuses from a deck of cards. Players are able to customize their deck with additional weapons, zany power ups like making an opponent’s head bigger and even crazier effects like turning the battlefield into a nuclear hellscape. The aesthetic is unique and the focused one-on-one duels provide a fresh take on classic FPS gameplay. Definitely one to look out for, especially if you can get a friend on board.


What if the little drawings in the margins of medieval manuscripts could fight each other? That’s a question nobody ever asked but one that "Inkulinati" developer Yaza Games aims to answer. In "Inkulinati," players act as dueling medieval scribes doing battle with those not-quite-anatomically-correct-but-still-pretty-cute animals straight out of a Monty Python sketch. Bipedal bunnies fire bows, cats walk on hind legs to bless the battlefield and donkeys play trumpets through their asses (sorry, couldn’t resist). The style is remarkably authentic, and the battles are also intense. On several occasions, the AI player outsmarted me with its tactical use of creatures and the environment, playing me for a court jester rather than a master of strategy. For those seeking a slower, thinki-er game, quest no further than "Inkulinati."


What’s black and white and red all over? "OTXO" (pronounced Ocho). A new game by solo developer Lateralis, "OTXO" is a hyper-violent top-down shooter in the tradition of "Hotline Miami," featuring an unnamed, faceless protagonist delving into a surreal Victorian mansion filled with heavily-armed enemies. Death comes quickly, as enemies are eager to empty their guns’ magazines into the player with the slightest misstep. The player has access to a satisfying time-slow mechanic and a mysterious bartender serving bottles of liquor filled with upgrades every few levels. But the brutal difficulty of the game’s forebears remains. "OTXO" also cleverly weaves rogue-like elements into the "Hotline Miami" format, with an ever-changing mansion that has shifting rooms and enemies around every turn. Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of the game is the sound. The game’s soundtrack, composed by the Lateralis himself, is an excellent accompaniment to the ultra violence. The constant gunfire of the game is also shockingly loud, turning every shootout into a twitchy, heart-pumping affair.


Released just in time for Halloween on Oct. 27, "Signalis" is a sci-fi survival horror game inspired by classics like "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill." Telling a chilling tale of cosmic horror, "Signalis" is a tense, creepy game about an android named Elster attempting to find her lost co-pilot on a desolate alien planet. Players navigate retro-futuristic spaces scavenging for precious supplies while using limited ammunition to fend off eerie monsters hounding her every step. The game features a detailed lo-fi look and a unique flavor that merges Cold War Communist aesthetic with haunting sci-fi corridors dripping with blood. The game also references the classic book The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, a telling marker of the game’s effective take on existential horror. The "Signalis" demo was quite short but nevertheless a compelling introduction to what is shaping up to be an instant horror hit.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Raw Fury via Youtube.