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16 great Steam Next Fest demos to play first this February

Our top demo picks to get you started

Steam Next Fest is back with a veritable truck ton of fresh game demos to sample, and we've been plunging our eager little mitts into the latest batch of indie delights to unearth some handy recommendations for you to hit first. Running from now until February 13th, there are always oodles of demos to try in a Next Fest, so sometimes it's nice to have a helping hand in working out what's worth sinking your time into. Below, we've rounded up 16 of our favourites so far, and we'll be writing about plenty more demos we've yet to try over the coming week.

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Like previous Next Fests, we've only had access to a small portion of the full February Next Fest slate ahead of time, and what you'll see below is a selection of games that stood out to us the most in that early slice. There are no doubt loads more great demos to play across the next week and a bit that we haven't covered here (as well as some like The Great War: Western Front whose demos we wrote about in more detail last week), so if you happen across something neat, be sure to shout about it in the comments. We'll be playing and writing about more demos across the coming days, so watch out for further highlights later in the week. For now, though, here's what we think you should download first in this latest February Next Fest.

Xenonauts 2

An image of soldiers infiltrating an office in Xenonauts 2. There's a big patch of rubble and blood in the centre of the image.

Hayden: Xenonauts 2 is a tough-as-nails split between base management and turn-based tactics that, like its predecessor, harkens back to the X-COMs of old. It’s an overwhelming game, and one that offers little guidance in learning how to defend the world from aliens. In fact, much of my time with the demo was spent getting slaughtered by them.

They might shoot your troops through a slim line of sight that you could never have predicted. They might get got by their own teammate, who knew they’d miss a shot but decided to go whole hog and commit anyway. My favourite death so far is a soldier whose name I didn’t even get a chance to learn, because they got shot on round one, went berserk, and blew themselves up with a grenade launcher. RIP... that guy.

But, even after it threw me out of the frying pan, clobbered me with it, doused me in oil, and chucked me into the fire of a UFO crash site, I came out with a wide grin. It’s tough. Really tough. These little troops barely stand a chance. But, after months of having superhero strength in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, that’s exactly what I need.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Mr Sun's Hatbox

Several blob characters have a fight in an underground warehouse in Mr Sun's Hatbox

Katharine: One of this year's IGF nominees for Excellence in Design, Mr Sun's Hatbox is a game with an exceedingly daft premise - Mr Sun's hatbox gets stolen by the dastardly Mr Moon - that's executed to absolute perfection. Who are the other blobs with legs in Mr Moon's employ? Doesn't matter. All you need to worry about is bopping them on the noggin, nicking their headwear, and maybe fulton balloon-ing both them and their weapon back to your underground HQ Metal Gear Solid V-style so you can prepare for your big, end of level hat heist.

This is a platforming roguelike that feels both tightly controlled and wonderfully chaotic in the hands. With only a set number of fulton balloons at your disposal, you'll be swapping hats and weapons throughout your run, chucking soup vats for springy punching gloves and baguettes for bow and arrows. It's entirely unpredictable, and I absolutely love it. What's more, each rotund blob dude you recruit has their set of randomized quirks and personality traits you'll have to deal with too, which includes wigging out at the sight of corpses (of which there are many in a general run of Mr Sun's Hatbox), and having a 'skin condition' where medkits actually hurts you. Honestly, I should have guessed from the name 'Bandages' Alvarez. Not all traits are bad, though. The more you level them up, the better they become, with my blob guys growing out of bad habits and into newer, more useful ones. Alas, the 20-odd minute demo in this year's Next Fest doesn't leave you a lot of room to get to know many of your round lads, but cor, what a great first impression all the same.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Shadows Of Doubt

An NPC holds his umbrella in the rain in open world city mystery Shadows Of Doubt.
Image credit: Fireshine Games

Ollie: Shadows Of Doubt is a game you should be interested in even if you don't intend to play it. It's a sandbox detective game where everything is procedurally generated, from the rain-soaked hyper-industrialised noir city to its hundreds of inhabitants, and even the crimes and cases themselves. That's right - not even the crimes are scripted.

I played an hour or so of an admittedly rough demo and it was overwhelming, frequently stressful, but honestly quite staggering in its ambition. Following a lead, I journeyed to an apartment where I came across a dead body. I skulked around for clues on what happened, pinning dozens of tidbits of information to my investigation board, and drawing links between the pins as I saw fit. Completely under my own steam, I phoned numbers in the deceased's address book, scanned fingerprints, and was about to leave to chase my newfound leads when I heard police at the door. With seconds to spare I hid inside a cupboard, and remained there while they searched the place, adrenaline pumping, wondering if they would ever leave or if they'd open the cupboard door and I'd have to somehow fight my way out - if I even could. There's so much I still don't understand about Shadows Of Doubt, and I'm not entirely convinced that I actually had fun playing it, but it's fascinating and incredibly impressive, and I felt an immersion while playing that I haven't felt probably since Cyberpunk 2077.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Mr Saitou

A man named Mr Saitou looks at a drawing of llama worms all called Saitou in the game Mr Saitou

Ed: I loved Rakuen, a pixel art RPG that mixed serious themes with fantasy cuteness, and developer Laura Shigihara's newest offering is Mr. Saitou, a game set in the same universe as Rakuen. Just going by its short demo, I'm convinced it's going to be equally as special.

You play as Mr. Saitou, a white-collar worker whose life is dictated by a bruising corporate regime, and whose health crumbles in a series of quick flashbacks. The demo starts with a visit to hospital, as you meet an upbeat kid who sketches you, Mr. Saitou, as a fusion of a llama and a worm - a llamaworm! Despite Mr. Saitou's early irritation, it's clearly the start of a healing process. He even cracks a smile. After falling asleep, Mr. Saitou awakes in a fantasy version of his corpo-life as a... llamaworm? Wait, everyone is a llamaworm?! I won't spoil anymore, but it's genuinely hilarious throughout, and a great commentary on the absurdities of business. Straight on the wishlist.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire

A vampire waters flowers under a sheet in Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire

Alice Bee: I'm not big on survival games like Don't Starve because I am very bad at them, but darn it if Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire didn't spark joy in my empty heart. Voltaire himself is a lil vampire who prefers broccoli to delicious necks, and is thus cast out to make a life for himself in a nearby graveyard owned by his uncles (who are two heads on one Frankenstein's monster body). By day, you plant Halloween-themed vegetable crops, harvest any that have grown to maturity, and gather water and other resources. By night, you set traps and fend off the nasty monsters sent by your dad to destroy your plants and scupper your vegetarianism. There are some clever curve balls in the design that force you to balance your garden space very carefully. It's both smart and cute.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

It’s A Wrap!

A man gets electrocuted by a giant shadowy mech in It's A Wrap!

Rachel: I first spotted It’s A Wrap! at PAX West last year and was immediately intrigued with its gimmick. It’s a platformer where you use the different tracks of an editing suite to affect the scene above, then when you press pay you have to guide your character through the perfectly timed chaos you’ve just coordinated. It’s such a smart idea for a platformer, and one that also works incredibly well in practice.

Each level plays out like a Hollywood film set: you’re given a script to follow and then have to synchronise the set and the actor so the action scene will play out perfectly. One level had me working out the timings of some falling rocks in an Indiana Jones-style film, where I had to get the order and the timings of each one correct so that when the action phase kicked in, my little dude could jump out of the way of each one just in time without getting splatted. In another level, I had to get the timings of set pieces correctly so that the main character could sneak past a giant robot on the set on a sci-fi film. It's such a fun and smarty idea! I loved this demo and am definitely keeping my eyes on the Steam page for a release date.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Shady Knight

Armoured enemies leap toward the player in the abstract hellscape of Shady Knight

Liam: Oh, I do love a game that lets you do a big kick. Shady Knight features a lovely long leg whack that makes your shadowy adversaries ragdoll into the dirt, alongside a grappling hook that achieves largely the same result. Your goal here is to reach the top of small, isolated fortresses without getting stabbed by baddies or bitten to death by massive spiders on your way up. You’re physically powerful, but that doesn’t stop everything feeling very scrappy. There’s a lot of scrambling up walls, here. Grappling to hard to reach ledges. Kicking a man repeatedly against a wooden crate until he drops his sword. You can pick up weapons by dashing into them, but enemies can knock them out your hands just as easily. Fights are tense and tough, death is frequent and success must be earned. Shady Knight rules.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

City Of Beats

A red robed player character fires bullets at crates atop four skyscrapers in City Of Beats

James: I’ve been enjoying the recent surge of rhythm-violence games as much as the next amateur bassist, though I very much appreciate how twin stick shooter City of Beats builds that zen, in-the-zone feeling without demanding perfect adherence to a metronome. You’ll still get further through its roguelite rooftop runs once you learn to time charge attacks and dodges to the beat, but for most of your damage output, there’s nothing wrong with simply holding the trigger down.

If anything, it’s encouraged, as City of Beats’ laser weaponry is itself part of the soundtrack. The more firepower on-screen, the more beeping synths are layered on top of one another, and each run culminates in a bullet hell boss fight that captivates eyes and ears simultaneously. A fitting and quite literal crescendo to twenty minutes of tuneful, nicely atmospheric blasting.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Wandering Sword

Four martial artists fight evil hogs in a forest in Wandering Sword

Katharine: When Wandering Sword was first announced last year, this wuxia take on Square Enix's HD-2D-style of RPGs instantly caught my attention. In this substantial Next Fest demo, Wandering Sword sees you take up the mantle of Yuwen Yi, a warrior who suffers a near-fatal accident after a brush with some frosty frog poison. As you recuperate in a picturesque mountain village, you get to grips with its turn-based grid battles, levelling up your Qi and Meridian paths to boost your stats and, of course, learning key martial arts moves based around swordplay, sabers, fists, polearms and hidden weapons.

The UI still needs some work - in battles, it throws a heck of a lot of text at you at once and discerning what your attacks actually do and what range they have can be difficult through all the different coloured fonts, description and large text boxes that obscure the action. But there's no denying there's a lot of potential in its large, grid-based arena battles - think The Banner Saga meets Octopath Traveler - and I'm intrigued to see how it develops how it heads toward release. If you're in need of a pretty pixel art RPG to tide you over until Octopath Traveler II arrives, this is well worth a shot.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Super Auto Battlemon

Monsters line up to do battle in a mountainous landscape in Super Auto Battlemon

Ed: Taking cues from Super Auto Pets, Super Auto Battlemon (SAB) sees you command a queue of monsters that look like cardboard cutouts. And as SAB is an auto-battler, "command", is a loose terms for pressing play and watching them duke it out against a rival line of monsters. What's neat is the game's roguelike elements, which see you selecting a path on a map in a similar way to, say, Slay The Spire, with the ultimate aim of reaching the big boss at the end. As you defeat monsters, you'll get to pick certain 'mon to add to your collection, or upgrade them with EXP, or grant them certain affinities. It could work on communicating its effects and passives and the like a bit better, but hey, I still had a lot of fun optimising my perfect queue of cutesy critters.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Amanda The Adventurer

A CG girl and sheep look at the player through a television screen in Amanda The Adventurer

Rebecca: This time last year I wrote about how the >Steam Next Fest demo for My Friendly Neighborhood had me feeling excited for indie horror again. I'm pleased to say that the publishers at DreadXP have repeated the trick with Amanda The Adventurer, another absolutely cursed game based on a fictional(ish, it's not hard to see where the inspiration comes from) children's TV show.

To be clear, I'm not accusing DreadXP of pigeonholing themselves or the developers under their banner. Outside of sharing a broad premise, Amanda The Adventurer plays out very differently to My Friendly Neighborhood. While in MFN you were fighting back with an arsenal of colourful weapons, Amanda The Adventurer just wants you to find and watch a few videos, answer some basic vocabulary questions, maybe complete some simple typing training. All activities appropriate to pre-school edutainment programming. Don't worry about those messages scrawled in blood all over the walls (although, if you do choose to study them, you might spot a release date tease being revealed among the gore the more you play).

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Cook Serve Forever

Preparing a fruity donut dish in a Cook Serve Forever screenshot.

Liam: The act of playing Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! was an experience not entirely dissimilar to being attacked by a wolf while trying to gift wrap it at the same time. I loved the idea of creating delicious meals within a strict time limit, but the game seemed determined to give me a full blow panic attack four minutes into every play session. By comparison, the demo for Cook Serve Forever feels borderline relaxing. The game’s refreshed cooking mechanics certainly make a difference. Dishes are now prepared by pressing a sequence of buttons for each step of a recipe. Mash A four times. Hold down B. Press any button. Thankfully things aren’t too easy. CSF attempts to trip you by asking you to do things like press any button other than A, with mistakes preventing you from progressing further for a few seconds. This sharp reduction in stress may leave existing fans wanting more, but Cook Serve Forever feels like it’s catering to my specific tastes.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Tape To Tape

An ice hockey goalie ties themselves to the goal in Tape To Tape

Ollie: Am I really so simple? Can a game developer really just slam together two such disparate ideas - hockey and roguelites - and I am fated to enjoy it immensely despite the obvious ridiculousness of such an abomination?

Tape To Tape is a cartoon-y retro-style hockey game - and a surprisingly solid one at that - wrapped up in the bones of a roguelite. In your efforts to propel your burgeoning team of wild-eyed puck-smashers to greatness, you must guide them along a Slay The Spire-esque map of choices. Some are matches with opposing teams, while others will give you a chance to earn new abilities or increase the attributes of your team members. It works well because they really lean into the silliness of the abilities your team can employ. One of my skaters' special powers was to send their stick hurtling in the direction I choose, often knocking down my own players as often as the opponents. At one juncture I even bribed the referee so that they would occasionally body check my opponents. It was wonderful, and by far the most fun I've had with a demo so far this Steam Next Fest.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Super Adventure Hand

A disembodied hand scuttles over office chairs in Super Adventure Hand

Rachel: Okay, so this one is a little weird, but hear me out. You play as a disembodied hand on an adventure to… well, I’m not exactly sure what the hands wants, but Super Adventure Hand is a great demo regardless. Playing as a disembodied human hand, you need to make it from the beginning of each level to the end, scuttling on the tips of your fingertips, grabbing at nooks in the walls to climb, and using your nimble fingers to leap from platform to platform.

The platforming is fine, nothing special honestly, but what you’re really here for is the hand itself, which feels strangely satisfying to control. You don’t have to hold the triggers for each individual finger or anything, just holding the joystick to move is all that’s needed, but there's a rubbery-ness to its movements that just adds to the overall feel of scuttling along each level. Just boot it up for the hand-feely-ness alone, and if you’re into it, definitely stick around long enough to see the creepy feet with googly-eyes, too.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


An isometric top down view of a cell-shaded coastal village in Outlanders

Liam: I played a fair old chunk of The Settlers: New Allies last week, and although I very much enjoyed my time with it, a few folks in the comments mourned the days when games in the series were less about thwomping armies and more about cutting down trees and baking bread. If that was you, may I suggest giving the demo for Outlanders a go? Originally an Apple Arcade exclusive, this delightful little city-builder feels right at home on PC. Its campaign is split into miniature scenarios that challenge you to complete certain tasks such as producing a set number of planks in order to repair a ship, or cultivating a huge crop of tomatoes for a village-wide feast. Each level takes around 40 minutes, just enough time to test your ability to manage supply chains efficiently or to use an island’s limited space effectively. It all looks lovely, too, employing block pastel colours to great effect. I suspect Outlanders will consume my free time completely when it launches in the (hopefully) near future.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Mail Time

A bird compliments a wood sprite in Mail Time

Alice Bee: I don't know what it is, but things where you are a Borrower-sized person running around are fucking well good. They light up so many parts of my brain, and make me kick my legs like a happy toddler grabbing a cat's face. Mail Time is one of these, a sort-of-collectathon where you're a newly trained tiny woodland mail carrier with a mushroom for a hat and an acorn for a backpack. The demo is the first level and it's the most utterly charming thing I've seen this year. You run through a forest of nodding flowers, and bounce on mushrooms to reach a hedgehog who lives in a tree. Beatrix Potter eat your bloody heart out.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Heads and other body limbs lie on a blood-splattered floor in a dark village in Coven

Ed: Coven is a retro-styled FPS where you play as a young girl who's been wrongly accused of witchcraft in the 1600s. The demo starts with you literally burning at the stake. It's a horrible, gross thing. But a grisly part of me relishes the game's fast-paced movement and explosions of gore. There's something a bit Soldier Of Fortune about it all.

More than the gore – and literally being able to cannibalise corpses to regain health - it's the game's haunted woods and its attention to detail that surprise. You're able to shoot flung axes in mid-air, causing them to plop to the floor. Boxes can be lifted to create makeshift platforms. Wheels of cheese can be consumed. I'll be following this game with a morbid curiosity.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

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