Indie Insights Vol. 27 – Steam Next Fest 4: The Revenge

Steam Next Fest Feb 2024

Steam Next Fest is once again upon us and promises hundreds of demos for upcoming games. Some demos will disappear at the end of Next Fest, while others will stick around. Every genre and style is represented. As always, there are way, way too many available for me to play them all. I have, however, played a few, and here is a round-up of my favorites.

Welcome to a special Monday edition of Indie Insights!

Rusty’s Retirement

Rustys Retirement - Farm
Image Credit: Mister Morris Games.

If you have ever wanted to relive the days of Bonzi Buddy but without the viruses and with added farming, Rusty’s Retirement from Mister Morris Games is for you. This is an idle clicker farming game that you can have running at the bottom of your screen while you get on with other things. Rusty the robot will toddle around working the farm, tending any crops you have planted, and earn money. All you have to do is pop back now and again to plant more seeds and upgrade your little farm once you have enough coins.

Eventually, you’ll be able to unlock and build the houses of other robots who can help Rusty farm or sell him some goodies like decorations. As you play and plant more crops, you’ll unlock more and more different seeds, upgrades, and decorations. It’s very cute and doesn’t interfere with whatever else you’re doing.

I look forward to seeing more content to keep Rusty busy in retirement.

Botany Manor

Botany Manor plant growth
Image Credit: Balloon Studios.

This upcoming plant-based puzzler from Balloon Studios is a peaceful but intriguing botanical journey. You play as retired botanist Arabella Greene, who has returned to her stately home after some time away. Although retired, she seems to be compiling a field guide of sorts for rare plants. This is where the research begins. It’s up to you to wander the sprawling grounds and expansive house, finding clues about how to grow unusual plants.

Your first task is to grow some pinwheel-like flowers to clear the smog in your conservatory. Scour the area for anything that could tell you how to grow the seeds. Where do they originate from? What environment and temperature do they thrive in? Once you gather every clue, it’s up to you to work out how to create the ideal conditions. The demo showcased the puzzles of two plants and left me wanting more. The music is a beautiful accompaniment to the peaceful surroundings and the fantastical plants are intriguing. The full release has just been announced, and it is soon – April 9.


Southfield Bud man
Image Credit: Radical Forge.

Coming from developers Radical Forge is a new, bouncy twist on the farming sim. In Southfield, you are a wibbly wobbly jelly person on a mission to farm bonkers crops and explore the strange island of Southfield. The demo starts with a standard tutorial given to you in steps by a wise old tree-ish man. He gives you some basic tools and seeds and tells you how to grow and harvest crops as well as how to build things.


The fun thing about Southfield is the aforementioned wibbly wobbly jellyness of it all. There’s a lot more physics involved than your average farming sim, with you needing to wrestle and smack crops around to harvest them. Crops in Southfield aren’t your regular crops either, with the potential to create some interesting effects, such as exploding on harvest. You can combine crops to create new and unpredictable results. Additionally, you can also bounce around online in co-op with up to three friends. This is 100% a game I’ll put in a lot of time with. It is slated for Early Access release later this year.

Minami Lane

Minami Lane street
Image Credit: Doot, Blibloop.

Minami Lane is a casual street building and management sim from splendidly named developers Doot and Blibloob. It’s up to you to build a bustling, beautiful, and happy street day by day. You can choose what building to place at the start of each day. A home will give you residents, shops will provide you with profits, and parks will give you beauty points. You can only place one building a day, but at the start of each day. Beyond that, you can tweak the management of your shops. For example, with the ramen shop, you can change the ramen recipe and the price of the dish.

Clicking on residents will give you some insight into what they like and don’t like, which can help inform your next building decision. You can also pick up trash, earn money during the day, and search for the hidden Tanooki, who will be disguised as an object every day. There are different objectives and missions to complete and this is definitely a game that you will start playing in the morning, look up and find out it’s now two in the afternoon, and you won’t have to wait long because Minami Lane releases on February 28.


Summerhouse house example
Image Credit: Friedemann.

This cozy and calm building game from Friedemann is simple. All you do is create houses and customize them however you want. From the walls to the awnings, balconies, and even the foliage on the street, you can control exactly how you want your little houses to look. There’s no tutorial, but it isn’t hard to figure out. Down the left side of the screen, you have icons for all your options: walls, roofs, doors, windows, etc. At the bottom of the screen, you have your delete button. You select the icon of what you want to place and right-click while it is selected cycles through the different style options.

It’s wonderfully simple, and the more you build, the more options you can unlock. The demo only features one location; the full release will have other landscapes you can build. For those who like to just create and chill out, Summerhouse will consume your free time when it releases on March 8.

Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open

Paper Ghost Stories Third Eye Open
Image Credit: Cellar Vault Games.

This Malaysian coming-of-age/supernatural scarer from Cellar Vault Games is a real treat. The demo begins with a note from developers explaining the basic plot and that the dialogue is written in a Malaysian dialect of broken English that incorporates Mandarin, Cantonese, and Bahasa Melayu slang words and commonplace grammatical errors that have become a way of life. I love that the developers have used a true representation of the language instead of just changing it entirely to English. It helps to give a natural flavor of the region. They also add notes explaining local slang words when they come up. What stood out to me before playing was the art style. Characters are rendered as 2D paper cutout dolls in a realistic world.

As for the story, the demo picks up in Chapter 4. You play as Ting, a young girl who can see and communicate with spirits. Other kids bully her, but she has two friends who believe her even though they can’t see the ghosts. The bulk of the action occurs in an abandoned house where a malicious spirit attempts to separate and harm the three friends while other spirits exist, seemingly unaware that they are dead. Ting has to use her ability to help her friends escape the wrathful ghost whilst also gathering information about the house’s former inhabitants.

There is a lot of human drama on display here. Ting’s home life isn’t perfect, she is bullied and outcast, and the information gleaned about the family in the abandoned house isn’t exactly sunny. Paper Ghosts: Third Eye Open looks like it will be a tense supernatural experience and a potentially gut-punching human one, too.

The Posthumous Investigation

The Posthumous Investigation
Image Credit: Mother Gaia.

Set in Rio de Janeiro in 1937, this noir detective game from developer Mother Gaia is a mystery with a twist. The victim knew he was going to die and pre-emptively sent a letter to a private investigator asking him to investigate his murder. Coincidentally, his murder happened just down the road from the detective’s office. Time to look for clues!

As with any good detective game, you explore the scene, interview suspects and witnesses, pick apart their statements, and look for clues. What is different with The Posthumous Investigation is that it is also Groundhog Day. Yes, you are stuck on the same day over and over until you figure out what happened. Not only that, but you can end up in limbo with the ghost of the victim, who will grill you for what you have found out. It’s basically a roguelite mystery. The black and white cartoon art style, alongside the prospect of exposing the high society of Rio and ghosts, is an unusual mix, and I’m looking forward to solving the mystery.

Magical Delicacy

Magical Delicacy cooking
Image Credit: Skaule.

Part platformer, part cooking sim, and part exploration adventure, Magical Delicacy from Skaule has been on my radar for some time. You play as the new witch in town, Flora. The local government (weird frog people) has given you a property where you can operate your magical cooking business. You need to repay the loan a la Tom Nook, though. Inside the building, there isn’t much aside from a squatter who refuses to leave. Congratulations, you now have a roommate. A very demanding roommate who immediately demands you cook them a stew.

You have a few basic ingredients and recipes to begin with so you can whip up a standard stew in the cooking pot. Requests from customers will let you know if they want a meal, a snack, sweet, savory, or if there are any flavors or ingredients to avoid. You can even pin recipes and requests to the left of the screen for easy reference. Next, it’s time to platform around your new hometown, collect some ingredients, meet some people, take requests, and investigate the local shops. You can purchase a basic cutting board and mortar and pestle to change the form of ingredients in the demo, with more to come in the full game. There’s a lot to explore in the short demo, and it gives an excellent flavor of the future.

Crow Country

Crow Country
Image Credit: SFB Games.

This PS1-inspired creep-fest comes from SFB games. Set in 1990, the game takes place two years after the disappearance of Edward Crow the owner of local theme park Crow Country. Yes, that does mean what you think it does. This game takes place in a creepy crow-based theme park. You play as Special Agent Mara Forest, although whether or not that is her true identity is in question. You rock up to the dilapidated old amusement park. All you have is your gun and a police report regarding Edward Crow’s disappearance. 

Once you shoot your way into the theme park, it is no less creepy. Filled with crow-themed paraphernalia, such as crow garbage cans, a crow fortune teller, and a massive crowbot that is definitely going to zoom out and peck your eyes out at some point. I see you, crowbot. I see you, and I know you. Now it’s up to you to scour the park, looking for clues and secrets (there are secret shootable collectibles.) When I say Crow Country perfectly emulates PS1 survival games like the original Resident Evil, I mean it in the most fantastic way. It’s dark and grimy, filled with unnerving set pieces and the spirit of early survival games that bring back the feeling I had when playing Resident Evil for the first.


Cryptmaster sniff
Image Credit: Paul Hart, Lee Williams, Akupara Games.

Evoking VHS games like Atmosfear and Nightmare and incorporating text-based adventure alongside Typing of The Dead mechanics, Cryptmaster is tied with Crow Country for my favorite demo of Next Fest. I jumped into this one knowing almost nothing about it apart from some of the design work I had seen on Twitter. Sidenote: I will never call it X; I don’t care. Anyway, imagine my delight when the game started up, and I was confronted with the fact that I was playing as a reanimated corpse, and an extremely sassy demon was guiding me through my adventure.

It’s a first-person game, and you navigate using the arrows. However, you have to type to investigate things and attack. If you come across a chest, you type CHEST, and the extremely sassy demon will open it. Then comes the bigger twist. You don’t have any memories of your time as a live warrior. Little sassypants isn’t much help, either. You’ll just have to guess what is in the chest by asking him to do things like LOOK, TOUCH, and REMEMBER. You only get a certain number of commands before he gets bored. You’ll have to guess the object within. All the ones in the demo are pretty easy to guess. You’ll also be helped by being given the number of letters in the object. You also gain three companions by finding and typing their names; a rogue, a bard, and a sea witch.

Fighting is the same, you attack by typing in the name of the skill you want to use. Unfortunately, you have to uncover what your skills are by collecting letters, as well as randomly typing in words. Yes, I typed in swear words because I am a child, yes the developers knew people would do this. Here is where I knew 100% that this would be my perfect game. I couldn’t figure out one of the witch’s skills. I had no idea what the word was. After typing many random words of the same length and featuring the one letter I had revealed, I just typed in my favorite thing: CRABS. And it worked. One of her abilities is to summon crabs. This is incredible, and I can’t believe that a character in a game is clearly based on me.

This demo was honestly so fun. It is well-written, extremely funny, very clever, and has absolutely incredible voice acting. I want more, and I want it immediately.



Avatar photo

Written by Emma Oakman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *