5 of the most impressive picks from the Steam Game Festival

The Steam Game Festival is an opportunity to, as Valve puts it, “play what’s next”. Over the course of about a week, developers and publishers release exclusive demos, broadcast livestreams and provide an opportunity for gamers to pick their brains on their upcoming titles.

The 2021 Steam Game Festival is underway right now — it started yesterday, and is running until February 9 at 6pm GMT — so now would seem like a great time to check out some of those exclusive demos and see what we can look forward to in the near future! Let’s begin.

Gal*Gun Returns

Gal*Gun Returns in the Steam Game Festival

Yes, there’s an official PC Steam Game Festival demo for Gal*Gun Returns out now, and it’s a pretty substantial one, too. Offering a stage and a boss fight or minigame from each of the main heroine’s routes, the Gal*Gun Returns demo should give you a decent idea of what to expect from the game as a whole, both in terms of gameplay and how it runs on your system.

On top of the main stages, there’s also an opportunity to indulge in the game’s Doki-Doki Carnival mode, which provides you with a group of girls you need to stare at until they “reach euphoria” — all in the name of defusing a potentially volatile situation, you understand.

The Steam Game Festival demo can be played with either gamepad or mouse and keyboard controls, so you can see which works the best for you. Mouse control of course provides greater responsiveness, but gamepad control is great for those of you with a home theatre PC setup playing on your television.

Grab the demo as part of the Steam Game Festival here. And if you enjoy said demo, don’t forget that preorders are still open for the Rice-exclusive, super-collectible Birthday Suit Edition for Nintendo Switch and Steam! Click here to preorder now. And if you still can’t get enough, don’t forget to read our exclusive interview with Inti Creates’ Matt Papa! The full game is out on February 12, 2021.

Tasomachi: Beyond the Twilight

Tasomachi Steam Game Festival demo

In Tasomachi (short for “tasogare ni nemuru machi”, or “a city sleeping in twilight”) you take on the role of Yukumo, a young girl who enjoys travelling in her airship. When her airship suffers some technical difficulties, she is forced to land in a strange town that appears to have fallen silent; there’s no sign of anyone except a strange cat-like species.

Tasomachi is an absolutely beautiful 3D platformer with a strong emphasis on exploration and collecting items. The demo includes two main components: an initial section where you take on self-contained platforming challenges, and a more open section in which you explore the main town setting, tracking down the “Essence of Earth” items you need to progress.

Tasomachi has a gorgeous soft-edged look about it, runs brilliantly smoothly and, perhaps most importantly for an exploration-centric platformer, has tight, responsive controls. Following cues from established classics such as Super Mario Odyssey, the game consistently finds ways to reward you for exploring the environment thoroughly — even those parts which might initially look to be out of reach.

Grab the demo as part of the Steam Game Festival here. Note that the demo seems to start in Japanese by default; if this happens to you, select the third option down (設定) to bring up a menu where you can switch it to English. The full game is due out in the spring of 2021.


Sumire in the Steam Game Festival

Sumire is an adventure game in which you take on the role of the eponymous heroine as she sets out to have “the perfect day” with her new best friend, a sentient flower. Along the way, it becomes clear that Sumire has plenty of her own issues to deal with — be it the disappearance of her father, the struggles of her mother and her unresolved grief over the death of her grandmother.

Sumire features a beautiful hand-crafted art style somewhat reminiscent of an extravagantly illustrated pop-up book, and it complements this with a responsive and dynamic but minimalist acoustic soundtrack. Even the short snippet of the narrative we get to experience in the demo is absolutely dripping with emotion and spirituality, and the inclusion of various moral choices suggests that the final game is likely to be rather replayable.

The full game promises a variety of situations for Sumire to explore and deal with, along with plenty of collectible items, playable minigames and hidden challenges to uncover. The one-day time limit means you’ll need to pay attention to the promises you make along the way, lest Sumire finds herself having to deal with the karmic consequences of her actions.

Grab the demo as part of the Steam Game Festival here. The full game is due out in March of 2021.

Steel Assault

Steel Assault in the Steam Game Festival

A rather more energetic title than many other games on this list, Steel Assault is a retro-inspired action platformer developed by Zenovia Interactive and published by pixel art specialists Tribute Games. The game features a deliberately soft-edged visual style intended to mimic the look of playing on an old CRT television, and even includes options for scanlines and simulated screen curvature for those truly committed to the old-school look.

Gameplay-wise, Steel Assault resembles something of a cross between a futuristic Castlevania and Contra, featuring mid-range melee combat, precise platforming and frantic hordes of enemies to deal with. The demo is short but very challenging and features a variety of impressive setpieces to take on, concluding with a bit of a cliffhanger that should leave you hungry for more.

Steel Assault’s unique gameplay mechanic is its use of the hero’s zipline, which allows you to create pathways between platforms that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. To beat the game — and indeed the demo — you’ll need to master making use of this in the heat of combat, which is easier said than done! You’ll have a blast getting that all-important practice, though.

Grab the demo as part of the Steam Game Festival here. The game currently doesn’t have a more specific release date than “2021”.

A Space for the Unbound

A Space for the Unbound in the Steam Game Festival

Originally developed as part of an internal game jam session at developer Mojiken Studio, A Space for the Unbound has subsequently blossomed into a full game. It’s a very similar story to what happened with Toge Productions’ thoroughly comfy visual novel Coffee Talk from last year — and as it happens, Toge Productions are publishing A Space for the Unbound.

In A Space for the Unbound, you take on the role of a young man in ’90s Indonesia who has struck up a friendship with a young girl named Nirmala. Nirmala has a pretty rough home life, and has found escape through a combination of her creativity and her friendship with the protagonist. Somewhere along the line, the pair of them also discovered the ability to “space dive” inside people’s minds and explore their troubles from within, all thanks to a “Magic Red Book”.

The demo runs for about 15 to 20 minutes or so but is already packed with emotion and intriguing pieces of story that will doubtless be explored in a lot more depth once the full game rolls around. It also seems to feature more cats that you can pet than any other game in recent memory, as well as some delicious pixel art and really quite beautiful music.

Grab the demo as part of the Steam Game Festival here. The demo is a prologue chapter that acts as a proof of concept, so the full game may well feature a few differences. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete release date — the Steam page simply says “Coming Soon” — but keep an eye on the game’s Steam page to find out more.

Don’t forget you can help the developers and publishers know you’re excited for the games in the Steam Game Festival not only by downloading and playing these demos, but also adding the full versions to your Steam wishlist. And if you’ve found any gems in the Steam Festival this year, be sure to share them in the comments or via the usual social channels — we’d love to hear more about them!

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Pete Davison
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