I tried a few demos from the Xbox TGA event

First of all, congratulations to all the winners and the nominees from The Game Awards, but also to all the amazing games that came out this year that weren’t mentioned. I always look forward to the show, but I’m really enjoying these demo events to preview and learn about new games, so I tried 7 games and want to write up my thoughts on them. These games are in alphabetical order, not in order of preference so keep that in mind; I also tried Grid Force – Mask of the Goddess, but it wasn’t my type of game, so much so that I don’t really have much to say about it and don’t want to put it on the list because it would be a disservice to the game and potential fans.

  • Aspire: Ina’s Tale. Ina is a girl trapped in the Tower, which keeps her in perpetual sleep and feeds on her dreams. She escapes her captivity, but is still in the Tower, looking for a way out; as the Steam description puts it, “…as she comes closer to her goal – but farther from innocence. For this is not a story about how Ina was saved. This is the story about how she discovered she could be so much more.” I like that premise and, visiting the store page, you would see a game that has gorgeous visuals. The demo does showcase the visuals, and they are pretty good, but it also showcases a pretty generic puzzle-platformer that doesn’t feel all that great to control; Ina feels 15% slower than I would like her to move and there seems to be a delay to the controls that made platforming harder than it ought to be. The story isn’t really showcased either, so that is what will be the deciding factor for me; if the gameplay is going to be the standard puzzle-platformer, then I’d like to see how good the story is before becoming interested in the game.
  • Best month ever! This is another addition to an increasingly popular and very interesting trend with indie narrative games of late. BME is about a working class, single mom who finds out that she only has a month to live due to a sickness, so she decides to grab her son and hit the road to find him a place to stay after the month passes and to get to know him, since she spent so much of her time working and trying to improve their situation. The trend that I referred to is that of the actions and decisions of the player character informing and influencing the growth and character traits of a companion NPC. That is really hard to portray in a demo and BME fails at it, however I don’t fault them at that; I was disappointed at the way it looks when gameplay is about to happen and I didn’t like the movement (it felt floaty), but I am still excited to see how it ends up. It needs a lot of polish, especially in the animations, and if the touted mini-games are fun enough and the main mechanic is as interesting as it sounds, then this could be a cool game when it releases.
  • Lonesome Village. Mix of Animal Crossing, life-sim, village gameplay and progression, with puzzles from Zelda dungeons. I really liked this, not only because those two inspirations are something I enjoyed, but also how well the mix together and the execution of it so far was spot on. The puzzles can be tricky and this is just a few puzzles from the beginning of the game, so later puzzles can be a real challenge. The art-style is cute and chill enough to give me AC vibes, but so far it lacks the character and charm of AC; it doesn’t help that they don’t have any dialogue, just signs in speech bubbles, but that can also work later on. Only concern is that the AC village side of the game gates the progression and that is random; for example, one villager wanted a specific item that I could get from digging in the various digging spots in the village, but since the reward is random, I spent 15 minutes digging the same spots and did not get the quantity of items I needed. With enough villagers and enough requests, randomness is not as big an issue, but hopefully the finished product will find a way to solve that. Had never heard of this before and I am keeping an eye on it, since the demo really won me over.
  • Loot river. I was really excited for this demo and it did not disappoint. I did not play through the entire thing, but I got a couple of hours in and saw everything I needed to see; combat is hefty and punchy, the ‘sliding puzzles being a means of transportation’ mechanic looks and works great. That’s all I was worried about; however, it did leave me with a few concerns about some other aspects of the game. I didn’t like the loot, for example, as I didn’t get any “good” drops to see if that would change the way I played or enhance it in a meaningful way. Moreover, I got stuck by the end in a maze of bad ‘sliding puzzle’ decision of my own making (I suck at those puzzles); I realized what I needed to do and could get out of it, but it required “back-sliding” and I was not interested in doing that. That is something I was worried about, but honestly, I had such a blast with the combat and with the mechanics that I was convinced to keep an eye on the game for when it releases. There are things to be done to improve it, but the devs got the fundamentals right and seem to be on the right track for everything else.
  • Nobody saves the world. Alongside Loot river, the demo I was looking forward to. Drinkbox studios know how to make great-looking and playing games, and their next game was always going to have my interest. NSTW is all about transforming your android (who is a nobody) into a variety of forms with their own abilities and weaknesses, like a rat who is fast and agile, but is less sturdy and is quite small so they can get lost in the madness or have a short effectiveness range. Playing this game made me giddy with excitement and I spent 4 hours on it without even noticing; getting all the forms I could; completing various ‘normal’ quests and side-quests as well as customized quests to each form; leveling up nobody and their forms to get passive stat raises and new abilities for each new form; exploring the world, which seems to have metroidvania inspirations all over it; dungeon diving and getting into combat to test new forms and abilities; reading through every line of dialogue and laughing at the jokes and the knowingly goofy and cartoonish nature of the narrative. That is an impressive list of features but it is missing the key one, which isn’t even on the demo; mixing forms to create unique hybrid ones. As for concerns, I hope that there can be some more work put into allowing the player to understand the direction the character is facing at all times, because that is an issue I found with smaller characters or with the ranger; direction is an important aspect of combat and I often felt that with some characters I could not understand at all times where they were facing. Beyond that, I am stoked to get my hands on the full game!
  • What lies in the multiverse. Another great example of why I like these events. I had never heard of this game and wanted to test out its interesting premise and thought it had a cool-looking poster. I found a darkly-comic, yet very serious and creepy game, with great potential. The premise is that you are a boy who figures out how to simulate other possibilities of our reality, discovering the multiverse in the process; but you glitch into it before a weird man helps you back home. From there an adventure starts full of phase-shifting puzzles that are actually pretty interesting and offer enough challenge to make me feel smart, but not enough to make me realize I’m actually an idiot. It also deals with heavy subjects that I didn’t expect to see from this game, given that it starts with silly jokes and a goofy, sitcom attitude – which is very well handled and got me to laugh a few times. I’m not sure how “dark” it goes, but the demo does delve into some pretty grim ideas and with an interesting execution; I’ve really enjoyed what I played and I’m definitely excited about it. As for concerns, I do hope that they can keep the puzzle balance throughout and vary the scenery and design as much as the demo suggest they will.

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