Top 15 Must-Play Demos at Steam Next Fest This February

The initial Steam Next Fest of 2024 is officially here, though this year there have been so many demos going live early that you may have played many of them already without even knowing it. Nonetheless, just in case you need a helping hand cutting through the many hundreds, if not thousands of free demos that are currently vying for your attention on Steam, we’ve put together this shortlist of suggestions to get you started.

Here are 15 picks, covering everything from citybuilders to horror games – and many of these are games we’ve never written about before, too. However, in case you are seeking demos of more well-known PC games, we’ve also listed some of the big obvious choices you might want to check out as well (and all the other demos we’ve featured over the last couple of weeks). You know, because we’re considerate like that. So, join us for 15 (plus!) Next Fest demos to get you started.


Reus 2

A mossy giant looks over a Japanese-inspired town in Reus 2

Image credit: Firesquid

Edwin: I hadn’t realized how much I’ve been yearning to play a god sim until I sat down with Reus 2. God sims can be a very laidback genre, despite all the talk of being all-seeing, all-knowing and all-meddling – gods are notorious for being absentee landlords, after all, whereas I’ve been playing a lot of strategy games and RPGs lately that go heavy on the old micromanagement. Reus 2 is gloriously gentle, capturing Black & White at its most spaced-out. You’ve got a fully rotatable, 2D planet and three kindly giants to do your bidding. With the help of these giants, you can turn sections of crust into biomes such as rainforest, ocean, and desert, and place resources such as fruit trees and crystal deposits. Then you sit back to watch nascent humans scurry about foraging, raising towns, herding, or just cooling their heels in the surf.

That’s the early game, anyway. There’s a war component later, and a perfectionist alchemical undertow in the form of combining specific believer communities with specific resources to produce a flourishing civilization. But the machine of history only advances when your giants act, with historical time represented as purple points that add up into changes of era. Everything the little people do on the surface takes place in a blissful purgatory, and watching them go about their lives is a balm. In 2013, Alec Meer called the first Reus “my ideal screensaver.” Here in the grim salvages of 2024, I nod my head in agreement.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Crow Country

A horrible monster with long limbs chases a woman in Crow Country

Image credit: SFB Games

Katharine: If you have a hankering for some olde Resident Evil spookings with chunky PS1-Final Fantasy VII-style characters to tank around in, get thyself to Crow Country, one of two upcoming games this year from the devs behind Tangle Tower. You play Mara Forest as you investigate the mysterious disappearance of Edward Crow, the owner of the eponymous theme park, at said eponymous theme park. Only this isn’t a happy, haha fun times kind of joint anymore. This rundown maze of buildings is thick with a yellow-green smog, and not at all kosher trails of gibs and garbage bags strewn across the floor. Yes, something terrible clearly went down in this place, and it doesn’t take long for you to find out exactly what it is. Just mind your health bar, as you can only check on how you’re doing from within the menu screen. Just like the good old days, eh?

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Duck Detective

A duck detective holds a book on a rainy pavement in Duck Detective

Image credit: Happy Broccoli Games

Alice Bee: I was expecting Duck Detective to be a cutesy, cartoony puzzle game – and it is, indeed, that. As the Duck Detective, you investigate a charming and whimsical crime: an anthropomorphic animal is stealing the lunches of the other animals at the bus company they work at, right out of the office fridge. The Duck Detective gathers evidence from a scene and can then fit the right verbs and nouns in the right gaps of a deduction he’s written in his notebook (in a sort of My First Golden Idol). Some things he can look at in more detail, for more specific clues, like a calendar that can tell you what day it is and what events are coming up during the week.

The animation and art style is lovely, like a kid’s sticker book. But the little spike on this otherwise conventional volleyball is that the trope of a washed up, bitter private investigator is played extremely straight. The first thing the Duck Detective says, in a gravelly drawl, is that he’s a “freshly divorced duck” who can’t afford his rent. This is, to me, extremely conceptually funny. It’s like the “one human actor in a cast of Muppets” thing except the human is still also a Muppet, somehow. Excellent.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Death Of A Wish

A young boy battles a large man in a cloak in Death Of A Wish

Image credit: Syndicate Atomic

Alice0: Top-down Bloodborne violence with a wildly over-the-top edgy MS Paint webcomic art style? I’m in. I’m very in. Death Of A Wish sees you off to destroy the cult you once called home by bashing strange enemies to bits with your supernatural powers. The action’s a bit like a top-down Bloodborne. Left-click for fast attack, right-click for heavy, charge for escalating attacking chains, switch elements mid-combo for different attacks, dodge to zip about, middle-click unleash your to Nier: Automata pod, parry by dodging into attacks, yes, yes, I like this. You even get an abootility granting that Blooborne-esque window to recover health after taking damage by attacking. And to me, this is the perfect amount of angst about family and religion. If you’re going to play in that field, lean all the way in and make your character say things like “Now I must commit the sin no one will forgive. Utter Annihilation.”

Download the demo on Steam right here.


RAM: Random Access Mayhem

Several robots battle it out on an industrial platform in RAM: Random Access Mayhem

Image credit: Xylem Studios

Katharine: Keen-eyed readers will remember RAM: Random Access Mayhem is one of this year’s IGF nominees for the best student game category, and cor, this top-down roguelike shooter is quite something, lemme tell ya. With its twinstick controls and bevy of robot opponents to mow down, this is a fast-paced action game that doesn’t pull any punches. Then again, maybe you do want to pull at least some of your punches here, as this is a game about mind-jumping from one robot shell to another rather than simply trying to stick with the same character you chose at the start. You see, each robot you come across will maybe only last a couple of rounds going toe to toe with other enemies, so you’ll need to think fast to keep yourself alive. Plus, because you’re an apparently rather sadistic form of AI, you’ll earn more points for destroying your old discard bodies in the flashiest way possible – such as an immediate shotgun to the face, or booting them off a cliff. Add in class-specific bot abilities and upgrades along the way and this has all the makings of the next great moreish roguelike. One to keep an eye on, for sure.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Spring Dash

The player is rushing through an aerial vortex in an abstract snowy landscape in Spring Dash

Image credit: Dillon Steyl

James: What if Neon White, but with vegetable magic instead of gun cards? That’s Spring Dash, a first-person speedrunner that demands various feats of verdant wizardry to propel yourself through its dreamy floating obstacle courses. At first, that just means sprouting bouncy leaves to boing up walls and across chasms, but later additions of vine grappling and windy air dashes promise to make you the zippiest of zippy forest mages. Provided you put the effort in with them, anyway. Successfully zooming between islands is a great time, and there’s a nicely realised sense of momentum, but Spring Dash’s speedrunning is as unforgiving as it is fantastical. Still, there are regular checkpoints and retrying is instant, so it’s not fist-through-the-wall frustrating either.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Backpack Battles

Two hooded girls do battle with the items in their backpack in Backpack Battles

Image credit: PlayWithFurcifer/IndieArk

Ollie: Backpack Battles scratches the same autobattling itch that compelled me to play endless hours of Super Auto Pets a couple years back. But this time around there’s the extra lure of some very satisfying inventory management. In Backpack Battles, your character’s attacks and abilities are determined by what items you manage to shoehorn into your limited backpack space. After each fight, you get to buy and sell new gear, most of which have synergistic bonuses with other items in your backpack. The items start off fairly innocuously, with shortswords, shields, and the like. But as your backpack fills and expands, it becomes a tapestry of ridiculous items ranging from baby dragons to lightsabers. It’s moreish and challenging, and I regret the time away from playing more Backpack Battles that it took me to write this paragraph.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Mouthwashing

A bandaged head emerges from the darkness with one eye and their mouth visible in Mouthwashing

Image credit: Wrong Organ

Ed: I’ve not played How Fish Is Made by the folks over at Wrong Organ, but Mouthwashing seems to be of a similar variety: surreal, haunted, and with a pinch of humour. The demo provides the sort of horror that’s not, say, absolutely terrifying, but it oozes an unsettling atmosphere, as you navigate the innards of a

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