Although it might seem like I’m burning through these demos just to rapidly fire off these posts, Round 1 was completed yesterday, and I’ve done my due diligence for Round 2 today. I’m just bored and wanted to get this post out the door since I had the time to do so.

Let’s get to it.

Hollywood Animal

It’s been a while since I’ve played a tycoon-style game, so when I saw Hollywood Animal in the Next Fest demo list, I thought I’d give it a shot. As the name kind of implies your goal is to bootstrap and grow a Hollywood studio during the heydays of the 1930’s. The videos on the Steam store page looked pretty involved, and I really like games with a lot of small text, sliders, and numbers that go up. At least, I think this is what it’s about.

The demo started out with a disclaimer about how terribly discriminatory and violent the movie business was back then (not that those problems have been solved today) which I understand is either a necessary introduction or self-absolution on the part of the devs for any decisions to allow themselves to go off the rails, but it’s also a pretty heavy cloud to establish over the entertainment that we’re here to experience.

The game then segued into a pretty depressing recount of the “excesses of the Roaring ’20s giving way to the Great Depression”. After that pep-talk, the first operation I had to undertake was to name and choose a logo for the studio, and then to name my three execs: Chief Legal Officer, Chief Communications Officer, and Chief Financial Officer.

This is as far as I got because every time I clicked the CONTINUE button the cursor jumped to the name field of the Chief Communications Officer for renaming and wouldn’t let me progress. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that my flight controllers are plugged in — keeping a game pad or joystick connected sometimes messes with games, but only some games, so I want to finger-wag at developers to figure out how to avoid this, as some have obviously done so. Considering how difficult my flight stick setup is, I would not disconnect it for this demo, so thus ended my tenure as a 1930’s movie studio mogul. Also, it’s a fine line between “being honest” about history and purposefully putting out a product that hits the ground running with self-flagellation. If the devs wanted this to be a morality tale, I might suggest they make a documentary instead, but this is their chosen soapbox so I don’t think I’ll be putting this one on the list.


I’m not sure what’s up with this trend of four-letter, all-caps game titles during this ‘Fest, but where REKA was a disappointment, ASKA is the opposite. Do you like Vikings with amazing abs? Sure, we all do. Have you played through Valheim until you’ve worn out your keyboard? Well, ASKA may help feed your addiction.

I didn’t play much of this one because most everything I did play was done so through muscle memory. My character and members of my tribe are forced to leave our village because of a supernatural disaster, and I found myself in a shipwreck on a beach, because it’s always a beach.

A helpful sprite appears and offers tutorials when spoken to, and the first bit of advice was to build a fire, and then upgrade it to a sturdier campfire. For this, I needed to activate my Norse-O-Vision, a ping which highlights resources in the wild; great feature. Best feature. I found wood, rocks, and several other materials I didn’t yet need, and soon had a campfire. Builds can be upgraded in place, so I could create a canopy to protect the fire from rain, and a grill to cook meals, but I didn’t have any materials for either so I started exploring. Apparently, later on were I to build a small village, I could find and recruit NPCs to live and work there, but that’s a later-game feature I didn’t get to.

I ran into some weird stick-like spirits, and proceeded to offer the Viking Hello with bare fists because I hadn’t yet created tools (I was missing some materials). These buggers were fairly easy to take down bare-handed, so I suspect they wouldn’t be much of an issue with actual tools or weapons.

ASKA seems far along in development, as a lot of check-boxes were checked, including a pretty robust set of initial guidance messages, tool-tips, and the like. I’ll put this on the list as I like survivalbox builders well enough, and it’s got the New Game Scent that has since worn off from Valheim for me.

Also, my screenshot key uses the LEFT-CTRL which a lot of games use for crouching, which is why my character is gettin’ low in all of these images.

Beyond These Stars

Here is another, more traditional city builder that, like ASKA , seems far enough along in development to include actual guidance in the early stages which I really appreciate. The exposition explains that humanity once traveled the stars, but was forced to go to ground as they were pursued by super-massive, planet-eating giant space whales. After several centuries, humanity emerged and once again began to explore. The game starts off with a single space pod landing on the back of one of these space whales, so yes…you are building on the back of a giant space whale.

There were very few curve balls with this one. The most notable difference from most builders is that the world is divided by hexes, so buildings and roads need to be placed accordingly. This isn’t onerous by any stretch, but after several games like Manor Lords and Foundation, where free-placement is the rule, it is a bit of a throw-back. The initial goal is to set up a sustainable settlement by building huts, small farms, and resource harvesters and the instructions to do so are plainly stated and informative. Milestones are interspersed with talking-head style narratives between the settlers, giving a bit of flavor to the otherwise “why am I doing this, again?” directives. Placement of buildings can be guided by overlays such as pollution and fertility, and some/many/most/all buildings benefit from adjacent-mechanics where grouping buildings with certain other buildings can boost the capabilities, which is an interesting take.

While Beyond the Stars is already very well done, I’m not sure I’ll put this on the list, only because I have a ton of builders (including Wandering Village which is also about building on the back of a giant creature), though maybe I will and keep an eye on it for a final decision when it releases.

Creatures of Ava

Ah, another slam-dunk wish-lister here. Creatures of Ava uses animal rescue as a central mechanic around which a narrative is built. It employs a few interesting mechanics that add flavor to make this game a bit more unique than other narrative adventure games like it.

The demo starts with an animated short explaining why your character Vic is crash-landing on the planet of Ava. It’s a pretty emotional lede which seemed a bit heavy at a time when no other context was given, and it seems all the more incongruous as the game starts out in a beautifully colorful world where Vic, my character, emerges from her pod and gets her bearings.

The mission is that the humans have returned to Ava after a 25 years absence, but this time they are trying to stay ahead of a galactic plague called the Whithering which manifests in the form of corrupted flora, can alter the fauna into mindless killing machines, and is said to be otherwise unstoppable. The humans have taken it upon themselves to evacuate as many creatures as possible from Ava, at least until Vic finds a tool that may hold the key that can stop the Whithering (which is where I assume this story will be headed).

This is a more traditional platformer-style, narrative driven adventure game, as Vic can crouch, jump, and climb her way across the planet. Exploration is rewarded in the form of human tech and crafting materials. Vic quickly finds herself in a situation where she meets one of the natives, an archeologist who finds themselves in the same unfortunate predicament as Vic. Through exploration, she discovers the Nafitar, an ancient tool that can defeat the Whithering. By focusing the Nafitar at Withering pods, Vic can remove obstacles that block progress. This magical staff can also levitate certain objects for a short while, which adds another puzzle feature to the set. I’m sure there will be other uses for this mystical staff later on in the game.

After re-establishing contact with Scientist Tabitha up in orbit, Vic gets down to business: collecting creatures for transport to the station. To do this, Vic goes all Avatar by learning about the Nature of Ava from the locals, in the form of a magic flute. Creatures will play a song that Vic will have to repeat, and when done successfully the creature will become friendly. Each creature displays their song progression in the form of a wheel, highlighting the individual wedges where notes reside. Vic can repeat these notes by playing a game of Simon, selecting the same note-wedges of her flute.

Once the critter is enthralled, playing the Song of Grass (an unlockable skill that the player does not have to remember), she can “possess” the critter. Each creature has a set of specialties, like being able to chew through vines or break through thorny barricades, which Vic will need to use when possessing a creature. Eventually, she will need to lead these animals, Pied Piper-style, to a teleportation bot, where they are collected and zapped to safety.

There is combat, which is just OK, and nothing special, but involves a lot of dodging and jumping to avoid getting hit. There’s also a lot of dialog, but it’s not onerous. In fact, Vic interacting with the locals is one of the highlights of the demo, as the tribe she meets want nothing to do with the return of humans, and aren’t shy about telling her how terrible they think humanity is.

I really had to stop playing this one, because I didn’t want to get too far. From my point of view, that’s High Praise: I don’t want to spoil anything once I’ve made the decision to purchase a game, but it’s also bittersweet because I have no idea when some of these titles will be launching, leaving me with just the demos to tide me over until then.


  • Azuriel

    June 11, 2024 - 11:20 am

    I was reading “giant space whales” and thinking “isn’t that Before We Leave?” And… it is – Beyond These Stars is the sequel. I had fun enough in the original, although the lack of the 4th X (e.g. eXterminate) made the endgame a bit too monotonous. That sort of thing doesn’t bother me in some games (Planet Crafter, etc), but it did in this case. Hopefully, the sequel addresses some of that. Also, the original soundtrack was a banger, so hopefully they brought back the composer.

    • Scopique

      June 11, 2024 - 2:04 pm

      Ah! The title is familiar, now that I look at it on Steam!

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.