7 Xbox Summer Game Fest Demos That Left Us Excited
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Our Favorite 7 Of 73
For ID@Xbox Summer Game Fest, Microsoft released 73 demos for upcoming indie games on Xbox One. The demos are all free but they'll only be available to download and play until Monday, July 27.
It would be quite the ask for any one of us to play through all 73 demos in order to tell you which are the best ones, but as a team we've managed to check out a hefty sum of the games made available. The demos detailed in the following gallery are all of the ones that stuck out to us the most--some left us nostalgic, others offered something brand-new we'd never seen before, and still more just scratched an itch that we've been looking to satisfy for a long time. Regardless of our reasons, these are the demos that made us the most excited to play their respective full games when they release.
We haven't listed the demos in any particular order. This is just a list of demos that we think are cool or at the very least hint towards an exciting game. Maybe they'll all meet expectations, maybe they won't. We'll just have to wait and see.
Kaze And The Wild Masks | PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
You'd be forgiven for not knowing if you didn't happen to grow up in the early 1990s, but following the breakout success of Sonic the Hedgehog there was a veritable flood of me-too 16-bit mascot platformers that never quite caught on. From Ristar to Acro the Acrobat to (deep sigh) Awesome Possum, it was the battle royale of its era. Everyone wanted to make one.
Playing Kaze and the Wild Masks brought me right back to those heady days, sitting on the carpet and playing the latest copycat rental from Blockbuster. That's not a slight against Kaze, because these platformers weren't actually bad, just oversaturated. Almost 30 years removed, it's as comfortable as your favorite sweater. The art style is beautifully vibrant and colorful, the platforming is familiar and accessible, and it's just a great nostalgia trip. I love a lot of recent games that have taken a fresh look at modernizing classic platformer tropes, but Kaze is the much more explicit throwback I didn't know I wanted. -- Steve Watts
ScourgeBringer | Xbox One, PC
ScourgeBringer is already out on Steam Early Access but the Xbox Summer Game Fest demo is the first time we have the chance to play it on console--it was also my first time actually trying the game after oohing and aahing at trailers for the past few months. I love it a lot.
I've always been a fan of video games where you're encouraged to fight quickly, especially if you're further rewarded for being skillful enough to fight without touching the ground--games like Titanfall 2 and Hollow Knight. ScourgeBringer goes a long way towards scratching that itch for me. Though you can platform between enemies, ScourgeBringer rewards players for playing aggressively and doing midair dashes between foes. You remain airborne while slashing or shooting so you can reasonably clear out entire rooms without touching the floor if you're good enough.
I also like ScourgeBringer's hard but fair gameplay loop. Enemies can kill you quickly if you can't pull off deflections and dodges, but there was never a moment where I died and thought, "Dammit, how the hell was I supposed to counter that?" The game is harsh in its punishments--it's a roguelike where you pick up temporary power-ups with each run and slowly unlock permanent abilities over time--but it's fair. It also helps that the game reloads relatively quickly, so you can just jump into another run upon death. -- Jordan Ramée
Haven | PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
More than most of the demos I dabbled with, Haven defies easy categorization. At first blush it's a visual novel telling a futuristic love story between a couple of stranded spacefarers. Even in the course of a relatively short demo, though, it opens up considerably and blends together a few disparate genres and mechanics, which all illustrate a sense of duality and interdependence.
Cooking a meal is performed by coordinating ingredients from the left and right sides of the user interface. Similarly, the RPG-like battle system appears simple at first, but it quickly becomes clear that coordinating your attacks to perform them together is the only effective way to fight. When you do defeat a monster, you pacify it rather than killing it, a sign that this pair are ultimately peaceful scientific observers.
Inside the ship you're a first-person observer, a choice that seems self-consciously voyeuristic in a story about a romantic couple. Outside of it, though, Haven's best feature shines. Movement through the world has you float through the tall grass with balletic grace, with the ability to swerve, u-turn, and drift with ease. It's all based on just a few simple commands but it's so well-executed and intuitive that floating around the world is just a joy. -- Steve Watts
SkateBird | Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
After playing a lot of the hardcore skateboarding simulator Session, in which both thumbsticks control each individual foot on the board, Glass Bottom Games' charming SkateBird is a sigh of relief. Not just because it's far simpler to control than Session, or even the Skate and Tony Hawk franchises, but also because it's incredibly cute and cozy. The small demo available on Xbox One as part of the Summer Game Demo Event, while lacking in variety, had me hooked on its aesthetic. And though I wish there was more to do in its limited sandbox, SkateBird makes skateboarding approachable.
The vertical slice strips everything away--story missions, alternate locations, bird customization, etc--and left me with two activities and a fully skateable "park" on a desk. The cute little skatepark consists of kickers made of office supplies, ramps and quarter pipes with bendy straws as coping, and various other obstacles using Thrasher magazines. The controls are simple and the trick list is much more contained than other skateboarding sims, but watching a tiny bird push around on a tiny board before busting a hardflip into a front crooked nosegrind never gets old--no matter how limiting or restricting the demo is and how many times I performed the same eight or so tricks.
While there's a lot left to be desired in the demo, what's currently available had me itching for more. It'll be interesting to see everything SkateBird has to offer when it launches in 2021 for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. -- Jeremy Winslow
The Vale: Shadow Of The Crown | Xbox One, PC
Frankly, I've never played a game like The Vale: Shadow of the Crown before. Or, I guess I have--it's technically your run-of-the-mill fantasy RPG with towns to visit, side quests to fulfill, weapon and armor to buy, magic to learn, choices to make, and plenty of battles to be had. But the game flips a lot of that on its head by putting you in control of someone who's blind.
In The Vale, you have to navigate the world, fight enemies, and interact with NPCs all while looking at a nearly completely black screen. There are a few flashing lights on the screen, but they don't help you. It feels like they're just there to give your eyes something to look at. So you're forced to interact with the world via sound and touch--the former via headphones and the latter via controller rumble.
This makes tasks that are almost trivial in most RPGs, like sneaking past a group of enemies or navigating a busy market square, into daunting endeavors. But it's also a rather interesting and novel way to play a video game. The Vale might not be much to look at, but the demo is pretty fun to play and I'm intrigued to see how the gameplay will evolve throughout the full release, which I assume would crank up the difficulty after the tutorial. -- Jordan Ramée
Freshly Frosted | Xbox One, PC
Freshly Frosted brings together two of my favorite things, donuts and conveyor belts. The donut-factory based puzzle game is focused on making zen-inducing factory-lines that automatically make a variety of donuts. I love puzzle games that focus more on relaxing the brain than frustrating it, and Freshly Frosted is incredibly relaxing. It's very easy to adjust the factory lines whenever I make a mistake or miss a topping for my endless line of donuts.
I also appreciated how Freshly Frosted takes a very simple concept of a donut factory and continuously adds more and more steps or ideas to create a puzzle game that feels fresh throughout the demo. Having to feed three different types of donuts through all of the different toppings is a cute and fun experience that is definitely worth playing if you like puzzles and relaxation, or just need an excuse to order some donuts. -- James Carr
9 Monkeys Of Shaolin | Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Despite being just two and a half levels long--with the half being a tutorial introducing the controls and story--I found myself growing a little bored during the 9 Monkeys of Shaolin demo. Developed by Sobaka Studio, the Russian team behind the underrated isometric twin-stick brawler Redeemer, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin has this staunch air of familiarity to it: The story--in which Japanese pirates invade and pillage a remote Chinese country--echoes a similar set-up to Ghost of Tsushima and the control scheme is eerily reminiscent of (yet surprisingly simpler than) Redeemer's. Even the enemy types and environmental backgrounds are familiar and generic.
And yet, after finishing the short demo and re-watching the 2018 announcement trailer, I was still intrigued by the RPG elements and excited for what's to come.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin is a side-scrolling beat-em-up that put me in control of the fisherman Wei Cheng. The combat is simple yet fluid, with the controller's face buttons performing one of four actions: kicks, slashing strikes, thrusts, and dodges. Every action can be canceled into another--for example, the three different attack types can be combined together or immediately interrupted by a parry move--which allows me to remain aggressive and reactive when surrounded by multiple enemies. Though the arsenal was limited, the short demo seemingly belies the depth 9 Monkeys of Shaolin has buried within it. There's also online and offline co-operative play, which should make the combat even more chaotic during later levels, especially when you acquire new moves and better gear and magical spells.
With being a small, vertical slice of the final game, the 9 Monkeys of Shaolin demo is by no means indicative of how the game will look and play when it drops on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. But the demo does make the case that, if anything, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin will be an enjoyable action romp when played with a friend. -- Jeremy Winslow