With due respect to your backlog, it’s OK to ignore it for one more weekend. Earlier this week, as part of Xbox’s Summer Games Fest Demo Event, Microsoft released more than 70 demos of upcoming indie games.
These all expire on Monday, July 27. In other words, if you want to try them out, you have about 72 hours and change to do so. Even if you dedicated an hour to every available demo, there’s no way you can hit them all (unless you have a plot-convenient narrative device that defies explanation and is, in fact, paradoxical).
Luckily, we’ve been testing them out all week long, and have narrowed the offerings down to 10 must-play games. Check out the video above for a look at these gems in action. And for some extra detail of each, read on.
One heads up: Microsoft didn’t make it easy to find these bite-sized demos. You can’t just click on some giant Xbox dashboard banner that reads “Extra! Extra! Get Your 70 Indie Games Here!” Instead, you have to boot up the Microsoft Store app, go to “games,” and then scroll down to the “Game Fest Demos” section. It’s buried, but it’s there.
Sure, Skatebird’s demo only gives you access to one stage—but that doesn’t mean you can’t let loose. In that one stage, you can skate as freely as you’re able, limited only by your hopes, dreams, and skill level. The gameplay itself is more Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater than Skate, so take that how you will. But let’s be real. Did you really think a cartoon bird can pull off a smooth-as-butter kickflip? Or is such a creature more of a 900º quadruple tre flip-busting machine who can make the X Games seem like a playground game of S.K.A.T.E.?
Make no mistake: Ponpu isn’t Bomberman. But it sure plays like that classic. The story section included in the demo is fairly short, with just a brief chunk of campaign plus a single boss battle. The free-for-all mode, however, might take over your entire Saturday night. Against three AI or friends (hopefully AI, because, y’know, pandemic), you face off in Bomberman-style brawls. Sometimes it’s nice to play the classics, even if they are way better-looking in 2020.
Haven is a sci-fi adventure about a couple lost in the cosmos while on the run from an entity known as the Apiary. There’s an eye-catching art style at play. Everything here—from the ship that serves as home for our two main characters, Yu and Kay, to the alien creatures that populate this world—pops with vivid color and sharp design. But it’s the voice-acting and sharp dialogue that stand out most. Though Yu and Kay love each other, their relationship is far from perfect. Even in the brief demo, you can see how these two star-lost lovers sometimes irritate each other.
As far as gameplay, you swap between Yu and Kay in the overworld. There, you “glide” through the alien planet’s breezy fields while collecting a substance called “Flow.” Some moments unmistakably smack of Gravity Rush. In the ship, you control a nameless, disembodied figure and dictate actions and dialogue choices for this couple. It’s fun, if a little lowkey, and offers up a nice mix of genres. Of all the demos we tried, this one lasted the longest.
In The Vale, you play as a princess born without sight. The visuals of this game, as a result, are incredibly sparse. This gem shines due to masterfully designed audio and some seriously innovative gameplay mechanics. The opening moments teach you how to identify the sounds of combat. That allows you to anticipate the direction of your assailants’ attacks, and strike them first. Combat becomes more of an auditory gauntlet, rather than a visual one. There are even some parts in which you can only progress by using sound cues. And this isn’t a gimmick that ends at gameplay, as all menus are fully narrated with clear instructions for navigation. Some games have novel ideas that don’t work in practice. Here, the novel idea excels at every turn.
Let’s just throw some keywords out there: Nikola Tesla. Teleportation. Roguelite. Giant mechs. Eldritch horrors. If all of those phrases sound appealing to you, then Tesla Force—which is basically a smoothie with that exact ingredient list, consumed through a straw in the form of a top-down shooter—is for you. Though the missions are short, they’re always a blast (literally) and always just the right amount of ridiculous. Gunning down endless hordes of monsters while slowly assembling Pacific Rim Jr. couldn’t not be fun, right?
C’mon: It’s Destroy All Humans! This game, for better or worse (better, in our view), is exactly what the title implies. If you count yourself among the fans of the 2005 original, you know what’s up. For those who don’t, Destroy All Humans! puts you in control of an Area 51-inspired alien, tasked with enacting vengeance on the human race for capturing your extraterrestrial brethren.
The gameplay itself consists of zany third-person action gameplay, in which you can do truly ridiculous things, like toss cows and immolate barns. In other words, it’s more of the same, but 12 years newer—and way prettier than ever. The demo is indeed brief, but if you want some mindless fun, this one’s for you.
At the onset of Sail Forth, you choose a ship, customize a flag, and give your vessel a name. (Don’t you know it’s bad luck to sail a ship without a name?) From there, it’s off to the seven seas, where you embark on a roguelite adventure of sending pirates to Davy Jones. That sounds dark, but Sail Forth features soothing minimalist music, twee graphics, and writing that’s sillier than Silly String. It doesn’t hurt that these ships control smoothly—or at least more smoothly than ships in some other seafaring games.
Cake Bash is like your favorite Mario Party mini-game, only sweeter. You and up to three friends play as irrepressibly cheerful anthropomorphic pastries, which is just as cute as it is scary. In the demo, you have access to four different arcade-style games, three of which are worth your time.
The main game type is a four-player melee, in which you try to grab as many jelly beans as you can. If you need more, just smack your friends and take theirs. There’s also another game type that mimics the trials and tribulations of roasting marshmallows. For some, it’s easy. For others, the results are just like they are in real life: burnt, soggy, and better suited for a dessert called s’less.
But the shining attraction here is a mode called Fork Knife, which sounds like Fortnite but, trust us, is way more entertaining. You and your co-confections compete in a frantic game of King of the Hill (or, well, Cake). Instead of pushing your fellow players off, you have to run around while dodging incoming silverware. No round lasts longer than a minute—at least that we’ve experienced—making this the ideal bite-sized party game.
KungFu Kickball doesn’t really have anything to do with kickball. If anything, it’s more of a soccer game. Your goal is simple: Kick the ball so it bounces off of your opponent’s bell. The controls are just as simple: There are only three buttons, which you use to jump, kick, or “warp-dash.” But beyond that, KungFu Kickball is one of the most deceptively complex 2D multiplayer games in recent history. The physics are floaty. The warp dash is unpredictable. And the matches are so snappy and short, you really can’t help but say, “Okay, fine—one more round.” Just make sure to play this one with real human friends. The single-player campaign isn’t nearly as fun.
As far as isometric action games go, Raji doesn’t reinvent the wheel—but it sure doesn’t break it, either. Set in ancient India, you play as a young Indian woman trying to rescue her kid brother from malevolent demons. Because it’s a demo, we’re not far enough in the story yet to speak to its overall quality, but the characters are compelling and the dialogue well-written. As far as the gameplay, you’ve probably played something along these lines before. You scale cliffs, jump to ledges, and smack enemies with a mix of light and heavy melee attacks. It’s familiar yet competent, but features a setting and history that’s not commonly present in video games. It’s also a total blast. Definitely give this one a run.