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13 Demo Impressions From The ID@Xbox Winter Game Fest Demo Event

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As part of The Game Awards festivities, Microsoft, under their ID@Xbox label, offered 35 downloadable game demos to peruse from December 7 to December 21 during their Winter Game Fest Demo event.

35 Games is a lot to take in and while there are a few standouts that have received some hype over at Steam and at game previews, there were a few titles I definitely already had my eyes on. Funny enough, some of the demos have gone live as early as December 5, giving me more time to check out what else was offered.

I tried a few demos from this burgeoning list of indies and came back to report on what I’ve picked out. I wasn’t able to try every single demo, but I got through a few, and a bunch of them are really good stuff.

ID@Xbox Winter Game Fest Demo Event Impressions

Death Trash

winter game fest demo - death trash
Shut up and gimme my fetch quest

Death Trash is equal parts bizarre and entertaining. From the onset of its isometric action RPG veneer and its gratuitous take on body horror, for the most part, Death Trash works. It’s part classic Fallout with an easy-to-control interface matched with contemporary frame rates.

You’re a former citizen banished by your machine overlords into a wasteland filled with death, destruction, and decay. Your character has developed a mutation and the machines have let you continue on living if you follow two simple rules: you don’t procreate and you don’t enter the habitat areas. Doing so will forfeit your life.

What to do next but explore the wasteland, learn about your mutation, and do some fetch quests along the way. You’ll encounter cosmic horrors, other humans, and other machines. How they interact with you is determined by how you play your character. The graphics may look dated, but the depth of the role-playing and exploration is vastly satisfying.

Aspire: Ina’s Tale

winter game fest demo - aspire ina's tale
Is it here where I learn powers like Megaman?

In this short demo that gives off some real strong Child of Light vibes, Aspire: Ina’s Tale flips the script on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. You are a priestess of the living Tower and to some of its denizens, you’re known as the Heart of the Tower. Awakened by the Knight, you realize that you want to leave your post, to wander outside the Tower walls and reclaim your freedom.

As you negotiate through the walls and dungeons of the Tower solving puzzles to allow for passage, you learn more about yourself and your past. You will enter new rooms, avoid traps, manipulate the Tower’s tools, and outsmart its many defenses, all in the name of becoming something much bigger than the Heart of the Tower.

The demo is about 20-30 minutes long and you’ll complete one full level and half of a dungeon. The puzzles are simple for now and there is little hand-holding to solve some of the puzzles. If you’re into puzzle platformers, this could be a title for you.

Outbreak: Contagious Memories

winter game fest demo - outbreak contagious memories
What secrets will I unlock if I beat this game with a knife?

Resident Evil popularized the survival horror genre and improved on it down the line with Resident Evil 4. While a part of me misses the classic survival horror control scheme and feel, it’s been improved for a reason and we can see that in our 30-minute demo of Outbreak: Contagious Memories that takes the classic survival horror interface unironically.

Just like Tormented Souls and other games of its type, the game throws you into the remains of a city after the zombie apocalypse taking control of protagonist Lydia as you scour through a warehouse for supplies aiding other survivors. Of course you’ll encounter the undead with a range of classic weapons: the handgun, shotgun, or try to use a knife when all ammo runs out.

The novelty wears off quickly once you discover that many of the quality of life features in modern-day survival horror are absent ranging from movement while aiming, better lighting, and a workable aim mechanic. If you’re curious seeing what we old gamers had back in the day, a walk down memory lane through Outbreak may be the thing.

Grid Force: Mask of the Goddess

winter game fest demo - grid force mask of the goddess
This teddy’s not messing around

Take one part strategy-RPG and another part bullet hell and you get Grid Force: Mask of the Goddess. You choose between different heroines as you progress through each chapter where you take control of Donna and her entourage as you explore through different planets and avert danger.

Just like any bullet hell, you move through a 16×4 grid while dodging enemy fire and building enough power to unleash your Goddess Mask, a large area of effect attack that has the potential to wipe the board clear if you’re getting overrun.

You can dodge, block, and deflect enemy attacks while switching between your squad when health and energy run low. Each of your squad has unique attacks and each has an element that could counteract enemy strengths and exploit their weakness. One cool bit is when you do enough damage to an enemy using their weak element, you can stagger them enabling double damage.

It’s still in an early build, and hopefully, a future demo can let us know how the game has progressed and give us a better understanding of its story and characters.

Tunic

winter game fest demo - tunic
Hades? Death’s Door? Nay, this is Tunic!

Don’t let its cutesy exterior fool you, it’s every bit as grueling as Death’s Door as it is a Zelda-esque Souls-lite. As the initial note says, find a stick, find a sword, collect some secrets… that’s basically what you will do in this action/adventure.

Featured during the Summer Game Fest and now again during The Game Awards, with no recollection after waking up on a beach, you guide your anthropomorphic fox on an adventure. With writing only the game creator can understand, you’ll find yourself exploring caves, taking on larger-than-life monsters, finding keys to locked doors, and hints on how to survive new foes.

For all its difficulty, I’m strangely drawn to this game especially when you figure out who to navigate its narrow corridors and evade some enemies. You can end the demo at any time, but as it stands, you can opt to beat a couple of boss battles, but the couple of maps featured will stay the same and you can keep playing until you’ve had your fill. This demo is quite enjoyable and dare I say it, I prefer it to Death’s Door.

Kraken Acaedmy!!

winter game fest demo - kraken academy
Is this Death Trash but with anime graphics?

And here I thought Death Trash was bizarre, this Persona parody takes things to a whole new level. As a new student to Kraken Academy, a rundown public school, you have to go to classes, make friends, and save the world as that’s what high school kids do in RPGs. You’re recruited by the Headmaster, the Kraken, to free the souls of the Kraken Academy clubs trapped in troubled youth, and you have three days to do so.

Most of the action in this game is propelled by quicktime events where you have to hit the right target at the center of the mini-game. Otherwise, you collect plastic bottles and earn currency this way. You can find more bottles in lockers, trash cans, and bins. You can also add friends from the bizarre cast of characters, most notably Broccoli Girl, who is of course literally an anthropomorphic broccoli.

Just like Death Trash, I’m drawn to this game, and hopefully, they either release it on Game Pass to try out the full version. There’s something really strange about this title that deserves more study… for science.

Overpass: Rhythm Roadtrip

winter game fest demo - overpass rhythm roadtrip
A few more rounds and I can get all this perfect

So if you want a rhythm game that’s solely synthwave, Overpass: Rhythm Roadtrip has you covered. It’s quite simple, you select a level and follow a given path provided by the beat. You have to hit the beat to the rhythm, move left or right if you have to, and on later levels, you can even hold the beat. The prompts range from basic to complicated ones depending on the difficulty level.

It’s quite straightforward and the demo provides you with two levels to see if its the rhythm game for you. It’s no Beat Saber, but it can be relaxing if this is your cup of tea.

What Lies in the Multiverse

winter game fest demo - what lies in the multiverse
Balan Wonderworld demake?

Another puzzle platformer from the publishers of Aspire: Ina’s Tale. The difference is that you manipulate the power of moving two different universes at a whim to find ways around platforming. You push boxes and work with your environment as best as you can.

The protagonist who created a program that can simulate events in all known areas of the multiverse is transported to a another dimension where he encounters the enigmatic Everett from Universe Zero. Given a chance to explore parallel worlds, the duo encounter anomalies such as ubiquities where certain items exist in all universes.

With an interesting plot and two chapters to play through, you mostly move through areas where you collect keys to open doors to progress the story. While the visuals remind me of Terraria, the dialogue is actually quirky in a good way, and we’re hoping for a satisfying conclusion when everything releases.

The Tale of Bistun

winter game fest demo - the tale of bistun
I dunno, you were tired, bro.

In this beautiful action RPG, you play the role of the amnesiac hero Farhad who has been tasked by the living tree All-Seeds to free his kind from the Talisman Stones. As he ventures off to distant lands connected by All-Seeds and frees his kin, Farhad receives a nugget of memory from his past where he would reconnect in the celestial realm.

In this 20-minute demo from the Summer Games Fest build, The Tale of Bistun gives you everything that you need to get an idea of what to expect from a gameplay loop. You’ll traverse through different lush worlds, vanquish enemies, free tree saplings and collect memories. There are secrets to discover unlocking forgotten lore that surrounds the mysterious land that Farhad woke up from.

It is a standard adventure fare, nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a familiar game with a familiar tale that’s sure to please most gamers.

Nobody Saves The Universe

winter game fest demo - nobody saves the universe
Or it can mutate to the common cold

Nobody Saves The Universe is one of the most promising in this set. From Drinkbox Studios, the creators of the Guacamelee series and the criminally underrated Severed comes Nobody Saves The Universe, an action RPG that really highlights Drinkbox’s unique visual style mixed with their quirky humor.

You are Nobody, an unassuming person who woke up with amnesia, and eventually comes caught up with a quest to save the world after being trapped in a magical dungeon by a jerkface protege Randy The Rad. Retrieving a mysterious wand, you are able to shift into different forms that allow you to explore dungeons, defeat baddies, and of course, save the world.

Nobody Saves the Universe combines different engaging mechanics that allow you to level up, upgrade your different forms, and unlock higher level dungeons by completing quests and progressing the story. Like Death Trash, Nobody Saves The Universe provides a more meaty demo compared to many titles on this list allowing you to progress through a few missions before the demo ends.

Will this be the game that propels Drinkbox Studios to the same heights as Supergiant Games with Hades? Hope to see this title release soon!

Blind Fate: Edo no Yami

winter game fest demo - blind fate edo no yami
Still more cyberpunk than Cyberpunk

What do you get when you combine Cyber Shadow and The Ascent? Something freakin’ badass, that’s what! This action platformer is Blinded by Fate: Edo no Yami, where it takes place in a cyberpunk post-apocalypse world, or maybe both. We won’t know for sure, because Yami, the cyber demon hunter is a blind swordsman. We’re only privy to the world as data sent by the AI Tengu. So we trust this spirit, but can we really trust it?

This is surely one of the more interesting demos on this list because we’ve seen ninja platformers before and we’ve seen every other cyber ninja out there, but have we encountered a blind swordsman? What’s really interesting is during this demo, Yami’s sensors have been damaged during an ambush, and now we have to rely on his other sensors to make it work. Heat, sound, and smell along with the limited sight collected as data from the three different sensors.

Enemies come at you as shadows, and the more you damage it, the better your data will process giving you a clear picture of the battlefield. It surely adds something new to the exploration aspect of the world where we have to get a clear picture of the stage before even engaging. If there’s something that tickles my fancy besides bizarro stories… it’s the perfect blend of innovation and entertainment. This is highly recommended.

Lootriver

winter game fest demo - lootriver
Tetris Souls

If you’re feeling your Soulslike is getting a little repetitive after a while, why not add Tetris to the list of things to multitask while you die, die, and die again? Lootriver combines Tetris and Dark Souls with the visual panache of other roguelites like Moonlighter, and somehow, it works. The dungeon in question is surrounded by interconnected canals, and the only way to explore is to manipulate the blocks to get to your destination.

Combining both a Soulslike and a Roguelite into one package seems like a daunting task, and of course, you shake your head at why you would subject yourself to such strange masochistic punishment, but you keep playing. You not only lose all your currency collected, but also the new gear that you’ve picked up when you die. And just like Returnal, all you really keep is weapon knowledge.

Levels are randomly generated and as you put your time and effort into the game, you’ll find ways to vanquish familiar enemies and manipulate the blocks to get you where you need to go. I recommend it for the brave and also for those bored with the usual Soulslike and Roguelite fare.

Blacktail

winter game fest demo - blacktail
That deer is fucked

In this beautiful and terrifying psychological horror first-person RPG, you play as Yaga searching for her sister in a bizarre and haunted forest. As you go deeper into the forest, you contend with your inner demons and weigh your dwindling morality against the forest’s magical denizens… both the friendly and terrifying.

Blacktail is a re-imagining of the Baba Yaga folklore that reminds me of the storytelling in A Plague Tale: Requiem and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. The psychological horror element really comes out well and it combines simple crafting mechanics elevating the game from a survival game to a full-on RPG especially when you start to manifest your powers.

I’m excited about how this game will turn out at launch and hopefully reach the heights the aforementioned games it is based on. For an Alpha build, the polish in this game is just about right, and hoping for a release date soon.

Author

Vincent Ternida moved Vancouver, Canada in 2006 and called it home ever since. He spends the lockdown catching up with his Japanese RPGs, writing his new manuscripts, and figuring out why he suddenly became the main character of the latest Haruki Murakami novel.

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