Since gaming conventions are a thing of the past thanks to a certain virus, Xbox and the Summer Game Fest came up with a novel idea to get game demos in people’s hands: making a bunch of them available to download for a week, not just for press but for the public as well. So from Tuesday, July 21 to Monday, July 27, anyone with an Xbox One can download 73 demos for upcoming games, most of which will only be available for the duration of the event.
As Xbox stresses in its blog post, most of these demos aren’t the typical type you’d see near a game’s release, and as such, many of them have bugs, glitches and performance issues its developers are working on fixing. Still, it’s great to get access to such a cornucopia of games from the safety and comfort of home, and there are some real gems among them. Here are five games we found particularly promising:
Developer/ publisher: The Game Bakers
Release window: 2020
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Previously shown off in both the PC Gaming Show and PlayStation Indies Showcase, Haven co-stars Kay and Yu as two lovers on the run from a mysterious force. Featuring a similar cel-shaded art style to The Game Bakers’ previous project, Furi, this title seems more interested in providing a slower experience with moments of tension peppered throughout.
Although Haven takes place in a fantasy setting where its protagonists glide across alien worlds and fight monsters, a large chunk of its demo seems intent on highlighting the more mundane aspects of Kay and Yu’s lives, especially as it relates to their relationship. When traversing across the world, the main goal is to collect different ingredients and fuel for their ship, with other obstacles occasionally falling in the way. Although traversal feels fluid and soothing and the banter between the two lovebirds is cute, its combat didn’t click with me in the time I played it. Both Kay and Yu can charge up attacks or block, but that’s about it, and there wasn’t much room for strategy. Still, Haven is a beautiful game, and I’m looking forward to how it portrays the relationship throughout, especially since established relationships are pretty rare in videogames.
Developer/ publisher: Triple Topping
Release window: 2020
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, Mac
Easily the weirdest game in the batch, Welcome to Elk is based on a collection of true anecdotal stories its writers used to inspire the game’s plot. In its demo, you play as Frigg, a carpenter who travels to the island of Elk for an apprenticeship. It’s immediately apparent that Elk is a place full of odd people, in both funny and unsettling ways.
Much like something akin to Night in the Woods, Welcome to Elk’s gameplay segments seem to take a backseat to its narrative, with only one simple “repeat after me” mini-game in its demo. Instead, it focuses on its characters, who give its opening act a fun, quirky vibe with something more serious under the surface.
Welcome to Elk has a simple yet pleasant art style, set in a mostly black-and-white world with its characters and important objects colored in. This atmosphere is present nearly everywhere, including its writing and music, which makes it all the more jarring when unpleasant things happen. You might not know that Welcome to Elk’s story is based on real ones just by playing it, but so far, its connection to real emotions and human stories shines through.
Developer: Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK
Publisher: Modus Games
Release date: Nov. 17
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC
Set in a fantasy land that looks like an ornately decorated storybook, Cris Tales sees its titular heroine team up with a talking frog in a top hat, going on an adventure to change the future. It’s all very light and silly, but that’s what makes it so charming.
The main mechanic of Cris Tales is the ability to affect the past, present and future, with a third of the screen dedicated to each era. In its lengthy demo, I used this mechanic to prevent a house from succumbing to rot, but also made use of it in combat. In one encounter, I doused an enemy’s shield with water, then sent the enemy forward in time to when its shield was broken down by rust. It’s not mind-blowing, but the mechanic has led to some clever interactions so far, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the game has in store. The demo also has a colosseum mode in which you fight a series of enemies with a higher-leveled team, showing how the game eventually grows more teeth as it progresses.
Developer: Nodding Head Games
Publisher: Super Dot Com
Release window: Q3 2020
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Developed in India by a mostly Indian team, Raji: An Ancient Epic is rooted in Indian culture. The game takes a 2.5D perspective similar to the old God of War games, but swaps out the Greek gods with Indian ones. Its demo shows Raji, an Indian girl, embark on a quest to save her brother, who has been kidnapped by demons.
The game’s combat involves weaving around various demons and striking them with light or heavy attacks. It’s not particularly deep, but it eventually adds in enough environmental interaction, such as sliding around columns to stun enemies, that it keeps things interesting. Raji: An Ancient Epic is a gorgeous game, with detailed designs of various gods and other cultural artifacts of ancient India, and it looks to provide some much-needed representation of its culture in the videogame space.
Developer/ publisher: Glass Bottom Games
Release window: 2021
Platforms: Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac
Much like Ooblets, you’ll likely be on board with SkateBird from the start or not at all. Self-described as “a game about trying your best,” you control tiny birds in cute outfits who prefer to skate instead of fly. It’s undeniably adorable and has the foundation of a fun skating game, but unfortunately its current demo doesn’t do it much favors. By its own admission, it’s full of bugs and janky to the point where it’s just not that fun to play, but Glass Bottom Games has plenty of time to smooth it out before it takes flight next year.
Joseph Stanichar is a Paste intern who specializes in videogames. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and The Post. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.