If you’re unfamiliar, Xbox’s Summer Game Fest event brings more than 70 demos of upcoming indie games to Xbox players to try out. The event is running from July 21-27. If you’re reading this in-between that timeframe, the following list is a group of demos you need to try out now, especially since they’re all pretty short. If you’ve missed the event, definitely consider putting some of these gems on your wishlist and check out our list of the best indie games on Game Pass. The event was an incredible way to bring more attention to indie games with a small marketing budget. But with so many to play, there’s always the risk of a few getting lost in the shuffle, so here are the Xbox Summer Game Fest’s must play demos.
With its irresistibly charming presentation, one-of-a-kind premise and a bucket load of creative ideas, PHOGS! is immediately one of my most anticipated upcoming games. You control two dog-heads attached by a stretchy, sausage-like body, with no other limbs. One side of the controller manages each head (think Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons) as you make your way through a collection of physics-driven challenges.
What stood out to me the most about PHOGS! was how much mileage the developers got out of the game’s unique premise—in such a short demo, no less. It presents insanely fun and creative ideas, then elaborates on them with clever puzzles, then mixes and matches them with other, previously established mechanics. Its eight collectible dog bones milked the demo’s mechanics even more and gave me flashbacks to the best 3D platformers.
PHOGS! exposes itself as a clever puzzle-platformer over time, but it’s immediately recognisable due to its endearing demeanour. The dogs bounce, bark and roll around in amusing and cute ways, but it’s the world they chew on that sells the game’s charm. The dogs can climb into a pink snake monster’s mouth for transportation, in the same way Mario uses green pipes. Popcorn, for some reason, is a recurring visual motif. Dopey creatures will stroke the dogs when you get too close and you can even find little robots dancing in an arcade. I can’t wait to see how PHOGS! elaborates on its world and unique gameplay ideas when it launches.
Destroy All Humans!
This remake to the 2005 cult-classic is available on July 28th, but the imminent release hasn’t stopped Destroy All Humans! from receiving a demo. The demo, and presumably the full game, begins with a message stating that the content of the game’s story may be too much for the “modern human” to handle, implying that the satire and political incorrectness from the original is uncensored. And that would have been the only appropriate thing for the developers to do, since Destroy All Human! prides itself on its overt and hilarious criticisms of the political instability and paranoia that was rampant in 1960’s society.
The demo gives us the original’s unhinged humour and whacky gameplay in stunning detail.
You can pretty much guess what this SkateBIRD is from the title. Yep, it’s Tony Hawk with birds. Inspired by a gif of skateboarding birds, the game is a more than competent skating game with solid sandbox design, a killer soundtrack and the perfect throwback atmosphere. There’s just one playground area in the demo for you to mess about in, but its full of obstacles to kick-flip over and railings to grind on. It’s whacky, it’s fresh, it’s a boatload of fun and it’s a welcome competitor in this underserved and niche genre.
Haven is an RPG about a couple in love. Yu and Kay struggle to survive while on an alien planet. Their relationship is cute, but also susceptible to conflict and bickering depending on how you decide to steer conversations. There are strong hints that the couple are on the run from a regime and the story’s serious subject matter came as a surprise considering the game’s serene aesthetic and art style.
Haven also has a lot going for it in the gameplay department. Traversal is a lot of fun in some open environments, as both characters can glide; it’s both beautiful and satisfying. In terms of combat, you command Yu and Kay at the same time which makes its combat somewhat unique. Instead of waiting for your turn, the minute their attack animations are over, you can go right back to dealing more damage. Both of their command lists were identical in the demo and their four moves meant there was no room for improvisation or strategic thinking, but perhaps this will change by the time Haven fully releases.
Cake Bash is the kind of party game we rarely get on consoles anymore. In Cake Bash, you and up to four friends battle your way through a collection of competitive, cake-themed modes. The two modes that were available in the demo version were Sweet Victory and Fruity Pie. Fruity Pie had four, player-controlled sweet-treats battle it out to see who could get the most fruit in a pie, while the second required players to collect candy while stealing other’s. Random hazards like a pigeon or eggs falling from the sky are great at keeping the game’s chaotic nature high. Meanwhile, players can cause their own mischief by attacking other players, stunning them and stealing their items. It’s a load of fun for all ages.
Genesis Noir was definitely the most psychedelic game at this event. This cosmic noir game plays more like an interactive graphic novel, with panels that lead into transitions and 2D art. And, boy, that art. It’s trippy, multilayered and oozes style with its black and white colours and combination of urban environments with the cosmic sky-scapes of space. What could be a fairly trivial and mundane game instead turns into a visual feast that’s expansive and beautiful. I wish Genesis Noir had a little more meat on its bones; puzzles could go a long way to making the game feel more gamey, but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of surprises when it fully releases.
ScourgeBringer is a mix between the pixel precision platforming of Celeste and the rogue-like action of Dead Cells. Your character’s equipped with a handy dash that slams them into enemies, and this is what makes ScourgeBringer unique in the 2D action realm. Its combat is way more aerial and fast paced than anything else on the market. Because of a low maximum health gauge, ScourgeBringer relies on you to avoid and dodge enemy attacks and not just blindly spam the attack button, hence this makes it just as much of a platformer. It’s tough as nails, satisfying and tightly controlled throughout. For our thoughts, be sure to check out our ScourgeBringer preview.