The Best Games of Next Fest 2023 Part 1

The first of several videos looking at my favorite game demos from next fest 2023.

0:00 Intro
00:25 Meat Grinder
1:45 Yet Another Zombie Survivors
3:05 Radio the Universe
4:53 Protodroid Delta
6:12 Creeping Deck Pharoah’s Curse
7:39 Dungeons of Aether
9:16 Valfaris Mecha Therion
11:25 Sushi For Robots
12:48 Ninja or Die
14:56 Grim Guardians
16:55 Nocturnal
18:45 Elypse
20:22 The Last Case of Benedict Fox
22:34 Planet of Lana

Josh’s Favorite Games of 2022 — Best RPGs

We now turn to the RPG genre, that also helped while I was writing my book on RPG design. We have some very different takes that go from being old school, to not-so-old school design.

#3 Betrayal at Club Low

You may have played a lot of RPGs, but tell me, have you ever played one where you are a pizza spy trying to break into a club and may inadvertently become the greatest DJ ever known? Betrayal at Club Low is a trip through a strange world where you must use the power of your dice, and pizza, to get past different encounters. Upgrading your dice will give you a better chance at winning encounters, and the story will go differently based on what choices you choose and which encounters you win. There really is nothing else quite like this game, and it’s such a weird delight to go through, especially if you love pizza as well.

#2 Chained Echoes

The most “traditional” RPG on the list this year, Chained Echoes does a great job of mirroring and honoring classic JRPGs but does it in a way that is different the more you look under the surface. With a huge world to explore, challenging combat, and amazing pixel art, this is the game for JRPG fans who are looking for something new to play. While it’s a bit too traditional when it comes to encounters for my taste, it’s still a solid game.

#1: Fear and Hunger 2

I’ve already talked about my love/hate of the brutally difficult Fear and Hunger, and Fear and Hunger 2 continues that trend with more disturbing sights, challenging gameplay, and a whole new world to get lost in…and killed in. This is not for the faint of heart, or those looking for an easy time. This is a game where failing the tutorial will get your legs chopped off.

This is less of an RPG and more of a brutal puzzle for you to try and solve. One day, I need to sit down and try to learn both games. If you like your RPGs hard, and aren’t easily disgusted, there is no other series like it.

Josh’s Favorite Games of 2022 – Best Metroidvanias

The Metroidvania category continues to be an indie staple and this year saw some very interesting ones getting released and hopefully a good sign for 2023.

#3: Haak

The first of several metroidvanias that came out after being on early access, Haak delivers a combination of combat, platforming, and exploration through a stylized destroyed world. The game starts out simple enough, but it does get quite difficult near the end. There are multiple endings, secrets, lots of collectibles, and bonus quests to find in it.

What keeps it from getting higher is that the game tended to rely a bit too much on having to find secrets and hidden stuff to stand a chance, especially at two bosses near the end that spike in difficulty. If you’re looking for a challenging metroidvania, this is a very solid example.

#2: Dungeon Munchies

Even longer on early access and finally out, Dungeon Munchies comes with a lot of variety and charm. What starts out as you coming back to life to learn to cook food from a master necromancer/chef, turns into an ever-escalating journey into this strange world with a lot of heart, soul, and food to uncover. The game takes a lot of interesting turns that no one will really expect where it all leads, and still manages to keep its heart until the very end. Using your food items as a source of customizable buff lists is a different take. What stops it from getting higher is that it did feel janky in spots, and some of the metroidvania progression felt forced.

I hope we see more from the universe as there is a lot more stories to tell and food to make.

#1: Haiku the Robot

Haiku the Robot is a solid metroidvania with inspiration heavily from Hollow Knight while still carving out its own unique take. In a world where humanity is gone and there are nothing but robots around, when a strange corruption starts spreading, it’s up to Haiku to figure out what’s going on.

This is just an all-around great take on the design — controls feel solid, upgrades substantial, and there are plenty of secrets and collectibles to find. If you’re someone who is itching for Silksong and that style of metroidvania, don’t sleep on Haiku.

Josh’s Favorite Games of 2022 – Bullet Heavens

In a surprising twist from 2022, a new sub-genre found its way to dominate the landscape with the Vampire Survivor likes, Bullet Heaven, auto shooter, whatever we want to call it. With so many games being released, I had no choice but to add the category to the list this year.

#3: 20 Minutes til Dawn

20 Minutes til Dawn was the first of the many VS-likes to show up with a more active-style game. While it may not have the same potential for crazy combos like Vampire Survivors, there is certainly a lot of room for it to grow. What keeps the game from getting higher at the moment is that there isn’t as much of an escalation in terms of power and the situation that we see from the other games. Once you get control, it’s very hard to lose it in this game, and a lot of runs are almost decided before the halfway point. There is potential here for more of a skill-driven take on the design that I hope we see more of.

#2: Brotato

Part of the problem with trying to compare to Vampire Survivors is that a lot of the games tend to avoid both the spectacle and the snowballing of a play. Brotato is one of the best ones that come the closest thanks to its focus on builds and roguelike design. Each run plays out over 20 waves, and you need to match your weapons and items to the character you’re using. While it’s not as skill intensive as 20 Minutes Til Dawn, there is more going on with the items and planning you’re doing.

Of the other VS-Likes I’ve played, this is the one I’ve spent the most time with that isn’t Vampire Survivors, and I hope we see more to it in the future.

#1: Vampire Survivors

Was there really any doubt here? Vampire Survivors, love it or hate it, is one of the most influential games of 2022, and the entire reason for this category. One of the best examples of how much a simple gameplay loop can be elevated. It is one of those lighting in the bottle kind of games that has obliviously been copied, but not one other game has managed to reach the same heights. It is the Slay the SpireDwarf Fortress, or Factorio, of its genre.

The aspects that make Vampire Survivors work are that it is easy to play, the feel of the different weapons and builds, and the escalation. The game perfectly encapsulates an enjoyable 30 minute (or less) gameplay loop that can be repeated again and again. It is a game where essentially “stuff” is all it needs from a content point of view. I honestly don’t know where else the developer can go with it, or if we ever see another game like it at this level of recognition, but Vampire Survivors takes the award for “nuclear bomb dropped on the game industry for 2022”.