Thinky Third Thursday

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Thinky Third Thursday
February 2024 (Next Fest highlights)

Welcome to Thinky Third Thursday, curated by Alan Hazelden of Draknek & Friends - a monthly roundup of thinky puzzle games that have caught my eye.

Before we get started, a self-promotional reminder that Sokobond Express is coming out next Thursday. I've been playing it a lot recently as we prepare for release, and I can confirm that designer José Hernández has made something special here. I'm so excited to be able to share it with the world soon.

Highlights from Steam Next Fest

Last week was Steam Next Fest, Valve's thrice-yearly event showcasing demos for upcoming games. I tried several of them, and here's five I want to particularly recommend:

Botany Manor, by Balloon Studios and Whitethorn Games (Windows demo available)
Wander around a lonely manor house, learning and applying arcane botany knowledge to unlock access to more and more rooms. The production values here are fantastic, and the manor itself seems massive. It's coming out in a couple of months, so expect to see it highlighted in the April edition of this newsletter.

Duck Detective: The Secret Salami, by Happy Broccoli Games (Windows/macOS/Linux demo available)
This is a delightful detective game, starring a washed up duck detective with a bread problem. This will be familiar to fans of Return of the Obra Dinn or The Case of the Golden Idol, but it doesn't feel derivative - this genre feels like a great case study for how small differences in structure can lead to totally different games.

Star Stuff, by Ánimo Games Studio and Astra Logical (Windows/macOS demo available)
Program robots and cooperate with them to solve puzzles. I've been a fan of this game for a while (and I was mentoring the designers until recently), and can vouch for the quality of the late-game puzzles.

Lost Twins II, by Playdew (Windows/macOS demo available)
I've been excited for this since it was selected as one of the games selected for the Draknek New Voices Puzzle Grant last year. It got a new demo and a new trailer recently and still looks great. The gameplay of shuffling rooms around to affect connectivity has been done before, but the art style is gorgeous enough to make up for that.

Ouros, by Michael Kamm (Windows/macOS demo available)
Ouros is so elegant there's almost nothing left to say about it. Watch the trailer or play the demo and you'll understand instantly what it is - drag the control points; control the spline; hit the targets. It adds complications and variety of course, but at its core it's the mathematical elegance that makes it work.

Not for me, but might be for you

Here's some more games from Next Fest that didn't click with me for whatever reason. These aren't anti-recommendations though; I think they're all good games even if they're not for me.

Islands of Insight, by Lunarch Studios and Behaviour Interactive (Windows)
This came out two days ago, and is easily the biggest puzzle release of the year so far. It's beautiful, relaxing, and has a bajillion puzzles from some incredibly smart designers, so what's not to like? Honestly, I get a bit exhausted thinking about it. If you want something timesinky that will give you regular dopamine hits then this could be perfect for you, but unfortunately I don't think it's my speed.

Miniatures, by Other Tales Interactive (Windows/macOS/Linux demo available)
Miniatures looks fantastic, and the world this demo teases is intriguing. Unfortunately it doesn't feel as tactile as it looks - while animations are playing out you're locked out of being able to click anything, which often felt jarring to me.

nullptr, by Jeferson Silva (Windows/macOS demo available)
In my first 10 minutes with the demo I was unexcited - it had very simple puzzles and a focus on speedrunning levels that isn't appealing to me. However, just as I was about to put it down it started adding in some more puzzly elements which were actually good! Overall I still worry it might end up being an awkward mix of thinking and quick execution, but don't judge it by its opening moments.

Children of the Sun, by René Rother and Devolver Digital (Windows demo available)
It's described as a puzzle-shooter, but the gameplay doesn't feel puzzly enough to be compelling to me - it's not thinking-free, but it is more focused on trial and error than thinking. Perhaps more importantly though, I'm just not interested in playing a game that's going to make me violently shoot hundreds of people in the head.

Thinky releases from the past month:

Upcoming games to watch for:

20 Small Mazes, by FLEB
This comes out tomorrow, and will be entirely free! It's pretty much what it says on the tin - don't expect anything too headscratching and have a pleasant time solving some small mazes.

Sokobond Express, by José Hernández and Draknek & Friends
As I mentioned at the top, there's just one more week to go until our next game releases! Combining chemical bonds and puzzling pathfinding, Sokobond Express takes the guesswork out of chemistry, letting you feel like a chemist without requiring any upfront chemistry knowledge.

That's it!

Did you play anything else from Steam Next Fest that you thought was worth trying? I'd love to hear from you. You can find my contact details and social links on the newly revamped website.

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