LOS ANGELES – While Summer Game Fest has been going on for a few years now, 2022 marks the first-ever Summer Play Days. The show has a few big titles (Street Fighter 6, Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course, and so forth), but the show also has a ton of fascinating indie games that you just won’t see anywhere else. Day of the Devs, a collaboration between developer Double Fine Productions and production company iam8bit, puts some of these strange games front and center – and if your tastes skew to the esoteric, you may want to keep an eye on them.
I went hands-on with eight different Day of the Devs games at SGF. Some of them made me smile; some of them made me shrug. But all of them held my full attention, simply because they’re so different from the mid- and big-budget games that usually dominate events like this. Here’s a brief description of my time with each one. If one of them strikes your fancy, keep an eye out for pricing and release date info, which each developer will communicate soon.
My demos began with Roots of Pacha, a crafting/farming game in the vein of Stardew Valley. The twist here is that you’re not just an average farmer – you’re a caveman (or cavewoman) who’s discovering vital principles of hunting, gathering and agriculture for the first time. In fact, most of my demo took place in a cave, where I used a crude hammer to break rocks for flint and obsidian, and held a torch to solve a puzzle in a dark space. This one wasn’t my thing, but it might be of interest to farming sim fans.
Schim was easily my favorite game of the Day of the Devs bunch. The concept is as simple as it gets. You play as a frog, who must navigate his way across a big city by jumping from shadow to shadow. (The sun would dry out your skin, supposedly.) All you have to do is move and jump, but this can be tricky when the shadows are tiny – or when they’re moving, as is the case with shadows of humans, cats, buses and other mobile entities. With a striking, minimalist color palette and a charming premise, Schim is one to watch.
Fans of weird games will probably enjoy Time Flies, which feels like an incredibly stripped-down version of Goat Simulator or Untitled Goose Game. In this stark black-and-white game, you play as a fly, who has just over a minute to live. You have a “bucket list” of things to accomplish during that time – learn an instrument, get drunk, go on tour and so forth. By flying around and exploring a suburban house, you can eventually accomplish them all, through multiple playthroughs. The gameplay here is slight, but it works in short bursts.
Desta: The Memories Between is a mobile game from the Monument Valley team, and it definitely felt like the most traditional title on display at Day of the Devs. You play as Desta: a young person who loved playing a ball game with their dad. (It’s sort of like dodgeball, sort of like handball.) When Desta dreams, they can recruit various friends and acquaintances as team members, and each one has a different ability. It’s part sports game, part strategy/RPG, and it’s extremely moody and colorful, just like the Monument Valley titles.
Birth was arguably the strangest title I played. You control it with just a mouse; no keyboard required. There are no instructions; there’s barely any dialogue; the only text in the game is vague and inscrutable. The premise is that you want to build a companion out of organs and bones, Frankenstein-style, but with sort of a modern-day Goth/hipster vibe. You’ll have to solve puzzles as you collect components, which can be both confusing and satisfying. If this sounds gross, it’s probably not for you; if it sounds interesting, there’s nothing else like it.
If you wish cleaning up were a little easier and more satisfying, then A Little to the Left has your number. This puzzle game challenges you to do various chores: organize books, set a table, straighten up a desk and so forth. There are no instructions, however, so you’ll have to use your imagination to figure out a theme for each collection of items, whether it’s size, color, shape, etc. Naturally, some puzzles also have multiple solutions. As you clean, a troublesome cat will occasionally mess things up, which adds a ticking clock element. It’s a chill experience, although maybe a little too down-to-earth for some gamers.
Animal Well is one game that I wish I’d had more time to try. Its creator described it as a mix of many different genres, although Metroidvania seems like the most obvious one at first. You play as a small creature in a pixelated 2D world, who must run, jump and climb its way past various obstacles, collecting new gear as it goes. The game is all about concealing and discovering secrets, particularly hidden passages and switches. It also seems to have some much darker, more unsettling elements to the story and setting, but these didn’t really show up during the demo.
Finally, there was Bear & Breakfast, which is just a good-natured, somewhat silly crafting game. You play as a bear named Hank, who decides to open a B&B for human clientele in the middle of the woods You build furniture, customize floor plans, invite guests, try to accommodate their needs and so forth. The dialogue seems snappy, with a cast of eclectic animals and offbeat people. The crafting elements also seem solid, although the demo didn’t delve much into the “collecting resources” aspect. Frankly, whether you like the title seems like a good indicator of whether you’ll like the game
Day of the Devs is a good reminder that not every single game has millions of dollars or a huge development team behind it. The best games come from a place of love, and it’s clear that these eight titles have a lot of love behind them. Hopefully, they’ll all find players who love them, too.