LOS ANGELES—The past week’s Summer Game Fest has mostly been a virtual affair, full of trailers for video games that may or may not launch in the next 18 months. Still, as the game industry draws closer to convention-preview normalcy, we scored invites to two early-June events with playable coming-soon games.
You may have already seen my biggest hands-on highlights from those events: Street Fighter 6, which is fantastic, and Sonic Frontiers, which is weird but promising. This article sums up the “best of the rest,” based on hands-on tests at the Summer Game Fest Play Days event in Los Angeles and a series of remote-connection Tribeca Games Festival demos.
The events were missing some of the world’s biggest developers and publishers—arguably because many of their games have been pushed to 2023. Despite this list skewing more to the indie side, we stand behind these game preview highlights thanks to how they felt to play.
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course
Platforms: PC, Xbox, PS4, Switch
Planned release: June 30
Links: Steam | Nintendo eShop | Xbox | Official site
The bullet-hell brutality of Cuphead will return later this month as a $7.99 DLC pack. If the sample boss level I played is any indication, this DLC will hit a sweet spot for series fans instead of turning the Cuphead formula upside down.
A new playable character Ms. Chalice is available as a “charm” that one player can equip at any time, and she comes with a few novice-friendly perks, including an additional point of health, a double-jump, a parry that doubles as a forward dash, and a somersault that adds a few frames of invincibility. Her new abilities weren’t necessarily imperative in the new boss battle I played—though due to being terrible at Cuphead, I still struggled with the fight’s three phases, which included an abrupt transition to floating, rotating platforms (think Super Mario World‘s second Reznor fight).
She’s available in a new campaign that executive producer Marija Moldenhauer tells Ars is comparable to the original game’s third isle—which included seven bosses and two platforming levels. Moldenhauer says the DLC will have six bosses, which she insists are more involved and complicated than the standard game’s selection, but she wouldn’t otherwise clarify what else the DLC will contain.
Moldenhauer also says that the DLC includes nearly as many hand-drawn backgrounds and frames of animation as the entirety of the standard Cuphead campaign. This could mean that the boss battles I haven’t yet played are even more intense or that there’s another massive platforming challenge to come. Either way, $7.99 seems like a must-buy DLC option for anyone already invested in Cuphead‘s meticulously hand-drawn 2D action.
Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4
Planned release: June 28
Links: Epic | PSN | Xbox | Official site
EA and Codemasters hosted an F1 2022 gameplay demo to show off the series’ newest feature: VR racing. Codemasters producers on site confirmed that the studio’s combined brain trust had matured enough to add a VR mode to F1, thanks to contributions from those who worked on VR modes in DiRT Rally and Driveclub VR. (Evolution Studios made the latter before Codemasters acquired it in 2016).
The game maker’s kiosk combined Fanatec’s CSL DD F1 bundle with a Quest 2 VR headset. In great news, the result strikes the right balance between fidelity and performance, along with considerations for VR comfort while navigating F1-worthy straightaways. The only comfort exception came from moments when the game’s particle-filled clouds filled my gameplay view, which made my headset’s frame rate tumble. This issue usually arose after a gnarly spinout when I drove all driving assists disabled; when I leaned on the game’s optional F1-for-dummies, all-assists mode, F1 2022 felt like a fantastic carnival ride.
Codemasters didn’t have much else to show off for F1 2022 at SGF, but the driving was fun enough to excite me for playing its VR mode on my PC when it launches on June 28.
Platforms: PS5, PC
Planned release: Early 2023
Links: Steam | PSN | Official site
At some point, the oversaturation of indie “seek-adventure” games (better known as “Metroidvanias”) has to run its course, right? What can anyone else do to top the critically acclaimed likes of Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, and Cave Story?
While I’m not immediately convinced that Animal Well will surpass the genre’s other greats, my hour-long demo has me very, very intrigued. For one, it has new, beautiful ideas for rendering pixel art, thanks to its sole designer, programmer, and artist building the game’s engine from scratch—and condensing the complete package thus far to a 10MB limit. The game’s lighting and physics models are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen in a 16-bit aesthetic, perhaps even surpassing the pixelated, chemical-reaction madness of Noita.
Additionally, this adventure has smart ideas for how to skip combat entirely. Animal Well asks players to focus on tricky maneuvers, puzzle-solving, and hidden-path discovery as they unravel the mysteries that cloak its lack of dialogue. Instead of wielding weapons, your eight-pixel blob of a hero must make the most of items like firecrackers—which cast lighting effects on the 2D world while scaring potential foes—and a handy grappling whip that can be tossed into crevices to grab otherwise untouchable world elements.
Snappy controls and otherworldly pixel-art designs have made my demo experience with Animal Well memorable thus far, and I look forward to its eventual release (currently pegged to a vague “early 2023” window).