Steamroll: The Demo Run

Welcome to the 2nd entry in the Steamroll, your weekly look into the $10-or-less indie releases on Steam. Although the paid offerings this week are pretty slim (only one $10 game released), there was also a slew of demos released. So, as a little extra bonus, in this week’s column I’m reviewing those demos as well, judging which are worth your time and which aren’t. With that, let’s dig in!

This Week’s Offerings:

  • Beat Buddy (Musical Platformer)
  • Trash TV (Side-Scrolling Action)
  • Blackwell’s Asylum (Horror Stealth)
  • ThunderWheels (Overhead Racing)
  • DIVO (Platformer)
  • White Laboratory (Tower Defense)
  • MilitAnt (Side-Scrolling Action)
  • Atooms to Moolecules (Puzzle)
  • Imagine Earth (Earth Simulation, Puzzle)
  • Bang Bang Racing (Overhead Racing)

Beat BuddyBeat Buddy

  • Genre: Musical Platformer
  • Download Size: 100 MB
  • Time Played: 13 minutes

A “pre-Alpha” single stage demo of an underwater adventure game where everything moves in time to the music. When the lyrics kicked it into a full-blown song while I was piloting a vehicle moving to one beat through patrols moving to a slower beat, I knew they had something special here. Give it a shot and keep an eye on these guys.

Try It? Definitely.

Trash TVTrash TV

  • Genre: Side-Scrolling Action
  • Download Size: 30 MB
  • Time Played: 5 minutes

Okay, so I play a walking TV that shoots timed rockets… for a few screens, then the demo repeats. Decent controls, interesting style, looks like it might be fun…? Really can’t tell with a demo that short.

Try It? Not much here to see.

Blackwell’s Asylum

  • Genre: Horror Stealth
  • Download Size: 250 MB
  • Time Played: 30 minutes
  • Didn’t Finish

Blackwell's AsylumA stealth horror game that’s too disorienting. You play a young ward trying to escape from a women’s asylum at night… while hopped up on narcotics. Corridors twist and ripple as you stagger through them, avoiding the patrolling wardens. If you get spotted, you’ll have to find a hiding spot fast or get dosed again, only to wake up in a nearby room.

The graphics aren’t the only thing that’s disorienting. Aside from a single map displayed in a room and a cutscene pointing to a 2nd-story window, I got no clues where I was supposed to go or how to get there. The corridors look similar enough that I swear I circled around or backtracked 2-3 times. After several minutes of wandering around lost, heading in some vague direction, I finally reached the stairs to the 2nd floor. I got caught again soon after. Just as I tried to escape, I fell through the level geometry and couldn’t get up. Since the game doesn’t have a save feature, I would have to restart it and play through everything again. I decided against that.

The visual disorientation makes a nice twist on the usual stealth gameplay, but the lack of guidance or saves makes it frustrating to play through. Maybe I’ll try again when I have an hour to spare.

Try It? If you’re a fan of stealth and don’t mind wandering lost.


  • Genre: Overhead Racing
  • Download Size: 110 MB
  • Time Played: 13 minutes

You remember the early days of game physics, when objects would skid and collide in unusual ways? Plop that into a top-down single-screen dirt track racer and you’ve got ThunderWheels. The tracks are uninteresting, the cars handle like pigs on ice, and you can’t even see the checkpoints you need to cross.

Try It? No.


  • Genre: Platformer
  • Download Size: 30 MB
  • Time Played: 20 minutes
  • Not Finished

Navigating a high-tech hamster ball around a tower exterior is harder than it should be, thanks to awkward controls and a weak injury knockback that lets you go from full health to dead in a second if you land on an enemy wrong. Jumping is hard to control, making it easy to overshoot the small elevator platforms and drop several floors. That, combined with the lack of checkpoints in a level, makes for a frustrating experience.

Try It? No.

The White LaboratoryThe White Laboratory

  • Genre: Tower Defense
  • Download Size: 100 MB
  • Time Played: 70 minutes
  • Not Finished

This is the most entertaining take on the tower defense genre I’ve played since Anomaly: Warzone Earth. Use cubes, turret spheres, rotating cylinders, and laser prisms to construct defensive towers against the dark parts that are trying to destroy your systems core. If you’re lucky, the parts will change color when destroyed, letting you salvage them for your own towers. It even has rudimentary physics that cause too-tall towers to bend & sway from the guns’ recoil, reducing accuracy.

The sterile lab motif reminds me a lot of Portal, and the auto-slowdown when you’re dragging objects is extremely useful, especially when you’re trying to install another gun sphere on a rapidly-spinning cylinder. However, I wish there was a way to remove a part from a tower without rebuilding everything above it before it falls down. There seem to be a few bugs as well: parts sometimes fell through the ground, refused to connect, or changed color & strength for no apparent reason. The worst bug was when the next wave refused to run and I had to restart the level.

Minor nitpicks aside, this is the most fun I’ve had with a tower defense game in over a year; definitely try it out. Be sure to check Nightmare Mode’s full review of it here.

Try It? Yes.


  • Genre: Side-Scrolling Action
  • Download Size: 550 MB
  • Time Played: 60 minutes
  • Not Finished

Everything about this game felt off. The walking felt too slow, the jumping felt too fast, enemy shots were too small to see and too hard to deflect, I often couldn’t tell if my shots were having any effect, and sometimes they went towards the wrong plane entirely because I accidently had my cursor over an enemy in the background when I wanted to shoot an enemy in the foreground. I eventually got used to the awkward controls, but I was still dying way too often.

Dying wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t restart at the beginning of the level after losing 3 lives. I kept all of my experience and weapons, but it was getting frustrating replaying the same stuff over and over gain, trying to reach the next stage. When I fought a boss monster and won, I thought I had finally reached a new stage. When I died after that, I started… all the way back at the beginning again. That’s when I quit the game.

Try It? No.

Atooms to MooleculesAtooms to Moolecules

  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Download Size: 15 MB
  • Time Played: 90 minutes

If atoms were large, chemistry would be a lot more fun, at least according to this game. In it, you have to fulfill certain goals by bonding atoms into molecules. The molecules disappear once all their bonds are filled, with bonus points if they contain rings of atoms.

This game’s fun is hampered by how hard it is to properly connect atoms. The only indication which atom will connect to which is a dotted line between the two, which is tough to see if you have multiple atoms crammed into the same spot. The angle of the connection also changes depending on their relative positions. I often connected the wrong atoms, or connected the right atoms at the wrong angles, over and over again.

In addition, the 8 levels last much longer than they should. I had to spend 10-15 minutes finishing each level, about twice the time it took for me to get bored with it. It’s decent fun, but it’s frustrating too often for its own good.

Try It? If you’re a puzzle fan.

Imagine EarthImagine Earth

  • Genre: Earth Simulation, Puzzle
  • Download Size: 180 MB
  • Time Played: 30 minutes

How many people can you sustain before you destroy the environment? That’s the initial challenge of Imagine Earth, which feels like the last part of SimEarth combined with Civilization 5. You place cities, farms, factories, and power stations across your small planet to attract people and receive taxes, but as you grow, the planet’s atmosphere begins to fail. If it drops too low, twisters appear and the ice caps begin to melt. To combat that, you get a limited number of upgrades to increase efficiency and decrease pollution; use them wisely.

This is a simple, fun planet simulator that tries to show how hard it is to satisfy the populace and what consequences unchecked growth can have. The small planets and triangular grid setup really makes you think about where, exactly, you want to place things: cities need room to expand & grow, but you can only place resource buildings within a certain radius of the city. Combined with an intuitive user interface and colorful graphics, this is a game for teenagers that even adults can play.

Try It? Yes.

Bang Bang RacingBang Bang Racing

  • Genre: Overhead Racing
  • Download Size: 210 MB
  • Time Played: 60 minutes
  • Series Completed: 2 out of 4
  • What I’d Pay: $7
  • Steam Price (6/11/12): $10

You remember RC Pro Am for the NES? This is the modern version of it: 8 cubic vehicles skidding around a track, crashing into walls, barrels, and each other. The hairpin turns and numerous obstacles demand precision application of brakes & turbo, which is made harder by the cars careening around you.

The world looks like it was modeled off Legos: everything is bright and colorful, the cars look like kids’ toys, and people are represented by bounding spherical heads. It was usually easy to keep track of my car amidst the carnage, aside from some very sharp hairpin curves that turned faster than my camera could. The races were short (3 minutes tops) and challenging; many of the later ones kept me white-knuckled as I desperately tried to stay in 1st place.

My main gripe with the game is its price: the Career mode seems like it should only take 2-3 hours to finish, plus an extra hour to finish the Championships, and I don’t think there’s enough interesting stuff in the game to justify $10 for something you can beat in 5 hours or less. Still, it comes close being worth $10; this is a very good entry in a rarely-used category of the racing genre.

Keep Playing? If I’m bored sometime.

Which of these would I continue playing? Imagine Earth, with White Laboratory coming in a close second. Beat Buddy would’ve joined them, but it’s not slated to come out until 2013.

That’s all for this week. Join us next time for the Steamroll, where I might be reviewing the Potato Bundle games if we don’t get a good crop of cheap games this week.