The 9 Best Indie Demos on Steam Right Now

Addison Peacock

Picking a new game to play is a lot like going out to dinner. Stick with me, here. You need a little something to spice up your day, to fulfill a specific craving. Maybe you’re looking for something to do alone, or a way to spend an evening with a friend. It’s exciting, but it can also be intimidating. You open the menu (or the Steam store) and you’re overwhelmed with choices. Do you get the pasta or the fish? Skyrim or Stardew Valley? It’s a huge commitment that could potentially take days, weeks, or even months of your life. (If you think I’ve lost the restaurant metaphor here, you’ve never seen how slowly I eat lasagna.)

Enter the humble appetizer sampler, with its blissful union of mozzarella sticks and onion rings, the sweet symphony of buffalo wings and jalapeño poppers. No need to choose one big thing when you can have a bunch of little things!

Game demos are the appetizers of the video game world, a chance to taste a smaller serving of an upcoming game before committing to the full thing. We’ve put together our own appetizer sampler of indie demos from the Steam store to whet your appetite and amuse your bouche, from horror and mystery to comedy and romance, with a dollop of puzzles thrown in for good measure. Hopefully they’ll give you less heartburn than the real thing.

Children of Silentown 

Genre: Dark Adventure
Developer: Elf Games, Luna2 Studio
Planned Release Date: Later this year 

All is not well in this quiet little village. Just look at the wide, eerie eyes of the game’s characters, those vacant orbs that seem to look into your very soul. If those aren’t enough to fill you with dread, then there are plenty of other indications of coming doom. People are disappearing in the night, sounds of howling echo from the forest, and our protagonist Lucy can’t stop having terrible nightmares. Play as Lucy in this demo and get a small taste of the world of this Silent Town. Help your mother prepare dinner, explore the house and neighborhood, and try to stave off the creeping sense that something horrible is coming. The demo also comes with a selection of minigames, if the story portion isn’t enough for you! Just remember: don’t go into the forest, not even when the echos keep you up at night.

Call Me Under  

Genre: Aquatic Mystery/Romance
Developer: Lunaris Games
Planned Release Date: Later this year 

If you like your mystery with a side of Eldritch horror, a dash of 1950s noir aesthetic, and a heaping helping of romance, then Call Me Under is the game for you. Set in an alternate 1950s in the fictional underwater city of Styx, Call Me Under is a game filled with dark magic, romance, and plenty of intrigue. Play as a character determined to leave the past behind and have a fresh start at the bottom of the ocean among humans, sirens, and the distant influence of unknown deep-sea creatures.

Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the strange forces at play in Styx, and when a sudden earthquake hits and you have a vision of a stranger covered in blood, you might just find yourself in grave danger. The demo establishes the world of Styx, revealing a rich world filled with sly Greek Mythology references (a bar called Lethe’s, in homage to the river of forgetfulness in the Underworld, for example), beautiful settings, and compelling characters. There’s no romance in the demo (aside from a bit of cheeky flirting), but you can meet every romanceable character and get a sense of who you might pursue when the full game arrives. From a sultry jazz singer to a mysterious, beautiful man (who just might be a murderer), there’s a little something for everyone in Styx. Just try not to get yourself killed.

Cooking Companions (Appetizer Edition)  

Genre: Psychological Horror
Developer: Deer Dream Studios
Planned Release Date: October 2021

If you enjoyed Doki Doki Literature Club, this unsettling culinary-themed tale set at in a remote mountain cabin might just be for you. Like DDLC, Cooking Companions hides its horror beneath a veneer of cartoonish cuteness. The full game focuses on a group of adults trapped together in the Tetras Mountains, working together to survive and keep each other’s spirits up. Don’t be fooled by the adorable talking vegetables and cheerful anime-style artwork—there is something rotten beneath surface.

Unlike other demos of its kind, this “appetizer edition” gives the player a peek into the world of the game in the form of a contained story. Cabbage, the leader of a group of talking foods known as the Chompettes, leads the player in a friendly game of hide and seek. Sounds delightful! Be careful though, as you play it becomes clear that all is not as cozy as it seems in this cabin, and you can’t trust anyone. Not even the sentient potato. There are six different endings to this demo, from sort of happy to downright horrifying, including a special unlockable “jumpscare mode.” Heads up, though, there are a few jump scares in the game even if you’re not playing in “jumpscare mode.” With plenty of mind-bending moments, tonal whiplash, and a surprising amount of bonus material for a demo, Cooking Companions Appetizer Edition promises its fair share of tricks and treats. Hope you’re hungry…

Lord Winklebottom Investigates

Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure Mystery
Developer: Cave Monsters
Planned Release Date: Later this year 

Technically, you’ll have to go to this game’s page to download the demo, but the game is still available to wishlist on Steam, so it counts! Inspired by classic adventure games like Monkey Island, as well as Sherlock Holmes and the works of Agatha Christie, Lord Winklebottom Investigates is a murder mystery set in the 1920s where you play as a dapper gentleman detective who just so happens to be a giraffe. A distinguished axolotl (once named Amphibian of the Year!) has been murdered, and there is no better detective to solve it. So, adjust your monocle, stretch out your neck, and bring along your devoted assistant, Mr. Frumple the Hippopotamus, to crack the case. This demo has charming art, genuinely funny dialogue, and a consistently delightful quality that makes it difficult to quit, even when the puzzles get frustrating. Pip pip, cheerio, and eat a bunch of leaves!

Cleo – A Pirate’s Tale 

Genre: Retro Pirate Adventure
Developer: Christoph Schultz
Planned Release Date: December 2021

If you’re looking for something with a bit of vintage flair, cute pixel art, and lighthearted pirate adventure, then Cleo – A Pirate’s Tale might just be for you. This nostalgic, solo-developed, top-down game mixes its retro style with thoughtful design and a sharp sense of humor. Start the demo as our protagonist Cleo’s favorite legendary pirate, the famous Captain Cabeca, digging for buried treasure on a desert island packed with puzzles and murderous skeletons. The full game follows Cleo, a 14-year-old girl shaken out of the mundanity of her life when she finds a logbook and a pirate’s ghost that sends her on a journey to find The Treasure of Eternal Memory. Heads up, the demo defaults to German, so you’ll need to go into your settings and switch it to English when you start (or just leave it in German if you want, it’s your call).

Frank and Drake 

Genre: Turn-Based Narrative/Drama
Developer: Appnormals Team
Planned Release Date: Fall 2021

Frank and Drake is an indie game like nothing else on the market right now: a subtle, intimate reimagining of the stories of Frankenstein and Dracula. Its unique art style might not be for everyone, but it creates a completely distinct look that brings the characters to uncanny life. The animators used rotoscoping, a technique that combines 2D animation with film footage, to create a look that is simultaneously cinematic and hand-drawn. As for the story, Frank and Drake tells an intertwining dual narrative of two roommates with opposite schedules. Frank works during the day, and Drake works nights. The player embodies both of them, leading them through their everyday (or night) lives as they attempt to fit in to the world around them and learn more about the stranger that shares their apartment.

Though they never see each other, their choices irrevocably impact each other, winding their two stories together into one. There is no dialogue between the characters, allowing the story to unfold through letters, diary entries, and other forms of the written word in an homage to the game’s literary roots. The demo gives the player a peek into the lives of both Frank and Drake, beginning with Frank’s perspective as he learns about his new roommate arriving that night. When the day ends and night falls, the player takes over as Drake, moving into his new apartment and wondering what kind of guy he is going to be living with. The player gets a peek into the world of the game, its point and click puzzles, relationship meter, and alternating points of view. Though the gameplay is simple, and the pacing is slow, the innovative art style and gradual glimpses into a darkness beneath the mundanity are enough to pique your interest.

Epiphany City  

Genre: Puzzle Adventure
Developer: Big Shield Games
Planned Release Date: Early 2022

Epiphany City is a charming, vivid puzzle game for fans of bright colors, cheerful atmosphere, and optical illusions. Play as Lily, a blue-haired girl with a creative spirit who has lost her sense of hope and faith in herself. Presented with the chance to be a hero, she uses magical picture frames to solve puzzles and attempt to fulfill a sacred prophecy (even though it wasn’t intended for her in the first place). Paintings bleed into real life as reality is turned upside down, and Lily must put everything back in its place, chase her destiny, and save the world. The puzzles in Epiphany City have a unique feel unlike other puzzle games, leaning on the creative and visual over the practical. Combined with delightful dialogue and adorable hand-drawn characters, Epiphany City’s prologue has a playful, friendly feel that makes it an enjoyable casual play. The demo paints a pretty exciting picture of the upcoming full game.

In Blood 

Genre: Lovecraftian Horror/Romance
Developer: Jaime Scribbles Games
Planned Release Date: December 2021

What would you do to get revenge on your brother’s murderers? Would you, I don’t know, make a deal with an elder god to live in a castle in a pocket dimension for a year and make regular payments of blood until the beast’s horrid appetite is sated? Just as a random example. Well, that’s what Eleadora, the lead of the horror romance visual novel In Blood does. Though, to be fair to her, she didn’t mean to.

After inadvertently striking a deal with an ancient being, Eleadora finds herself trapped in another world, surrounded by mysterious (and honestly kind of sexy) creatures and a recurring piece of advice: Trust no one here. She must find a way to escape, or try to serve out her sentence while holding on to her humanity and her life. The demo serves as a prologue to the game’s larger story, setting the events of Eleadora’s story in motion and introducing a cast of vaguely threatening characters. The demo also provides a glimpse into the game’s choice-based play, which allows the player to shape Eleadora’s personality, relationship to her own humanity, and the allies (and enemies) she finds in her captivity. The demo may be free, but you’ll have to pay for the finished game with your blood. Or a credit card.

Strange Horticulture 

Genre: Occult Puzzle Mystery
Developer: Bad Viking
Planned Release Date: Early 2022

In this particular game, you probably shouldn’t stop and smell the roses. They might smell nice, but they’ll probably mark you for death by the hand of a terrible, terrible curse. In Strange Horticulture, you play as the proprietor of the local plant store in the town of Undermere. As you interact with your customers and attempt to fill their increasingly bizarre orders, you find yourself caught in the crosshairs of a hundred-year-old occult mystery. Look for clues, expand your collection of plants, and tend to customers, as you try your best to stave off a lingering sense of doom. The demo sets up the mystery and introduces the player to the ins and outs of operating the shop, identifying the right plants for each customer, and exploring the surrounding towns to find new specimens. Plus, your shop comes with a cat that you get to pet. Really, every game should have a cat petting mechanic.

Addison Peacock
Addison Peacock is a writer, voice actor, and podcaster. She hosts the romance game podcast Playing Games With My Heart (@heartgamespod). When she's not playing dating sims, she can be found writing about and making horror and comedy content all over this big beautiful internet.