Play piano, blag your book report, and navigate high school crushes in this gorgeous Philippines-inspired indie game

If you played and liked last year’s excellent slice-of-life adventure A Space For The Unbound, stop what you’re doing and go and download the Steam Next Fest demo for Until Then. Go on, I’ll wait. Right, sorted? Let’s continue. Like A Space For The Unbound, Until Then is a coming of age story where the ups and downs of everyday high school life start intermingling with strange, supernatural occurences.

Memories come into question, relationships are tested, and the Steam page hints that people might be getting wiped from existence as a result. The Next Fest demo only tugs at the threads of these themes, but that’s mostly because slacker student Mark Borja has more important things to worry about, like cheesing his book report slides on Crime And Punishment, and trying to insert his USB drive the right way round in his laptop. It’s a wonderfully observed portrait of little mundane details mixed with big, tender emotions, and cor, its gorgeous mix of expressive pixel art and 3D environments is just the icing on an already fabulous cake, isn’t it?

Until Then – Announce Trailer | PS5 Games

Inspired by developers Polychroma’s home country of the Philippines, Until Then’s demo does an exceptional job of capturing the quiet, everyday moments of living alone in a big city, as well as the mad rush of panic that comes from not doing your homework on time. It begins with the simple task of simply getting Mark to wake up, requiring you to hammer the ‘Start’ button several times to trigger his alarm clock beeps. He writhes and groans on his bed trying to drown out the noise of each of your clicks with his pillow, establishing a close, but playful relationship with the protagonist right from the get go.

There are also moments where you can surf Mark’s social media feeds on his phone, liking and sharing posts with a click of your mouse, and even reply with fixed responses, which you’ll first need to select, and then either hammer random keys on your keyboard or hold down space bar for Mark to type them out in real time. It’s a neat little touch, and when he receives texts and DMs from his class president and mates that make him flustered, you’ll see him hastily delete, retype, delete again and change his responses entirely as he works out what to say – just like the brilliant Videoverse did with its MSN-style chat logs last year.

The hour-ish long demo gives you plenty to chew on as it sets up the relationships of its cheery central cast, and I frequently found myself cooing over just how much personality the devs manage to squeeze from its really quite lovely pixel art. Its sound design immediately gives it a very clear sense of place, too, with the roar of traffic, cries from streetfood stands, birdsong and the squeak of fresh plimsolls on gymnasium floors all mingling together in an immersive wall of noise.

Two boys sit in front of a laptop in the school library in Until Then
Making your book report in record time with your pal Ryan was the highlight of the entire demo for me. As Mark feeds him suggestions for what to include, I just can’t get enough of his stressed and flummoxed expressions. Just lovely stuff. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Modus Games

Again, we only get the tiniest glimpses of what Until Then’s story is really about during the demo, but I’m intrigued to find out more about its mysteries and what that means for its characters. A classmate, for example, is utterly convinced it’s been tipping it down with rain recently when it’s been nothing but wall-to-wall sunshine on the forecast, and toward the end of the demo, Mark could swear blind that he’s met one of the transfer students about to join his class before, but can’t quite put his finger on when or why. During these moments, the music slows down, the camera pulls in with unnerving chromatic abberation effects, as if reality itself is about to break apart, but whether it’s simply a case of deja vu or confabulation, we’ll have to discover in the final game.

In any case, I’m hooked, and can’t wait to play more of it. Alas, its Steam page doesn’t have a release date just yet – just ‘Coming Soon’ – but seriously, go and play the demo, then come back and we can start hastily compiling a slide presentation on our thoughts and theories. It’s got to be better than the one you helped Mark pull out of his ass during the game, right?

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