The console war of the eighth generation of gaming is rapidly coming to a close, with many consumers and developers alike looking ahead to what’s next. With the current consoles, apart from possibly the Nintendo switch, winding down, it’s likely that we will see only new titles that have already been promised from developers. Any new announcements from here on out are likely to be for the next consoles on the market or games that have annual releases. The possible exception being some possible remastered games that developers can produce quite quickly.
Due to the pace of the competition slowing down, it allows us to get nostalgic and look back to simpler times, where it took a lot less to generate a lot of excitement. For those of a certain age, there was nothing more exciting than unboxing your new PS1 and revealing the beautiful black disc inside titled ‘Demo one.’
The demo one disc
There were multiple versions of the demo one disc along with various game magazine discs, and as you read, your mind may be looking back to your most treasured version of this glorious disc. The fact is that there were over 100 discs similar to this produced with different titles and demos available. Therefore, your own experience is almost bound to differ from another PS1 gamer’s version of events, making the legacy of demo one all the more special.
These games would fluctuate in quality and popularity at the time of release, and arguably, some of the best demo experiences we were treated to didn’t translate into a fully-fledged gaming experience. So with all this in mind, let us look at some of the best demos that we were treated to in this era. Full disclosure, some of these titles weren’t necessarily on the dedicated ‘demo one’ disc, but they have the same vibe, so give me a break.
The first example pretty much exemplifies the point made that not all demos translated into fantastic full releases. This game was a top-down pirate ship puzzle shooter. In terms of what gaming was offering at the time, this was a pretty interesting and unique idea. The demo offered the initial level of the game where it introduced you to the control scheme, which wasn’t overly complex, quite fun to control, and the premise of the game was fairly straightforward. It then introduced the player to some of the puzzle elements that the game had to offer. Finally, towards the close of the demo, it introduced the player to the combat aspects of the game. For the time, the puzzles were certainly on par with what was being produced. Also, the combat, although hardly complex or varied, offered an intense and fun feel to the gameplay.
This game, based on the demo, felt like the foundation for what could be a potential smash hit. However, in the light of day, the full title would only deliver a decent response. The fact that there were boss encounters, five different areas to complete, and a good soundtrack did do it a lot of favors, but ultimately, it was more of the same with very little variety as the game progressed. To summarize, a ten for the initial idea and demo, maybe a seven for execution.
In contrast to Overboard, Abe’s Oddysee provided a snippet of a full game that would be received very well. The demo opens up with the Famous CG cut scene where we get an idea of who the protagonist is, the slog that his daily life is, and why he needs to get out of the factory fast. From there, you are treated to a twenty-minute portion of the game where you get a flavor of what is offered. The controls are explained, and then you are tasked with tackling the main objectives on the game, evading capture, helping fellow Mudokons escape, and communicating with them via flatulence. You know, just the essentials. The demo grew in complexity as it went along and culminated in a perfect formula to generate hype to play the full title.
The game has, of course, received a large following with sequels issued soon after the first title. The franchise was even treated to a remaster to bring the visuals up to the current generation’s standards. All in all, not a bad job.
Spyro the dragon
It’s hardly a secret that this purple mascot of the first-ever play station console is a much-beloved figure in gaming, Skylanders inclusion excluded, of course. However, it is rare that anyone ever talks about the brilliance that was the initial demo for the first entry in the franchise. Insomniac decided to give a large portion of the game to the public completely cost free to build hype for the game. As we know now, this worked tremendously well. The demo included all the levels that were accessible from the first hub world. This includes Stone hill, town square, dark hollow, toasty, and sunny flight. With so much content, it’s hardly surprising that gamers decided to get on board.
Also, if you were so inclined, there was a cheat code that, if entered, would allow players to access the demo for the original crash bandicoot title. This would be something that Naughty Dog and Insomniac would continue to do throughout their respective trilogies demos and was a nice touch. The little dragon, of course, went on to feature in a multitude of other titles, spin-offs, and recently got a wonderful remaster treatment from developers Toys For Bob.
Arguably the gem that stands out within the whole Tekken franchise. The third installment demo offered the players a lot to sink their teeth into. It provided the iconic arcade mode so the player could get a feel for that particular mode and also allowed the players to fight against the full roster of characters. The demo also offered multiplayer support so players could settle their differences with a good old fashioned brawl. The only limitation in this demo was that within the demo, only two characters were playable. Although, as a way of getting players interested in the next entry in the franchise, this one succeeded massively.
The franchise enjoyed a lot of success throughout the next generations of consoles with various titles being produced in the franchise that would offer competition to rival franchises such as Soul Caliber, Marvel vs. Capcom, Dead or Alive, and of course, their main rival, Mortal Kombat. This game was always seen as the more composed and martial art focused game of the genre with fellow front runner mortal combat focusing more on brutal, unrealistic fatalities. It’s fair to say, regardless of your disposition, that Tekken is a beat-em-up staple.
The nineties was a weird time for music. The mainstream was densely populated with formulaic R&B songs and boy band hits. Good music was just hard to come by in that era, and I think we are all glad that it’s not the case anymore. So, why is this relevant? Well, Wipeout, a space-age racer game, produced with the limited resources that soundtrack developers had due to the limitations of the discs, an absolutely brilliant soundtrack. This, of course, went a long way towards the popularity of the game, but the demo was the first opportunity for gamers to witness this.
Within this demo, they weren’t just treated to a wonderful trance score but also an innovative and unique racing game. Full disclosure, going back to this title now is not advised as it has aged terribly. The handling of the vehicles is woeful, and the graphics are grainy to be generous. At the time of release, though, the pod racer was a breath of fresh air in the genre and stole some of the spotlight that Gran Turismo and Ridge racer had been basking in. The demo would offer two tracks for players to race around and would offer multiplayer functionality. Along with the marketing campaign, which tied this game to the prominent DJ scene and artists such as Orbital and The Chemical Brothers providing tracks. It all led to the perfect storm, and players couldn’t wait to own this title.
This one is perhaps lesser known as a full title, but the demo was an iconic one. This game was a puzzle game in which you have the power to move and destroy cubes as they come towards a little human avatar and flatten him brutally. The art style looking back does look like the game might have taken place in the PlayStation two’s start-up screen. What made the game memorable was the art style, the interesting, varied, and difficult puzzles, but above all, the atmosphere that was created. The game made sure that the person you were protecting was minuscule; the sounds used in the game were loud booms and crashes of the approaching cubes that penetrated the silence. Every inclusion by the developers added to a sense of looming failure if the puzzles got the best of you and created a real sense of urgency and panic.
The demo would offer a selection of increasingly complex puzzles that would illustrate the game’s mechanics and give a player a taste of what was to come. The problem with Kurushi or intelligent Qube for US readers was similar to that of Overboard. It came you everything it had to offer in what was intended as a teaser. The game was fantastically crafted for and was critically and financially well received. Yet, for the reason that it let us behind the curtain, it was never going to be a blockbuster. Although, for those initial few levels that the demo provided, it was pretty special.
Who doesn’t love a Disney movie tie-in game? This sounds like a joke, but back in the PS1 era, licenced games were by and large, actually fairly competently made. Take the likes of A bugs life, The die-hard trilogy, Toy story: buzz light year to the rescue or bugs Bunny: Lost In Time. All wonderful additions to the system’s library. In terms of demos, though, on the original demo one disc, Hercules was a fantastic addition, at least in demo form. This game kept the same format of Disney tie-ins of old such as the lion king or Aladdin’s respective titles. It was a side scroller that reflected the art style of the movie beautifully, and the initial level that the demo treats you to was really fun and a joy to explore. The game also included music and voice-overs from the film, which was also a choice worth celebrating.
Why this game did not perhaps succeed and get the acclaim that it wanted was that there were some design flaws that made the full release feel rushed. For example, the game did not feature a save game feature in the conventional sense. You were only able to save the game by collecting all the collectible letters for that level, or you would have to begin from the very start. Also, the additions in gameplay that moved the game from genesis side scroller to PlayStation 32-bit action game were superficial and somewhat tacked on. The tight controls of the opening area seemed to be applied less and less as the game neared its conclusion. One can only speculate as to why perhaps budget or time constraints, or maybe simply trying to break away from the format of the games that came before. I doubt many had anything bad to say about the wonderful demo level; the full title, however, left a lot of gamers disappointed.
Perhaps the only inclusion here that has garnered a true cult following. Tombi or Tomba is a 2D side-scrolling platformer with 3D elements and, therefore, part of the group of games that coined the term 2.5D. The game looks and feels similar to the first ray-man title, and critically, this game was received very positively. Although the aesthetic and platforming were hardly rivaling the releases of other franchises, what unique elements it did offer cemented it as a cult classic. Tombi offered a side-scrolling environment but included no levels to segment the experience, creating one of the most unique styles of open world on offer at the time. The demo was able to showcase what Tombi was all about by letting the player explore this wacky open environment, learn the controls, find out the nuances that the 2.5D aspects provided and all in a small opening segment.
Why the full title perhaps didn’t succeed financially is not entirely clear. Many speculate that it’s down to the lack of desire for more 2D side scrollers with the newer 3D rendered games on the market. Others say it was down to the titles unfocused nature with the game lacking direction for the player and leaving those that didn’t stick with the title frustrated. For that reason, the demo possibly provided consumers with the assurance they needed not to purchase this one. Yet, for that select few, this game was the unsung hero of the PS1 and provided one last hurrah for 2D side scrollers until their resurgence with the indie game movement.
Tony Hawks Pro Skater
Firstly, at the time, it cannot be stressed enough that there was very little interest in skateboarding as a sport or hobby. So the idea to take this unpopular concept and create one of the most popular sports games ever was a stroke of genius from Neversoft. The game that started, as many games do, as developers joking around making Bruce Willis ride a skateboard, would rapidly transform into a PS1 staple. The game provided tight controls, a unique timed arcade format, genuine character models of real-life skaters, and a blisteringly good soundtrack jam packed with iconic punk hits. I mean, who doesn’t remember Superman from Gold finger?
The demo treated players to as many two minute servings of the warehouse level as they wanted, while in control of game poster boy, Tony Hawk. The unique take on the sports game genre captivated players, and the franchise would go from strength to strength for the following decade, producing hit after hit. Sadly the franchise has fallen on hard times after more recent releases such as Tony hawks: Ride and the critically panned Tony Hawks Pro Skater 5. Although it may be time to put the old girl out to pasture, it has to be said; the horse ran a hell of a race.
Metal Gear Solid
If you’re arguing what game holds the title of the best initial PlayStation title, it’s hard to look past this Konami classic. Hideo Kojima, the man that has divided opinions in more recent releases, rose to prominence with a game that had it all. A unique approach to gameplay and perhaps the first game to really focus on stealth. It had a stunning narrative coupled with a brilliant musical score and solid voice acting. The scale of the game was tremendous and would only really be rivaled by the final fantasy titles, which used multiple discs to achieve that.
The demo treated the player to the CG opening of the game and introduced the player to the protagonist, Big Boss. From there, the player is thrown into the deep end and is asked to gradually navigate the opening segment of the game. The demo even had the audacity to leave the progressing narrative on a cliffhanger, leaving players gasping and wondering when they could get their hands on the game. This franchise would, of course, go on to produce five releases, one of the most captivating yet convoluted storylines in gaming history. Not to mention, of course, the trickery, plot twists, and mind games that Kojima is synonymous with.
Are there any demos that you absolutely loved in this era? Would you love to see other consoles or generations covered in the same way? Perhaps you would like to check out our previous article on the PlayStation classics roster of games, which is listed below. Feel free to leave a comment, and as always, thank you for reading.