I'm old enough to remember when video games took demos seriously.
Back in the early 00s, when I was but a small boy and life was simple and the terms "next slide please" and "furlough" had yet to enter the public consciousness, we were treated to teasers with proper substance. There were no timed demos or limits of any kind on how many attempts you were allowed - just discs of pure joy packed with fun and new experiences that you can enjoy over and over again.
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I have to stress that I was seriously young when demo discs were at their peak, so what follows is probably going to be a slight jumble of fuzzy half memories. I struggle to recount exactly what demos I played at the time and what exactly I thought of them individually. What I do remember is that they were a whole vibe.
I remember my dad coming home from the shops on a Saturday afternoon with a copy of Official PlayStation Magazine bundled under his arm. Being six or seven years old, I had little interest in the contents of the magazine itself - great start for a future video game journalist. I remember that, as a kid with an awful attention span, I was immediately drawn to the shiny disc containing a dozen or so bite-sized experiences, one of which was definitely a demo of the 2000 Spider-Man game. I know for a fact I played that one to death.
The Spider-Man demo was, I believe, pretty much just the first level of the final game. It didn't need to be anything more than that. Children famously love repetition, so it's no huge surprise that I spent hours upon hours swinging around the same dozen or so buildings over and over again. Until my dad picked up the full game, obviously.
Other games come and go in flashes. I remember enjoying brief snippets of Tomb Raider 2, Monsters Inc. Scare Island, Muppet RaceMania, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. I also have a weirdly distinct memory of something called Alfred The Chicken, something I literally never saw or heard of again beyond its appearance on one of the demo discs. Not that this mattered to me. I loved the demo discs for their unexpected mix of games.
The menu music on those old demo discs are probably what stick with me the most, though. I'm listening to it on a loop as I write this, and the bassy EDM-style groove is sending me back in time. I can picture the ethereal design of the menu, with all the various titles suspended in multicoloured bubbles hanging over a psychedelic void.
I'm glad demos still exist, but I think we're long past the age of them feeling as truly special as they did back when they came bundled onto one disc. These days you can head straight to the PlayStation Store or the Nintendo eShop and download exactly the demo you want. That's great, obviously, but demo discs were infinitely more mystical. You might have picked up the latest issue of Official PlayStation Magazine for the Metal Gear Solid demo, for example, but that demo would be accompanied by a number of other demos that you might never have thought to try out, broadening your horizons and introducing you to new genres and styles.
Flicking through those weird and wonderful as often as I liked provided me with a window into infinite worlds of platformers, RPGs, racing games, sports games, and so much more. It was the first time I got a real sense of just how varied, strange, and imaginative video games could be. That stayed with me, and I'll always be grateful to demo discs for teaching me that lesson.
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