In the late 90s, I’d often stay over at my cousin’s house, where we’d spend some time (to say the least) playing his PlayStation. Even though he had a plentiful games library, we could spend hours playing the demo discs. Games like PaRappa The Rapper, Armored Core, and Ace Combat 2, among others flooded the television screen in their individual squares on the demo screen menu, as highlights of each game played. I was extremely bad at PaRappa The Rapper (for some reason), but it felt like every time I came over and he was up he would be playing Intelligent Qube, a 1997 puzzle game where you must solve puzzles made up of 3D squares before they pushed you off.
Thinking back, I don’t remember him ever getting the full versions of the games that were on the demo disc. That lone demo disc was addictive. Sure, it did not have any of the full games on it, but it was kind of like having an abbreviated version of Game Pass and other online video game library services. Each demo disc which normally came packed with consoles carried numerous types of games and bountiful amounts of fun.
It was like having your own little arcade in your home. If I finished Intelligent Qube’s demo, I, like a kid who has a favorite song that annoyed their parents, would play it over and over again. Growing up and being a young gamer in the 90s came with some advantages. For example, when my parents and I would go somewhere I had to turn off whatever console I was playing at the time. Having to restart my progress each time I flipped the switch off did not bother me; I never thought about it, I just loved the fact that I could go home and play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist.
I never went to my parents asking for a PlayStation because I would just play my cousin’s all the time, so the need to get those games was not all that important to me. In fact, it was not until I got the Sega Dreamcast for Christmas in 1999 that I made the jump from cartridge-based games to discs, so I never had any demos to play growing up.
I didn’t see demo discs as being filled with shortened versions of games, I saw them as an armada of titles at my fingertips. If I liked one enough, I could go to my parents and ask them to take me to the store to either buy me a copy or rent one for a few days.
I would spend hours as a then-11-year-old playing and replaying Dreamcast demos of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, The House of the Dead 2, Power Stone and Sonic Adventure over and over again until my parents bought me the latter in the end. The Dreamcast was actually the one and only time I ever owned a console that had demos of games on disc. When I got my PlayStation 2 it came with a copy of NCAA Football 2003, which was way less exciting.
Downloadable demos just don’t hit as the discs did. Maybe it is because I am too caught up in my own childhood memories, maybe it is because it was how I was exposed and introduced to them? That is likely, but I honestly believe it was because back then demo discs gave you a great idea of what was in store on a given console. When I played the famed chase scene involving a whale busting up a boardwalk at a resort in the Sonic Adventure demo, I was immediately hooked.
The demo of that game and others showed me what was possible with this new technology. Power Stone was groundbreaking, like Capcom’s version of Super Smash Bros, but with all-original characters who had fantastic transformations into powerful warriors. These days, unless I’m really interested in a game I will not download its demo. But put a slew of them in front of me like a 10-course meal and I will try every polygonal dish at least once. I believe putting various types of games on a disc helps develop a more eclectic taste when it comes to the types of games we consume.
I do not know if I would be a fan of puzzle games had it not been for Intelligent Qube, but Sony put it in a collection of games that were accessible to my cousin and me. Demo discs are not a thing any more for obvious reasons, but man were they fun back in the day.