Demoing the Past
I was having a bit of clear out over the weekend when I stumbled upon a pile of PlayStation 1 era demo discs. A treasure trove of pixelated playables and badly cut trailers, they came packaged with issues of the Official PlayStation magazine back when I was a regular reader in the late 90s. These demos once kept me entertained for weeks on end and were an invaluable resource for planning future purchases at a time when I’d only buy a handful of games each year.
Putting our spring clean on hold, I dusted off the shiny throw-backs and fed them to my PS3. The majority of the discs were happy to co-operate, running smoothly on futuristic hardware, but some clung stubbornly to a decade-and-a-half’s worth of scratches and dust, and were quickly disposed of. Persevering with the working copies, I was greeted by an eyesore of a menu screen with nineties techno, garish neons and pulsating menus. Unfortunately, the trailers offered little respite.
Dub step is now the staple of video game trailers, as publishers continue to force wub wub onto every genre under the sun, but fifteen years ago it was Euro Trance (is that a thing?) and Drum & Bass that was played over countless action trailers. Sony succeeded in showing off the Legend of Dragoon’s impressive visuals but couldn't resist layering the trailer with what I'd like to call "happy hardcore", but is probably just shitty techno. Dino Crisis 2 opted for Drum and Bass, which certainly isn't the first musical genre that comes to mind when thinking about dinosaurs. Personally, I'd have plumped for Jungle, or taking a very different but equally nineties approach, Chaka Demus and Pliers. Ill-fitting tunes aside, it quickly became apparent that comparatively little attention was paid to trailers back in the PS1 era, as the lion's share of this collection displayed a severe lack of polish and/or editing skills.
Tenchu 2 was a feudal nightmare and, looking back at the trailer, I have no idea why I was once so excited for Mission Impossible. I'd convinced myself that it would be a perfect Metal Gear Solid - Syphon Filter hybrid but not even that iconic theme tune and a hint of Cruise could save this trailer from coming across as yet another lazy movie tie-in. By far the worst of the bunch was the clip for Peter Molyneux's Black & White, which would never actually make it to the PS. It ended so abruptly, mid-scene and mid-sentence, that I watched it a second time just to make sure that the disc hadn't conked out at an inopportune moment.
Fortunately, not every trailer fell short. Square, at the height of their powers, knew exactly how to make a rousing trailer, evidenced by the CG videos for Final Fantasy VIII and IX. The Japanese giant, pre Enix-ing, fought the temptation to include techno and its trailers were all the better for it. Galerians did a pretty good job of maintaining my interest with scary children and bloody corridors and Wipeout achieved what LoD and Dino Crisis 2 could not, making good use of a dance soundtrack.
Moving onto the actual demos, I was rather impressed by Vib Ribbon. With its simplistic gameplay and visuals, it was the most entertaining of the bunch and is absolutely something I could see myself playing today on my iPhone or gaming portable. Wipeout still looks the part and Ape Escape, Um Jammer Lammy and Twisted Metal kept me entertained to varying degrees. In Cold Blood had an interesting style and premise but was ruined by a Resi-esque control scheme that had me pirouetting on the spot when all I wanted to do was walk in a straight line. Syphon Filter looked rough but it is still a great deal of fun. You can't beat Logan and his door-ignoring escapades, crashing head first through every last plate glass window without a care in the world.
These forgotten demos were ideal for an afternoon’s entertainment and provided a nice break between finishing Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and starting Binary Domain. I hope to post something soon about my revisiting MGS3 in HD and I'm sure I’ll have lots to say about Toshihiro Nagoshi's third person shooter. Fingers crossed it won’t take me another fortnight to get around to it!