This freebie was given away in late 1996 for Saturn owners who had bought one of a select handful of games (Worldwide Soccer '97, Manx TT and the full version of NiGHTS come to mind).
It was also given away on the front of the Official Sega Saturn Magazine the following year, sans its limited edition cardboard sleeve.
Above: My copy - signed by Tetsuya Iizuka, the game's level designer
It contains the first level of the main game as a demonstration of its awesomeness. But it also features an original version of Spring Valley for Elliot who doesn't visit that level in the full game. The exclusive content doesn't end there, with a Karaoke mode for the brilliantly cheesy theme song, an A-Life viewer that lets you see all your little Nightopian buddies not only in the demo but the full game AND the first ever playable 3D Sonic the Hedgehog.
Above: Sonic into Dreams. Crappy main level, but awesome boss (right)
With the calendar function offering year-round extras that aren't found in the full game (something we're still enjoying) and what remains one of the finest scoring systems ever devised, Christmas NiGHTS stands proud as one of the finest games ever produced, let alone demos. And it was free.
1: Metal Gear Solid 2
You know that Konami game called Zone of the Enders? You probably wouldn't know as much about it (if anything) if it weren't for the fact it came bundled with a playable demo of Metal Gear Solid 2. And what a demo it was. It had every major gameplay element of the full game, from the new first-person aiming mode to cardboard box shenanigans, as well as the full cinematic intro.
Just look at how much there is to do (and humour to discover) in this video of one segment of the demo alone:
There's so much gameplay in the opening tanker section, we could (and did) spend countless hours trying out everything. Watching the guards spot our wet footprints, aiming for the spine or the head with the tranq gun (or timing another shot so the serum knocks them out the moment they spot you) or hiding bodies in lockers/the Hudson River. The sheer wealth of content in this demo puts 90% of full-price PS2 games to shame.
Above: Absolutely flawless in its execution, MGS2 still rocks
Thanks to its 60fps graphics, it's aged phenomenally well. The clean, crisp graphical style and precise animation cycles are solid (no pun). Timeless, in fact. Stick this in HD and you could release it today. As it is, it's clear why this was so impressive at the time - it pushed PS2 to the limit of its capabilities right at the start of the console's life.
So it's little wonder people bought ZOE just to get the MGS2 demo. It was more than worth £40, especially so many weeks before the proper game launched. That said, it was technically a free giveaway for people who bought the game, so it is unquestionably the best demo of all time.
GamesRadar is the premiere source for everything that matters in the world of video games. Casual or core, console or handheld - whatever systems you own or whatever genres you love, GamesRadar is there to filter out what's worth your time and to help you get even more from your games. We deliver the best advice, the most in-depth features, expert reviews, and the essential guides for all the top games.