In this special one-off piece, reader Alex Norton explains how he ended up being the first gamer to get his hands on Donkey Kong Country, way back in 1994.


Back in 1994, I felt like the luckiest kid alive. I was the one-millionth caller to the Nintendo Hotline in the UK and had won my height in computer games, as well as the first copy in the world of Donkey Kong Country. To top it all off, a program on Sky TV called Games World was going to cover the whole thing, and shoot live from my house.

I have Princess Toadstool to thank for this; when she overtook me right on the finish line of the last stage in the special cup in Super Mario Kart on the SNES - a move which ultimately robbed me of the cup - I was so infuriated I had to ring the hotline for any tips. Little did I know that I would end up being the one-millionth person to have done so since the Hotline opened - thanks, Peach!

A team from Hewland International - the producers of both Games World and GamesMaster, the latter being perhaps the most famous TV show dedicated to games the UK has ever seen - came to my house to do some preliminary filming for the show which would be added to the live broadcast. On the day of the show, a much larger team arrived and packed out our house with all kinds of equipment; there was a large satellite on a trailer set up outside, with cables and monitors all over the place.

The scene was set on a cold November evening in the Shropshire hills, both myself and the presenter Andy Collins poised in front of a camera while the TV crew counted down to transmission in 3, 2, 1. Gulp. I was live on Sky TV, which was absolutely terrifying but an experience I didn’t want to end.

After the introduction, the show went back to a studio where phone-in challengers were picked to play against my team using a telephone keypad as a controller. It was difficult to play as there was some lag between pressing a button and the character on screen responding. The first challenge was to collect as many marbles as possible in Bubsy the Bobcat on the SNES in a set time. Luckily, I happened upon a bag of marbles on my playthrough, easily beating my opponent.

What followed next completely took me by surprise, as I had no knowledge whatsoever that I was to be presented - live on British TV, no less - with the first edition of Donkey Kong Country by none other than Donkey Kong himself (who turned out to be a lady in a suit). Nintendo had sent some representatives to award me the game and officially invite me to their HQ in Hampshire; this was an absolute dream come true, as you can imagine.

We had breaks in between studio scenes and then continued to play phone-in challengers with both me and my sister getting through to the final, while my friend Rowan was unfortunately knocked out, meaning he had to face a rather nasty forfeit (watch the video at the bottom of this page to see).

I was only allowed to play Donkey Kong Country for a short time under the watchful eye of a Nintendo employee, as they would be taking it back to their office where I would pick up during my upcoming visit. By this point, I had won my height in Nintendo games and a Sega Mega Drive with Sonic & Knuckles (which I gave to my friend Rowan) so the little time I had with Donkey Kong is a little bit of a blur; my head was spinning, as you can no doubt appreciate.

To be the first gamer to play it outside of Rare and Nintendo was a massive honour, and I am so pleased that I still have it; out of all my games, it remains the jewel in the crown and I would never part with it. I still have all the games, consoles and accessories I won, along with an official Nintendo Hotline jumper and various other things from Nintendo.

I would say that after that experience of being on TV and receiving all those games did change me a little but I felt incredibly fortunate and would like to say it didn't go to my head (although it probably did). When the show was over, the crew packed up and said their goodbyes, leaving behind a very quiet house which was incredibly surreal.

Following on from the game show I visited Nintendo's HQ in Hampshire, which was an absolutely magical experience. I met the Hotline team and the editor of the Nintendo Magazine System Andy McVittie, as the magazine was writing a small article on me. One of the most amazing experiences I had there was being asked what I would like to play, after which I was taken to a room with every Nintendo game under the sun. My choice? The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this was when my obsession with all things Zelda started.

My interest in computer games goes back to the late '80s when I was playing on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, but this experience really solidified me as a Nintendo fan; I always felt a sense of belonging to Nintendo and also part of its history, albeit in a small way. Life was not easy for me before all of this happened and I would like to thank Nintendo, Rare and the production company for making a 13-year-old boy's world light up. I'm now 37 and still a massive gamer, as well as a big kid at heart - and don't see that ever changing. Thanks, Nintendo.