No, you're not suffering from déjà vu; this article originally appeared on the site in August this year, and we're republishing it as part of our 'Best of 2018' series which celebrates what we feel were our finest features of the past twelve months. 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.
What a great story. Does that sort of thing even happen anymore?
Great story, love that huge smile in the top pic
holy wow those ones with DK are some of the most cursed images I've ever seen. Five Nights At Diddy's.
The best article I've ever read on this site.
Great story. So the Mega Drive was part of the prize package? If so, how odd that is. Also, good thing the winner did not seem to be short. Winning your height in games shortchanges short people. Thanks for sharing.
Now that’s what I call a shirt.
Thanks for sharing! Magic things happen around Nintendo. That’s how I remember them from my childhood. I wish my kids can experience a similar sensation now with Switch and whatever comes next.
Great article. I remember reading about giveaways like this in Nintendo Power, always wondered what winning one of those random contests would feel like. I used to have dreams of owning every Nintendo game, but nowadays I look back on the fond memories of what I did have and what my parents did get for me.
I grew up with Nintendo. I was a lucky kid too.
Oh man I loved this story, the smile from that kid was beaming - pure happiness! Now I have a sudden urge to play some Donkey Kong Country, off to eBay I go!
Really great experience. Congratulations. It's something to take with you when you lose your zero life.
Thats a great price.
I may have watched this back in the day, pretty cool
Games world was Years in front of it's time, I loved it. Reviews and challenges, big boy Barry, master moriarty pure class
@BigE you know who big boy Barry turned in to?
Great story! you were really lucky!
I also would have kept all those games like a treasure, specially DKC.
Man, when did the 90’s start looking so dated? I feel old.
Great stack of games. I wish I still had all my SNES stuff from when I was growing up, they gave me so many great memories.
"Now that’s what I call a shirt."
@Mario500 in the picture of him with Donkey Kong at the top. It has three different colours.
That is a great pic on top.
Great article and what a dream come true that must have been, almost magical to teenager of the 90's. I'm not sure something like this would have the same effect on the youth of of today but perhaps I'm just getting old.
Beyond cool. I love that it was just random and you weren't actually trying to win.
Good thing he wore the most 90s shirt possible so we could all immediately guess what time period this was.
What an amazing story. These were the days when most contests were held out of generosity and connecting with fans over just a cheap way to own your information.
Very cool and went to a great person. Not many people would have kept all of those prizes. Very nice picture of you in present day with them stacked up exactly the same. Great story!
This is an awesome article. Loved reading it.
Best thing I ever won was a tennis racket from the local supermarket.
Thanks to everyone for the comments. Pleased you guys liked the article and yes I still have this shirt! It is still far too big for me
@sdelfin Because I went on the win the show I also won the Mega Drive.
@MillionthCaller thanks for the clarification. It seemed like such an odd addition to the stack of prizes. And thanks again for sharing all this. It was quite enjoyable to read it and see the photos.
Wow. Just wow. That was touching.
You are my new hero. You have two Battletoads games. That is class.
Read this before, still my favourite article!
I never read this article earlier in the year! This is awesome to see what video games and some luck can get you! You can get an experience no other gamer has ever had, and I think that is why some of us love games so much. Knowing each one of our journeys into the gaming world were different!
@Mr_Pepperami : Ah, they had designers then.
I recognize his face : he also rules today the oceans and Aquaman is his most dangerous enemy !
Glad to see he likes Donkey Kong though. He may not be completly lost.
I love these recent articles.
They make me smile.
@OorWullie So true!
I almost won a similar competition back in the early 90s. Except the prize for this competition was your height in CDs (instead of video games). I was a tall kid (the tallest out of everyone in my year), so it would have been quite a few CDs.
It was not an easy contest. It had been running for about a month by this stage [because they still had not been able to get a winner]. The contest was also only run twice a day. I had spent weeks trying to get through on the phone. I was so excited when I finally made it through!
Anyway, in this contest you were given the name of a band, group or singer and then had to name 5 of their songs in 10 seconds. I remember that I was given “Eurythmics” and had to name 5 of their songs. I was able to name 4 of their songs - Thorn In My Side, There Must Be An Angel, When Tomorrow Comes, Sweet Dreams... then my mind just went blank. I was so close... and I missed out by ONE song. I was so upset and was kicking myself for YEARS after that. Now almost 3 decades on, I have still never forgotten it. 😫
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