I had to write a brief bit about the mysterious “Return of Donkey Kong” today, which prompted me to look up the copy of The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide I keep at my desk in the event of such emergencies, and it hit me with the weirdest nostalgia. I remember buying that guide not too long after picking up my NES — after buying Metroid, but before I managed to track down a copy of Castlevania — and flipping through the pages reminded me of the way I used to feel about games. It’s hard to explain, but there used to be something alien, even awe-inspiring about them.
This was back when I could afford to buy maybe one game every few months, when I’d longed to own a system of my own for years and years. The NES and its warm red LED felt powerful and futuristic back in 1988. Its games felt sophisticated, almost ineffable in their mystery. Metroid! So expansive. Castlevania! So dense and atmospheric. The Legend of Zelda! So enigmatic and vast, sheathed in its golden casing. And so on, and so forth. The first time I saw the Guide, I thumbed through it and pored over extensive dissections of all these games I’d never played, games whose style I’d never seen before. It all felt so grand and enticing. I miss that sensation.
The Player’s Guide is pretty interesting, though. Especially the “coming soon” section where “Return of Donkey Kong” was listed. This book was published in 1987, but it already lists the localized names for Dragon Power (Dragonball) and Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest), the latter of which wouldn’t be published in the U.S. until the end of 1989. Clearly, that project was in the works for quite a while.
I spent far too much time studying pages like this. In the days before the Internet and information being crammed down our throats every waking moment, this was how we learned about upcoming games… and as tenuous and imprecise as release dates were, you’d never know if that enticing-looking game you read about was simply delayed for a year or two (like Dragon Warrior) or if it was promoted before it really existed and would never come out (like Return of Donkey Kong). It was in no way a better system than we have now, but it certainly escalated certain titles to “legendary” status. Which is why I picked up a copy of Chesterfield last time I was in Tokyo. Vic Tokai advertised that for U.S. release but never followed through, and dammit, I wanted to play it. Now I can.