The WaveBird was announced all the way back at Space World 2000, and after a bunch of delays, was finally released on June 10th 2002 in the US. However, about two weeks before it hit the shelves, a few managed to slip into the hands of avid Nintendo fans. It was offered as a Mario Party 4 contest prize at E3 2002, quite in the same vein as the coveted E3 N64 controller – something that was forgotten and undocumented until now. Let’s go back in time and walk through the tedious process to win one of those early WaveBirds.
Most of this information was made possible through James Ratkos, who some of you might know as a past author of Prima and Brady video game guides. He spent more than a few hours over the course of three days waiting in line to collect just about every single prize available at the Nintendo booth, then spent more of his time almost 20 years later to help me document all of it.
Unlike the E3 N64 controller from 1997, this Grey WaveBird does not sport a unique design, but it did come inside an exclusive blue velvet pouch. Quoting James Ratkos: “My guess is that there are probably less than 30-50 velvet bags left, let alone how many people were crazy enough (like myself) to never touch/use and carefully store it away after the initial acquisition back in 2002.” According to him, the WaveBird was awarded at a rate of three to four units every hour over three days of exhibition, which, using the schedule from the E3 website, limits it to roughly 100 units given away. J.M. Ratkos won four of them, with two still in his possession today.
So how could you acquire one of those? First, be 18 years or older and have a ticket to E3 2002, which was hosted at the Los Angeles Convention Center from May 22 to 24. Early registration was $200 to access the exhibition, and $250 for regular. If you were a member of the industry, entry was free (Source). Next, you had to make your way over to Nintendo’s (massive) booth and then wait in line.
“Nintendo’s booth had a queue which deposited about 20 or so people around a wheel-of-fortune type roulette wheel. On it were the following prizes:
- Small foam GameCubes and Game Boy Advances.
- Four different t-shirts.
- Round metal tokens with the nintendo ‘N’ laser cut out of the center.”
“The wheel was spun and whatever ended up in front of you when the wheel stopped, you won. If it was one of the four metal tokens, then you turned in your token and got into a second queue which led up a set of stairs onto a stadium setup where all four “winners” participated in three rounds of Mario Party 4. The winner at the end of the 3rd round received a WaveBird controller as their prize.”
And from there on, you were one of the lucky owners of the rarest GameCube controller ever distributed.
Now, how did this information get lost? First of all, the internet wasn’t what it is today, taking pictures, or videos of things and putting it on the internet was a lot more work and was generally less accessible. So this promotional item was quickly forgotten by the public, and never really resurfaced because the bag can be easily misplaced. It was up to the video game news websites to spread the word, but they did a poor job. While IGN does mention that you could win a WaveBird, they say nothing about the pouch. Nintendo World Report mentions that the “velvet pouch was indeed an E3 exclusive.” (talking about the final plastic packaging) And that’s it, nothing else. My hunt really unfolded when looking at the N64 Forever Tapatalk forums. Reading through the “E3 1997 Official N64 Controller” thread, I see “j.m.ratkos” mentioning the WaveBirds, with a link to the picture above. I contacted him, and here we are!
Since this is a rare contest prize, it was given away before the retail unit’s release date and the packaging is really unique, I personally consider this controller to be a distinct variant. I will build a page for it in the WaveBird section of this website and I will update the Grey WaveBird and WaveBird prototypes pages.
Once again, huge thanks to James for his time and pictures, helping to document the facts associated with this rather rare controller.
As a bonus, here’s all the other goodies you could get at the Nintendo booth, including the press kit bag you received if you were a member of the industry: