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Written By: Elliott Thomas


I have been lucky enough to attend the E3 Expo for many years. In that time there was always one company that put on the best show. Nintendo. Unfortunately the mainstream media never give them credit. Well I'm here to right that wrong. For years Nintendo's E3 booth has been full of fun and surprises. The motto of the E3 Expo is "where business gets fun." Well Nintendo truly lives up to that promise. And as you'll see, they go out of their way to please everyone at the show.

Flashback to the year 2001. The GameBoy Advance is getting ready for release around the World. Nintendo's new console, the GameCube, is also waiting in the wings. Its the first day of the 2001 E3 Expo. The doors are opened, and as usual, there is a huge stampede of people rushing towards Nintendo's booth. As we approached the booth there is an enormous line of people waiting to get inside. As the huge crowd shuffled slowly into the arena we passed through the main entrance into the Nintendo booth. There I saw it, the glorious "Wheel of Mario!" It was a round table with a "wheel of fortune" style game wheel at the center, surrounded by several bar stools. The center of the wheel was open, and a lovely Nintendo hostess was standing inside. And right next to her there was a TV screen displaying the animated face of Mario himself.

The Wheel of Mario was a carnival style prize give-away. Basically players would take their seats around a circular table. The prize wheel was actually built into the table itself. Players sat on bar stools while prizes flew pass them on the spinning wheel. One of the lovely Nintendo booth models would introduce players to Mario and then she would spin the wheel. Players would furiously pound their hands on the table waiting for the wheel to stop. The action was intense. The thunderous noise was overwhelming, you could hear it all the way across the arena. And when the wheel finally stopped and the lucky winner was chosen everyone would cheer, it was amazing. And the best part was the prizes. Nintendo was actually giving away the GameBoy Advance months before its American release! Even if you didn't win the grand prize you still received a cool, squishy, stress relief foam GameCube. Those things now go for quite a bit on ebay.


I had to be a part of all this excitement. I quickly scrambled to find a place at the back of the line. When I got there I suddenly realized this was a long line. But not to worry, I had my GameBoy Color and I was busy playing some Pokemon Yellow. I'm a line warrior. From conventions to movie premieres, I'm used to waiting in some very long lines.

As I shuffled my feet in the slowly moving line I started to hear a familiar voice. Right next to the "Wheel of Mario" was a video screen showing a floating, animated Mario head. A Hostess would introduce each player to Mario, who would then greet the player by name and tell a few jokes. He was the perfect master of ceremonies, he really made the experience fun, even if you didn't win the grand prize. You felt good just for playing. The chance to interact with Mario was a fun and truly surreal experience. And the best part was, Mario wasn't alone, occasionally Wario or Luigi would pop in just to mix things up.


Some Nerd (Yours Truly) with actor Charles Martinet

Meanwhile actor Charles Martinet, best known for being the voice of Mario, was hiding somewhere in the arena. Much like the "Wizard of Oz" Martinet controlled the floating Mario head from a secret location. (If only I had a little dog with me, maybe then I could find him?)

Charles Martinet is the Mel Blanc of the video game industry. He has given a voice to literally dozens of legendary Nintendo characters. Over the years I have met him several timesm he's always a kind and gracious person. During his time doing the "Wheel of Mario" he was literally the hardest working man at the E3 Expo. He hosted the game for 3 days straight, working roughly 8 hours a day, talking all day, almost non stop. As I stated earlier, Mario would greet every player by name. Well many of the players would have special requests for Mario, they were usually armed with a video camera and they would ask questions like "Can you say hello to my mom?" Mr Martinet would comply every time, doing a special performance for everyone who asked him. He showed tremendous generosity and appreciation for his many fans.

It was finally my turn to take a seat at the wheel. As we moved in around the wheel I noticed there was one broken seat. (Basically a bar stool with no top. Ouch!) There was also one young lady who was forced to take the broken chair. Now politeness is very important to me, so I asked her if she would like to take my chair. She happily traded places with me. She took my seat and I agreed to stand. Mario said hello and told a few jokes. With the introductions out of the way we all got ready for the game.

The hostess spun the wheel and the players started pounding on the table waiting for the wheel to stop. Gradually the spinning wheel slowed to a crawl, a brand new GameBoy Advance was inching towards me. The tension was unbelievable! Mere seconds felt like minutes. Everyone waited with baited breath for the wheel to stop, and when it did, the GameBoy Advance stopped right in front of me! I raised my hands in the air in triumph and exclaimed "WOO HOOO" at the top of my lungs. Everyone laughed. The lovely hostess held her microphone up to me and I was so breatlhess and blown away that all I could say was "wow" in a hushed tone. Everyone laughed again. It was a truly wonderful moment.


After my triumphant victory I frantically searched the arena for my good friend Marz. We had come to the show together and I just had to tell him the good news. I ran everywhere in the enormous LA convention center. Finally I caught up with him outside in a common area between the two main halls. Breathless with excitement I ran up to him and exclaimed "Marz, I won a GameBoy Advance!!" With that he nonchalantly reached into his over sized pocket of his cargo pants, pulled out a white GBA and said "So did I!!" We both laughed. It was a great moment and a wonderful topper to a fun filled day. There we stood in the sun, two friends in a great moment of victory. And it was all thanks to the greatest trade show on Earth!

The Wheel of Mario returned the following year. This time players would compete to win one of four chips. If you won a chip you got the chance to compete in a game of Super Smash Bros Brawl. If you were lucky enough to be the last person standing you won a Wavebird Controller that came in an exclusive purple velvet, drawstring pouch. Just like the GBA, Nintendo was giving away the Wavebird controller weeks before its US release.

My fellow DigThatBox.com author Harald Schossman was with me this year. We took our place in line and waited for a chance to spin the big wheel. Amazingly enough we both won chips and earned a chance to play Super Smash Bros. After we won our chips at the table the Nintendo hostess lead us to the combat arena. The gaming arena was a large screen accompanied by bleacher style seating. We took our seats and got ready for the game. I could tell Harald was worried. He had never played this game before in his life. He already thought he didn't have a chance. I fought furiously on his behalf. And due to our combined efforts, and with a little luck from above, we won the day. Harald was the victor and he won a beautiful new Wavebird controller. Seeing him win made me feel great. It was like I was finally able to pay back some of the good fortune I had received from the previous year.

See Also:

E3 Memories: The Gary Coleman Beatdown "One of my favorite moments from the E3 Expo was meeting TV legend Gary Coleman. Little did I know he was also a highly skilled gamer. This is the story of how Gary Coleman kicked my ass at the E3 Expo..."

See Also:

E3 Memories: Mr. T and the Big Sweaty Hug "Mr T was on hand to promote a new video game based on the Rocky films... Mr T has a long history of playing on screen tough guys, but as I would soon learn, this image was only a facade. Deep inside all those gold chains beats a heart of pure gold."