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That Time I Won A Gold N64 Controller From Nintendo Power

Have you ever won something in a competition? More specifically, have you ever earned a prize for your accomplishment?

The satisfaction of victory is sweet enough, but the sense of reward for obtaining a prize is like the cherry on top. I haven’t won a lot of prizes or competitions in my life, but the time I did win something was an experience I will never forget.

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The year was 1997.

I was only 9 years old, and I had just received a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. Super Mario 64 introduced me to 3D video games for the first time. Needless to say, I was completely blown away by the game and the console. 

I could hardly wait for the “next big thing,” and the next big thing would come a lot sooner than it felt at the time. I spent months frothing at the mouth at every screenshot and piece of news about Mario Kart 64. After what felt like an eternity, the racing game finally made its debut in February 1997.

As we all know, Mario Kart 64 received critical acclaim and became immediately successful. This was largely thanks to its multiplayer and replay value, which helped it become one of the most popular and best-selling N64 games that was ever released.

As one would expect, I was utterly obsessed with it, especially at the time it debuted. To say I played this game to death would certainly be an understatement.

The Gold N64 Controller

Not long after Mario Kart 64 was released, Nintendo Power announced a contest for the game in its March ’97 issue. I learned about the contest when a friend of mine let me borrow and read his copy of the magazine. The winners of this contest would claim a special gold-colored Nintendo 64 controller if they participated by May 15.

At the time, there was no gold Nintendo 64 controller available to buy. The only way you could acquire one was through this contest. The gold controller was eventually available to purchase at retailers, but this was absolutely the first chance anyone ever had to get one.

I hesitantly asked my friend if I could keep the magazine for a couple of extra days. I wanted to enter the contest, but the magazine only included one envelope to submit an entry, so I would need to use his in order to participate.

He agreed to let me do this. Regardless, I’ve never shaken the feeling that he wanted to do it himself. He also loved Mario Kart, but we ultimately agreed that I would have a better chance to win the prize because I was a bit better at the game.

Lick that stamp

The contest was simple enough, in theory: you needed to submit a photo of a Time Trial run from the Mario Circuit course, with a time of 1:30:00 or less. Unfortunately, because this was 1997, and I was only nine years old, this required some legwork.

I would obviously need to achieve the required time in the game, and then I would need a camera to take a photo. I would have to develop the photo. Finally, I had to submit my entry through the post office.

Yes, that meant buying and licking a stamp.

The Mario Kart 64 Nintendo Power Cup Official Entry Form

After I somehow managed to secure a camera and convinced my parents to pay to develop my photos, I set out to actually achieve the time required for the contest. I had never done it before, but I felt like it was definitely something I could pull off.

At the time, I absolutely refused to play as anyone but Mario, and I could not beat the 1:30:00 time limit. I was close, but not close enough. It was time for a different strategy.

I eventually gave in and I tried the track with Peach. After just a few tries, I had not only beaten the time – I had crushed it. My best time was around 1:18:00, but I was still set on doing it all with Mario, so I refused to settle with this result.

After all, I was nine, and it was the nineties. I couldn’t possibly set my best track time with a female character. 

After a few more attempts, I finally finished the track with Mario in less than 1:20:00. In fact, I almost beat the best time I set with Peach. I scrambled for the camera and I snapped the photos of my results, while my hands shook from excitement. After getting the photos developed and sending the envelope to Nintendo Power, I did the only thing I had left to do: I waited.

And I waited. And waited. And waited some more. 

The rush of a lifetime

Time feels like it moves backward when you are a nine-year-old kid, especially when you are looking forward to anything. After a couple of months, I had basically given up hope.

I wondered if I submitted my photo to the correct address. I doubted that I had done the track fast enough. I even considered that Nintendo Power disqualified me because I used my friend’s magazine to enter the contest. 

But then, it came.

It was a pretty typical summer afternoon, and I decided to spend the day at my grandmother’s house. She lived next door, and I would often hang out there to raid her fridge for snacks. I was wolfing down a bowl full of grapes when the doorbell rang.

My grandmother went to answer it. When she came back, she said that the mailman had delivered something for me to her house by accident. She shrugged, handed me the package, and walked away.

At that moment, I honestly had no idea that I was about to open up my coveted prize. As I tore into the parcel, the gold sheen of the special controller immediately caught my eye.

To put it lightly, I absolutely lost my mind. I jumped up and down, I yelled out in triumph, and I didn’t let go of that controller for the entire afternoon.

Bless her heart, my grandmother was not prepared for such youthful excitement. I honestly can’t remember much after the initial excitement of opening that package, but I will always remember the rush I felt when I earned that trophy for myself.

My friends at school couldn’t believe it. I was the only kid with a gold controller. Even when Nintendo began selling them at retail, everyone knew I had the “real” gold N64 controller. 

Perhaps best of all, there was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that I would beat their ass in Mario Kart.