Universal theme parks are entering new territory with plans to bring Nintendo games to life.
Nintendo and Universal Parks and Resorts announced last week that they will build “immersive” Nintendo-themed attractions at Universal resorts. Though no details were given, fans of theme parks and video games alike are now dreaming of Splatoon water parks and life-size Mario Karts.
“We’re losing our minds collectively,” said Susan Arendt, managing editor of website GamesRadar+.
Universal Orlando has created haunted houses based on video games “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” for its Halloween Horror Nights events. But in general, theme parks are “very, very new to the concept of gaming,” Arendt said.
For Universal, Nintendo is yet another valuable intellectual property in its stable. Entertainment companies with theme parks — including Universal’s rival Disney — have been gobbling up franchises or creating their own with plans of theme-park cross-pollination.
With aggressive expansion plans, Universal parks need lots of well-known characters upon which to base rides. Last week, executives told analysts that they want to open an attraction every year at each major location, Universal has parks in Orlando, Hollywood, Singapore and Japan. It also plans to open a park in Beijing.
For Nintendo, the Universal deal is part of a recovery from a slump it’s been in for a few years. The company had trouble living up to the success of its Wii gaming system and “has not made strides” in online video games, Arendt said. The company has released some popular products lately, though, such as Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. The day it announced the Universal deal, Nintendo posted its first annual profit in four years.
Overseas, some theme parks have tapped into the popularity of video games. World Joyland near Shanghai has areas that are based heavily on video games such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft, though it doesn’t have an official license with the games’ developer. There are Angry Birds lands at Särkänniemi amusement park in Finland and Lightwater Valley in the United Kingdom.
Kennedy Space Center opened an Angry Birds exhibit with interactive stations in 2013. It has since closed.
So now the question is, what will Universal and Nintendo create and where will their attractions go?
Universal Orlando said last week it did not have more details about plans with Nintendo.
But many are expecting Universal to continue its trend of creating “lands” — entire themed areas based on particular franchises such as Harry Potter and the Simpsons.
“They really enjoy the immersive environments,” said Taylor Strickland, editor of the Orlando Informer website that covers Universal.
Theme-park bloggers and fans have speculated a small Nintendo land could replace Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone, which is rumored to eventually be closed at Universal Studios Florida, or Toon Lagoon at sister park Islands of Adventure.
There has also been speculation Nintendo attractions could go into a vacant area between Men in Black and The Simpsons land at Universal Studios Florida.
Strickland also suggested some of the franchises could work well at a future water park, for which Universal has submitted plans to the state. The “Wave Race” game or the water locales in games such as Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda could work as themes, he said.
Creating theme-park attractions, Arendt said, is “a way to connect directly with an audience and remind everybody how wonderful these Nintendo experiences are. One thing Nintendo does better than just about any is create game worlds and characters that everyone can love — moms, dads, little kids, grandma. They’re so relatable and so inviting and really just these wonderful worlds.”
Rosen College of Hospitality Management associate professor Duncan Dickson points to the success of Disney’s “Wreck It Ralph,” an animated comedy that revolves around a video-game character, in 2012.
For the audience, “it brought back their youth — ‘these are the games I grew up with’ kind of thing,” Dickson said.
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