Universal’s Nintendo Theme Park: Our Pipe Dreams
A Nintendo theme park is the stuff of dreams. You know you’ve had fantasies. Last week our collective minds were blown when we learned that Nintendo is partnering with Universal to bring their iconic worlds to life in a real-world theme park. That’s why The Nerdy Show Network‘s brain trust of devoted Nintendophiles have come together to help Universal out. Here you’ll find our wildest pipe dreams and our best-informed speculation – maybe even some stuff practical enough to happen!
What’s remarkable about this announcement, other than it’s a real thing, is the level of awesome that the announcement suggests [emphasis ours]: “The immersive experiences will include major attractions at Universal’s theme parks and will feature Nintendo’s most famous characters and games,” and that Universal will create “spectacular, dedicated experiences based on Nintendo’s wildly popular games, characters, and worlds.”
This is no Mario meet and greet with a Pipe Playplace (though that’s totally going to be a thing) this is going to be a full-force Nintendo Land… maybe Lands depending on how much stake you place in the use of “theme parks” plural. And, while the Big N won’t be getting a dedicated park all to itself, it’ll occupy just as prominent a slot with just as many triple-A attractions as any of the worlds in Islands of Adventure. What’s more, The Mushroom Kingdom won’t be the only residents. We’re talking Hyrule, Donkey Kong Country, the world of Pokémon, Dreamland, the Lylat System, Animal Crossing, maybe even the Metroid-infested corridors of Zebes. The possibilities are staggering.
Location, Location, Location
by Cap Blackard
First of all, this sucker is going to break ground in Orlando. No doubt in our minds. But the question is where in Orlando? Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure? Between the two parks, Universal Studios is the one most in need of additional attractions – though the recently-added Daigon Alley and the expanded Springfield area have certainly helped. Would aligning a movie and TV theme park with video games too drastically subvert the concept of Universal Studios? Nintendo is a more obvious fit for the genre-defying Islands of Adventure, but would Universal consent to raze an entire island (again)? Both parks have areas that could easily get the chopping block. Here’s the spaces begging to get goomba-stomped by Mario:
Universal Studios – Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
You remember Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone… right? Unless you were under the age of 10 sometime in the 90s the answer is probably “no”. If you stroll from T2: 3-D towards Springfield (R.I.P. Back to the Future) you’ll pass a side street featuring E.T. Adventure and an amphitheater for animal shows. Chances are good you never ventured further down that path, but if you did you’d encounter attractions geared towards younger patrons. While the KidZone is a good place to let the kids run free (with some admittedly fun play places) it’s hidden and hinging on franchises that’ve seen better days; for example: 1991’s An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and Barney the Dinosaur (off the air since 2009). If Nintendo took over KidZone (plus the free space running behind Springfield) it’d mean E.T. would be back to The Green Planet for good. It should be noted that E.T. is Universal Studios’ last remaining classic ride and would be a heck of a loss, but the draw of a massive Peach Castle could be too good to pass up.
Islands of Adventure – Toon Lagoon
Sandwiched in-between Marvel Super Hero Island and Jurassic Park is Toon Lagoon; a loose mash-up of King Features Syndicate’s extensive roster of Sunday comic strip characters and Jay Ward’s cartoon characters (Bullwinkle and Friends). The “Lagoon” part comes from the land’s two prominent water rides: Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. The region is considerably more prominent than KidZone, but as far as themed properties go, only slightly more remarkable. Sure, Beetle Bailey and Blondie are still heavily syndicated, but when you’re next to dinosaurs and super heroes the funnies just don’t cut it. If Nintendo razed Toon Lagoon, Universal would secure a truly long-lasting property at Islands of Adventure – a property they wouldn’t have to worry about pumping life into (*cough* Jurassic Park). What’s more, there’s an amphitheater dead zone between Marvel and Toon Lagoon that could allow for extra space. And then there’s Marvel… Should Disney ever pay out or manage to take back the Marvel theme park licenses; Nintendo could easily occupy two islands.
In our hearts we think Nintendo Land is going to Islands of Adventure, but stranger things have happened than the video game giant going to Universal Studios. Ultimately this is going to boil down to logistics and whatever deals Universal has brokered with their current licensors. What we know for certain is Universal is a good home for Nintendo. Prior to Harry Potter we’d have had our doubts. The Harry Potter experiences at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure won us over with their staggering attention to detail and experience – leagues beyond the parks’ prior efforts. Universal has seen the benefit that kind of care can bring and it’s on point with the high standards that both Nintendo and their fans have come to expect.
By Jessica Uelmen
Let’s face it, Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure are very practical theme parks. They have some fantastic rides to be sure, but nothing that breaks the mold. Case in point: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Dragon Challenge is just Dueling Dragons re-dressed to be a Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail. One step farther: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man which opened in 1999 and the much more recent Transformers: The Ride are the exact same ride. They’re not just the same type of ride, the shakes and effects are identically programmed. That said, they’re both fun and both themed very differently. When considering the reality of Nintendo Land we should remember: Universal likes to pinch pennies.
With that in mind, it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll get some kind of Mario “warp pipe” rollercoaster. If our theory that Nintendo is poised to absorb Marvel Super Heroes Island in addition to Toon Lagoon is correct; retrofitting The Incredible Hulk would be a cinch. They’re both green after all, and it would be pretty satisfying to blast into a tunnel only to hear that pipe noise. If phase one is indeed Toon Lagoon, you can bet that one of the two water rides will be saved the wrecking ball and just get re-themed. My ultimate fan fantasy would be a high-seas Windwaker battle ride and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rate Barges is a perfect vessel. It’s already a rapids-type ride, and how cool would it be to fire upon monsters from your very own King of Red Lions?
The Pokémon Center
by Dan Blake and Cap Blackard
Pokémon, like Mario and Zelda, could easily occupy its own land or an entire park. The global phenomena hasn’t died down in its 20 years of existence and has become a multi-generational pastime. Playing off the interactivity and fun of collecting and trading Pokémon, we foresee the series not just being a cornerstone of Universal’s Nintendo Land, but an experience that will encapsulate the entire park. (See what we did there?)
Become a Pokémon Trainer
The Pokémon Center is a hub for all the ubiquitous Pokémon merch, but within the center is an interactive experience that mashes up Ollivanders wand shop in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with the pre-show for the defunct Ghostbusters Spooktacular. An actor playing Professor Oak (or any other tree-themed Prof. they choose to invent) treats audiences to an encounter experience with REAL Pokémon! “Real” being displays of very convincing animatronics and projections allowing lucky guests to interact with the creatures while the Professor explains the fundamentals of good Pokémon training and the different creature types. The show culminates with the on-stage patrons choosing their own Pokémon from three random fire, water, or grass types and receiving a commemorative, exclusive plush. But that’s not all – this entire presentation is essentially a sales pitch for a park-wide experience akin to the interactive wands from Harry Potter.
Fans can purchase Pokéballs (in several varieties) that allow them to access secret Pokémon encounters all over the park using both real-world visuals and augmented reality depending on the circumstance. The ball offers simple RFID data storage and access to the interactive events, but most importantly interacts with smart phones (via a proprietary Nintendo Pokédex app) or a 3DS. Pokémaniacs will scour the park for ever-changing opportunities to fill their Pokédex (with perhaps some perks that carry over to the latest Pokémon game). Meanwhile, that special Poképlush we mentioned – that’s RFID enabled too and is an actual Pokémon! The doll caries name and stat data that isn’t just scannable to your Pokédex, but can be ported to your game! Put an eye patch on your Bulbasaur and have friends scan your very own Pokéballs of Steelix Sir Burns-A-Lot plush!
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
The Poké-interaction doesn’t end there. It goes up a level. Gotta Catch ‘Em All is a ride that takes you on a Pokémon Snap-style adventure. You and a couple friends hop in a capsule and get blasted through a variety of terrains from The World of Pokémon. It’s a dark room ride similar to Men In Black: Alien Attack at Universal Studios, but in this ride you trade guns for cameras a lot like WiiU tablets. The ride uses that same combination of animatronics with projections to give a fun, stylized romp through the Safari Zone and beyond; whether you’re playing the game or not. As the ride concludes, the passengers get scored based on how many Pokémon they caught on camera and after disembarking you’re treated with a number of options: send pics to your e-mail, get your images printed on exclusive cards for the Pokémon Collectable Card Game, or you can swipe your Pokéball to get Pokédex data for the Pokémon you just photographed. All the Pokémon appearing on the ride are exclusive captures and can’t be found anywhere else in the park.
All these interactive features are so rooted in digital presentation it would be easy to randomize experiences, not just throughout the park and ride, but all year long. Collect enough Pokémon or complete certain challenges and the Pokémon Center staff could award trainers with exclusive badges. Opportunities for exclusive mystery gift Pokémon via Nintendo Wifi would keep trainers coming back for more.
Assorted Pipe Dreams
Wario’s Lousy $treet $how
by Colin Peterson
Theme parks aren’t all about rides; there’s also the shows to consider. Picture this: it’s a lovely afternoon on the streets of Nintendo Land and then Wario shows up. A big-head Wario mascot (because Universal isn’t opposed to Big Head characters in the slightest) rolls up on a cartoonishly huge chopper motorcycle, playing obnoxious music out of its speakers. Two performers (Mona and Jimmy? 9 Volt and 18 Volt?) ride in sidecars, rudely motioning people out of the way. They set up their pop-up performance at a designated area and do a 15 minute show based on super-strange audience participation. It’s WarioWare… Live!
Park guests are challenged by Wario and co. to run obstacles, answer trivia, and compete in surreal mini-games. Just like actual WarioWare all the games are super-short, extremely weird, and have little to no explanation. Winners and participants are treated to very Wario-like prizes: bulbs of garlic, broken toys, fart sound makers, the works. After the troupe has brought the laughs, softly offended the upper-crust park goers, and thoroughly entertained pre-pubescent kids, they pack up their gear and ride off – Wario laying on the horn to get people out of the way.
Is it what I want the most? No. But is it the best-case scenario for a Nintendo street show? Hell. Yes.
Mario Kart: Rainbow Road Rally
by Jonathan Fleming and Cap Blackard
This is the ride that every Nintendo fan is dying for. Real. Life. Mario Kart. They’ve done it before to varying degrees of success, but is Universal bold enough to truly make our wildest dreams come true?
Here’s the fantasy: A full outdoors Mario Kart race track – likely themed around one of the classic Peach or Mario courses. Strap into the go-kart of your favorite character; equipped with their respective voice tracks which react to what happens during the race. The track features power-ups just like in the game. Drive over the clearly denoted strips and your kart gets equipped with a random power-up displayed on a screen. Deploy traps, launch attacks, and spin out when hit by the virtual assaults (shown via some kind of projection or heads-up display).
The reality is that there’s no way that Universal will be able to execute something as exciting as a free-flowing race. They wouldn’t be able to exercise enough control over what happens to prevent nervous or bad drivers from holding up the lines and the chance for injury is too high. Any projection effects or use of screens in the karts would be seriously hindered in broad daylight. This could be helped by it being an indoor race, but the problem of a race format still remains. The Tomorrowland Speedway at Disney World is a mess and that has considerably less going on.
So what’s the solution? Go indoors, and get scripted. Introducing Mario Kart: Rainbow Road Rally. Think EPCOT’s Tron-esque revision of Test Track but way cooler. 2-seater karts, each with unique character theming, zip through a dark ride at high speeds. The track is illuminated and in the distance you can see The Mushroom Kingdom at nighttime shooting fireworks. Sights from Mario Galaxy hover in low orbit. Each race’s outcome is different, but pre-programed within a set of controlled variables. Though it seems completely random, each kart is only given specific items. When or if you choose to deploy the items are up to you. If you do, they zip around the track as rapid projections. What we’re describing is still a very complex ride, for which the tech may not yet exist, but something along these lines is the closest we’ll get to real world Mario Kart at a theme park.
Metroid: Escape from Zebes
By Jonathan Fleming and Cap Blackard
We’re pitching dark rides pretty hard in this article, but that’s the best way to go for immersive ride experiences beyond vaguely themed roller coasters. With Nintendo’s properties like Star Fox and Metroid, the best way to go is in a dark room where illusions and obscurity create more intense and believable experiences. Choosing between Metroid and Star Fox is a tough call, but we think it’s a safe bet that Nintendo Land would only feature one of their sci-fi properties in a major attraction. If that’s the case, as much as we want to do a barrel roll, we feel like a seriously creepy Metroid ride would leave a more lasting impression.
Escape from Zebes is a classic, blacklight-heavy dark ride like Haunted Mansion or Animal Kingdom’s Dinosaur. Universal’s Men In Black: Alien Attack is a great ride, but in terms of creep-factor E.T. is more unsettling. When it comes to immersive dark rides Disney is king. This would be a perfect opportunity for Universal to prove themselves. The truly alien tunnels of Zebes are an ideal environment to freak out passengers with haunting alien creatures and bounty hunters. You board a module piloted by Sammus to secure a sample of Metroid DNA before Mother Brain’s agents get to it – only to have to escape the rupturing tunnels. Ride makers could either choose to keep passengers feeling defenseless (adding to the horror factor) or ease the tension by giving everyone their own arm cannon for Alien Attack style fun.
By Jonathan Fleming, Dan Blake, and Cap Blackard
In addition to the rides and shows of Nintendo’s new realm at Universal, the land will no doubt be brimming with shopping and simple amusement opportunities. Here’s just a few of the lighter attractions we think we’ll see.
Bowser’s Arcade Castle
If you’re looking for a princess, you’re outta luck! This castle’s filled with arcade games!
In addition to Peach’s Castle presiding over the whole of Nintendo Land, there’s a much smaller, though no less conspicuous castle. This one is built completely out of blocks, perfectly pixelated. Inside is a retro-style arcade with a decor based on the lava-drenched interiors of Bowser’s 8-bit castles from Super Mario Bros. The roster of games leans heavy towards Nintendo cabinets like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. as well as newer arcade ventures like Mario Kart GP and F-Zero AX, assorted classics from other developers, and the ironic inclusion of the Nintendo-produced Popeye game.
Something Earthbound Related
We’re not going to get our hopes up for something as amazing as a Mr. Saturn’s Phase Distorter Adventure (a Star Tours-like ride through the Earthbound/Mother universe) or even small attractions like Master Belch’s Puke-a-Whirl or The Runaway 5’s Eagleland Revue. Just some kind of nod. Ness’ Smaaaaaash Batting Cages? Trout Flavored Yogurt? Presents occasionally hidden in trash cans? C’mon guys. Just something. Anything.
Animal Crossing Town Hall Grille
A dining experience presided over by Animal Crossing residents Tom Nook and Isabelle, as well as one lucky guest who gets to be mayor for the day. Patrons can grab quick eats at the door or dine in for a fully immersive experience with a bunch of familiar animals. The centerpiece is a stage show of vaudeville-style performances from the animals, combining animatronics with costumed actors. And, of course, a song or two from the legendary K.K. Slider. The best part? You can’t understand a word they’re saying! It’s all in Animal Crossing gibberish! It’s like a freaky merger of Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree and the lesser known Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. Hope you’ve got the bells to afford this meal, otherwise Nook will put you to work!
Kokiri Forest Play Area
If Nintendo Land takes over Universal Studios’ KidZone, the park will definitely need some attractions geared towards young kids. What better than a spin on the actual obstacle course that Young Link had to undergo as basic training in Ocarina of Time? Hop on Deku Shrubs, crawl through knots on the Deku Tree, get spit at by Octoroks (water, not rocks!), climb on Skulltula webs, just don’t fall into the pit that leads to Clock Town… technically that’s off park property so… not our problem.
Crazy Redd’s Exclusive Amiibos
Okay, so maybe there doesn’t need to be a store themed around the shady shyster fox from Animal Crossing, but there does need to be exclusive Amiibos. Surely you’re aware of the insanity that went down at GameStop recently when it was announced that they were the exclusive source for the Ness Amiibo. Now imagine the ravenous collecting of pins at Disney. Now imagine Amiibos exclusive to Universal parks and the Amiibo-loving world collectively losing their minds. Maybe they’re sold to you by a fox in a tent who sets up in random locations, maybe they’re not. Either way… riots.
Got some of your own ideas about what Universal’s Nintendo theme park should entail? Share them here!