For all the gamers who grew up playing classic Nintendo games and dreaming of what it would be like to take a stroll through Mushroom Kingdom, ride through Hyrule or explore the planet Zebes, those dreams are one step closer to becoming a reality — of sorts.
In May, Nintendo and Universal Studios jointly announced plans to build theme park attractions based on Nintendo’s huge library of classic video games.
According to the announcement on the official blog for Universal Studios Orlando, “Nintendo has created remarkable and imaginative worlds filled with captivating stories and beloved characters. Now, for the first time, those stories and characters will be brought to life in entirely new ways — only at Universal theme parks. The immersive experiences will include major attractions at Universal’s theme parks and will feature Nintendo’s most famous characters and games.”
As noted elsewhere in the announcement, the deal is a significant partnership for Nintendo as it “expands the reach and popularity of its characters and intellectual property.”
That includes classic family oriented franchises such as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Pokemon and Kirby, to name just a few.
However, this deal also represents a huge boon for Universal Studios. Among family audiences, Nintendo has been an iconic brand for decades. Since debuting the original Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980s, the Osaka-based company has sold more than 4.3 billion games and 680 million hardware units, according to the Los Angeles Times. A national survey in the 1990s, in fact, found Mario to be a more recognizable mascot among American children than even Mickey Mouse.
This marks yet another step by the Japanese gaming giant to capitalize on its iconic franchises beyond just video games after several years of sluggish hardware sales repeatedly left the company in the red. (Nintendo’s current home console, the Wii U, will more than likely go down as its worst-selling console, and even the 3DS hasn’t met sales estimates.)
In March, Nintendo announced a partnership with Japanese mobile game developer DeNA Co. to create software for mobile devices. It is also in the process of revamping its Club Nintendo membership program, and another wave of its phenomenally successful Amiibo figurines is hitting store shelves.
There has also been talk of the Wii U’s successor, codenamed the NX, which Nintendo president Satoru Iwata says will be a “brand-new concept” and not just an updated version of the Wii or 3DS, according to TechRadar.com.
There’s no word yet on what exactly Universal Studios has planned for Mario and the rest of Nintendo’s large roster of characters, but many are predicting some new kind of interactive ride.
“A Nintendo-themed attraction demands interactivity,” says Robert Niles of ThemeParkInsider.com. “A passive experience where guests sit on a ride or in a show won't satisfy that audience, which is conditioned to engage with these themes.”
Families might want to wait to buy tickets, though. Nintendo Land — or whatever it ends up being called — is at least a few years off. Universal Studios already has a number of major projects in the works at its various locations, including a Harry Potter section at Universal Hollywood, expected to open in the spring of next year, and “Skull Island: Reign of King Kong,” a collaboration with Peter Jackson, scheduled to open in Florida that summer.
As stated in the official announcement, “More details will be announced in the future, as the Nintendo and Universal creative teams work to create specific concepts.”
If this collaboration yields anything close to Universal’s recent tech-driven attractions, though, Nintendo fans should be in for a treat.
Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University.