One new theme park land that we’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about for quite some time is the new Super Nintendo World heading to Universal Studios Japan (and beyond). Although the opening has been delayed due to the pandemic, it hasn’t stopped the excitement among fans. Nintendo is a major brand for the Universal theme parks, but is it a good fit? If you look at the history between Universal Studios and Nintendo, it actually works out pretty nicely.
As a non-gamer, it always surprises me that the video game industry is bigger than all other forms of entertainment. This means that Universal getting the rights to use the most famous video game characters in their parks is a huge win for them. But Universal and Nintendo’s history goes back before the 21st century.
In 1990, Nintendo was conducting their Nintendo World Championship competition. It started with competitions touring around to various locations until they found their best players to compete at the finals. Where did those finals take place? None other than Universal Studios Hollywood. That’s right, Super Mario and Nintendo imagery had a short-lived home in the first Universal Studios theme park long before dreams of it having its very own land. The competition took place inside the then-Star Trek Theater (now the DreamWorks Theatre).
But even before that, in 1989, a fictional Nintendo competition was the finale for the Universal Pictures movie “The Wizard,” starring Fred Savage. The IMDB tagline for the movie reads, “a boy and his brother run away from home and hitch cross country with the help of a girl they meet to compete in the ultimate video game championship.” That video game championship was called Video Armageddon within the movie, and guess where that championship took place? That’s right, Universal Studios Hollywood.
In the movie, we even get to see the kids trying to outrun the “bad guys” through parts of Universal Studios. There’s an iconic scene with the children jumping off the studio tram tour inside the now-defunct King Kong Encounter. If you’re someone who likes seeing behind-the-scenes of attractions, you actually get a pretty cool look at the mechanics of that former experience.
Speaking of King Kong, in a bit of an ironic twist, Universal Studios actually sued Nintendo over a Kong dispute back in 1982. Universal insisted that the name and storyline of Nintendo’s game “Donkey Kong” was too similar to “King Kong.” It was a nasty battle full of court rulings, appeals and counterclaims. It was ultimately decided that there was no confusion between the two brands and that Universal didn’t own trademark rights to King Kong.
Luckily, many years later, there seems to be no hard feelings between Universal and Nintendo as the world looks forward to this new theme park land. Mario is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, and it appears almost certain he will give Mickey Mouse a run for his money when it comes to the sale of theme park plush.
Are you looking forward to the upcoming Super Nintendo World? Do you think Universal Studios is a good home for it? If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.