By Fowl Owlerson
Recently, Nintendo and Universal announced a partnership, which I’ve provided for reference below:
“Nintendo and Universal Parks & Resorts today announced plans to bring the world of Nintendo to life at Universal theme parks – creating spectacular, dedicated experiences based on Nintendo’s wildly popular games, characters and worlds.
The agreement brings two icons of entertainment together and represents a significant partnership for Nintendo as it expands the reach and popularity of its characters and intellectual property.
Universal theme parks offer incredibly popular, innovative themed family entertainment experiences based on compelling stories and characters – using powerful storytelling and innovative technology. 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. More details will be announced in the future, as the Nintendo and Universal creative teams work to create specific concepts.”
The timing of this announcement intrigues me. The wording of it suggests Universal and Nintendo are still in the brainstorming phase, fleshing out potential concepts.
I suspect this was prematurely announced to circumvent any leaks, as well as appease Nintendo’s shareholders. The company is in a transitional time and needs to pivot due to lackluster sales of the Wii U gaming console.
The company faced a major pitfall with the GameCube console and then recovered gracefully with the Wii console, which introduced an entirely new audience to video games. No longer just a niche hobby, games are moving toward becoming a viable medium to impart stories in an interactive way. They’re not unlike theme park attractions in that they require a unique form of architecture to impart a story and participation from guests to be properly enjoyed.
Another intriguing aspect of the press release is the phrasing, “… — only at Universal theme parks.” This leads me to believe the contract signed stipulates the properties are exclusive to Universal’s parks and resorts.
Nintendo is famous for being extremely vigilant with its properties, often being stringent on who it allows to license its characters from merchandise to other mediums to everything in between.
A translated interview with President of Nintendo Satoru Iwata informed us that Universal designed a Nintendo land prior to approaching them about the partnership.
Seuss Landing was said to have played a major role in securing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter license, and the latter surely helped Universal convince Nintendo that their creative team could properly handle their characters in an engaging and respectful manner.
After this announcement made a thunderous impact all over the web, a cacophony of rumors emerged. Join me as we distill all of these rumors in one convenient place, offer speculation and discuss their viability.
Rumor: Marvel Super Hero Island will be retrofitted with Nintendo properties.
I’ve seen fans and publications alike report that Marvel and Universal Orlando’s contract is set to expire in 2016. This is incorrect. Universal’s contract for use of the Marvel characters in Orlando will continue in perpetuity for as long as Universal wishes. It ending would require Universal’s assent.
Tokyo’s license is said to eventually expire at an undisclosed date whereas Universal Hollywood opted not to renew the license with Marvel in 2007. This is why Disney can use Marvel characters in Disneyland, but none of the characters Universal employs are permitted in Walt Disney World.
It’s important to remember that Universal Orlando can continue utilizing Marvel’s properties for as long a they wish. “Will they?” is the question. Universal recently freshened up their Marvel character meet and greet outfits and spruced up The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction. We heard tell this was in part due to Disney’s lawyers scrutinizing the Marvel contracts and representatives visiting Islands of Adventure to ensure the properties were being “properly” presented.
While it may sound surprising, Disney’s purchase of Marvel for the large sum of four billion dollars was rumored to cause Universal’s higher-ups to discuss contingencies in the event that the license had to be relinquished. Do keep in mind that the licensing of Marvel’s characters was originally due to Universal losing the rights to license Batman, Looney Tunes and several other properties from Time Warner to Six Flags. Islands of Adventure in its opening incarnation was the result of Universal surveying properties and “throwing” together a plan based on what they could acquire. Working in the entertainment industry requires one to adapt and Universal has had to do so in the past.
Is it necessary for Universal to once again pivot? The problem is the antiquity of Marvel Super Hero Island. It’s clearly a relic from a different era in Marvel’s history. As Marvel’s universe and characters continue to evolve, Universal’s Super Hero Island remains static.
So the rumors that Nintendo’s properties will serve as a replacement for Marvel’s characters aren’t unfounded. Dr. Doom’s Fearfall could be retrofitted with Bowser, The Hulk could be painted brown and replaced with Donkey Kong, Spider-Man could be gutted and replaced with the Mario Bros, Marvel’s comic shop could be replaced with a Nintendo merchandise and game store.
The entire land being rebranded is in the realm of possibility. This would first require Universal to sell the rights back to Disney, and ballpark estimates would put such a sale in the millions.
In the interim, Marvel has taken to pivoting its cinematic and comic universes. Disney Imagineering can’t use Captain America, Spider-Man or Iron Man, but it can employ Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Rumor: Universal’s New Water Park will feature Nintendo characters.
Based on what I’ve been told by sources and have found on other outlets, Volcano Bay will not incorporate any intellectual properties, but instead be its own entity. If anything, it may incorporate some of its characters such as the Minions from Despicable Me, but in the same vein Disney Imagineering incorporated characters such as Goofy, Mickey and Donald in its water parks.
Rumor: Toon Lagoon will be demolished and replaced with a Nintendo themed land.
Toon Lagoon was the result of Universal improvising and licensing whatever it could manage based on its rapport with other companies and budget. While it’s an area of the park I hold dear due to many afternoons spent watching The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and reading the comics section of the local paper as an owlet, it’s a relic from another time. This is dispiriting, but as I said, the entertainment biz requires one to be malleable.
Universal at one time was said to have considered replacing Toon Lagoon with a rendition of The Shire from Tolkien’s Middle Earth lore. These rumors have since faded, but the notion of Toon Lagoon being replaced still lingers. Between Marvel Super Hero Island and Toon Lagoon, I see the latter being less appealing to the general public.
Would the land be aquatic in nature? It’s not a caveat to a potential replacement, as Universal has shown it’s not afraid to spend the extra time, effort and money to completely overhaul a space.
Rumor: Kid Zone’s much rumored demolishment and reconstruction will include Nintendo properties.
Based on the rumors that have made the rounds, SpongeBob is still set to invade Kid Zone with a new major attraction and water play area.
From what I’ve had sources disclose, E.T. Adventure and Curious George Goes to Town will remain at Universal for the time being. E.T. is said to be incorporated into the rumored Universal 25th Anniversary Museum and Curious George will remain as it presently stands, although it could be the future site of an expansion.
This means Fievel’s Playland, Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster and A Day in the Park With Barney would be the new hypothetical space of this overhaul.
What if SpongeBob won’t be the only property included in this much needed rebranding of Kid Zone? What if this partnership results in a Nintendo store, character meet and greets, and perhaps an intricately themed game zone for kids?
I’m skeptical of this angle. Given the propitious nature of this license, Universal could push further and build an intricately themed land on par with Seuss Landing and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Islands of Adventure seems like the best fit, but a Nintendo space in Kid Zone is still possible.
Rumor: The Lost Continent will be demolished for a Nintendo themed attraction.
Unlikely. As far as I’ve heard, The Lost Continent will be the future site of a potential third and even fourth phase expansion for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We’ve previously heard rumors about The Ministry of Magic and a more intricate spell experience being implemented.
I’ve received several tips that should “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” fare well and spawn a new series of films set in the Wizarding World, Universal will implement experiences from it inside a new section of the park that will require The Lost Continent be demolished.
Rumor: Wet ’n Wild will be rebranded with Universal and Nintendo’s properties.
Based on the information I received from a source, Wet ’n Wild won’t continue to be in operation past 2017. Things could change, as they have a propensity to do. Maybe Universal will rebrand Wet ’n Wild with properties in its wheelhouse and/or licensed work, opting to keep Volcano Bay a contemporary, tropical park that stands on its own?
Alternatively, Universal could opt to do something else with the estate, from new offices to a new park to selling the land for a nice sum. The future of the space Wet ’n Wild inhabits is up in the air.
Rumor: CityWalk will get a new establishment related to Nintendo.
One of the first ideas that sprang to mind after this was announced was an intricately themed bar, restaurant and arcade featuring Nintendo games and characters.
Think a mix of Player One on the scale of something like Rising Star, but with a broader appeal for families. It’d be a standout establishment at CityWalk and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one elated to see it happen.
As far as location goes, Drew of “Orlando United” posited that NBA City near Islands of Adventure could be the ideal spot for such an establishment. Given the space available to Universal in CityWalk, I’m in agreement with him.
Rumor: Universal will build a brand new Super Nintendo Store and Game Center
I view this as a given. Universal would be foolish not to capitalize on the merchandising opportunities. Not only could they offer exclusive Nintendo merchandise, but they could also host events.
Imagine game launches and special events at this super store. For titles like Pokémon, guests could bring in their handhelds and get exclusive items and monsters.
This might surprise you, but many people of various age groups bring their handhelds to the park. I’ve personally found myself connecting with a seemingly endless number of players via Nintendo’s Street Pass system on the DS.
(Before you ask, yes, I can use a DS. It does have some issues given the feathers, but perhaps Nintendo will fix this in the new new 3DS?)
Rumor: Universal Japan and Hollywood will also be getting Nintendo attractions.
While this wasn’t explicitly stated in the press release, I’d be nonplussed if it didn’t happen. Frankly, a Nintendo themed land seems most likely in Japan. Hollywood, on the other hand, will likely have to settle for one attraction with a gift shop and perhaps a themed restaurant due to the space available.
A reader by the name of Ben at Theme Park Updates on Twitter recently revealed to us that Hollywood’s Soundstages 23, 24, and 25 are the likely future sites of expansion for Diagon Alley and possibly a Nintendo themed area. Indeed, this same rumor has since made the rounds around the web.
It would seem that any future expansion would require the park to cannabilize its soundstages. I can’t think of many alternatives that would be spacious enough for Universal Hollywood’s creative team, as Blues Brothers and Shrek 4-D are the only two that spring to mind.
I expect each Universal park to have its own unique touch on Nintendo’s work based on each resort’s constraints. This is not unlike Disney’s rumored plans for its future Star Wars expansions across multiple resorts.
No matter the direction, this acquisition is brilliant. Nintendo’s vast catalog gives Universal the freedom to explore a panoply of different worlds.
Imagine an interactive puzzle experience based on The Legend of Zelda series. Picture a haunted maze ghost hunting experience based on Luigi’s Mansion. Dream of a mine cart thrill ride based on Donkey Kong and his friends. Imagine soaring through the galaxy with Mario or picture taking in an interactive Pokémon experience. Imagine going on an aquatic adventure with Yoshi.
The brilliance of Nintendo is its versatility and ability to leap across generations and appeal to a new audience. Everyone knows of Mario, he’s iconic. The interactive and often portable experience of Nintendo’s properties allows Universal to offer a potentially more immersive experience for guests.
Even though we’ve a while until anything comes to fruition from this partnership, speculating and imagining all of the possibilities excites me. Features like Skipper Ben’s Top 10 Nintendo Attraction Ideas in Attractions Magazine’s Summer issue reinforce the notion that this partnership is a trove of potentially fantastic concepts.
What would you like to see? The sky is the limit right now.
• Fowl Owlerson, or “Fowly” as he’s affectionately known, has been attending theme parks since he was a spry owlet. When he’s not filtering through the latest murmurings around the industry, he can be found writing, reading and snacking on the occasional rodent. Follow him on Twitter @fowlowlerson for the latest rumors or drop an anonymous letter to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Direct Message on Twitter.