upcoming Super Nintendo World. But will it improve upon previous attempts to make theme park lands into platforms for interactive play... or will it just offer more of the same?Universal is teasing what could be an unprecedented level of interactivity in its
For more theme park fans, interactivity means shooter rides, starting with Walt Disney World's Buzz Lightyear attraction. Disney also has its Toy Story Midway Mania attractions; Universal offers Men in Black: Alien Attack; Six Flags has its Justice League rides, and you can find many other shooter attractions from Sally Corp. and other vendors at theme parks around the world.
On these rides, you use a provided blaster or other device to aim and "fire" at designated targets in the attraction, whether they be on screen or practical. Legoland's Ninjago rides dispense with the weaponry, using a motion sensor to allow riders to interact with passing scenes using only hand motions. (It's believed that Disney will use a similar system on its upcoming Spider-Man ride at Disney California Adventure.)
With The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal took interactivity outside its attractions and spread it throughout the land. With special themed wands, fans can "cast spells" at dozens of locations within the Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley lands. Disney ran with this concept of device-based interactivity in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, expanding the Play Disney Parks apps to become a "Star Wars Datapad" that visitors could use to take control of droids and spaceships within the land, read signs in the Star Wars language Aurebesh, and perform missions of assigned tasks.
Disney has been using device-based interactivity in its parks for years, including the old Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, which started in 2006. That was replaced by a Phineas and Ferb-themed version of the game, which led players on a scavenger hunt-like tour of World Showcase pavilions using handheld devices. Old-timers might remember the Pal Mickey plush toy that came a few years before that, which interacted with hundreds of points throughout the parks in the Walt Disney World Resort. But that device did not require any significant interaction from fans beyond walking the toy past a trigger point and squeezing it to get the Mickey doll to recite some information about that location.
Eventually, Disney coalesced its efforts into the Play Disney Parks app, which allows fans to play themed games, answer trivia questions and interact with locations throughout the parks... mostly to kill time while waiting in queues. But a cell phone is not an in-universe item that supports the conceit that you are an actor within a specific destination, the way that The Wizarding World's wands do.
That's the biggest drawback with the Star Wars Datapad. In the Star Wars universe, it's the droids that hack, scan, and translate. Then people interact with droids by talking with them. A handheld communications device is something out of the Star Trek universe, not the Star Wars one.
In Super Nintendo World, wristbands will enable guest interactions throughout the land. "You are going to have a wristband that's got the big red Mario symbol on it," Universal Parks Chairman Tom Williams said at an investors' event last week.
"It's all magnetic. You slap it at your wrist and it just snaps on and it won't come off. And that allows you to interact throughout the entire land, which is built on three different levels," he said. "It's got the popular Bowser's and Princess Peach's Castle and all the different key elements. And you will be able to go up and keep score and play with the various games. That also translates to a score keeping capability, if you choose to do so, within the rides, and it actually interfaces back with your game console. So you can build on it and come back again."
The in-universe interactive device in video gaming would be a controller, but Nintendo has made hand-driven control a thing with the Wii, so having a wristband serve that function wouldn't be at all out of character. And the prospect of connecting in-park interactivity with game systems outside of the park could be revolutionary.
If I have one complaint with Universal's Harry Potter lands, it's that they do not connect with Pottermore or Wizards Unite (which don't connect with each other, either). I would love to be able to participate in a seemless Wizarding World experience that would connect all three. Perhaps Super Nintendo World might actually do something like that?
If it could, then this new land might at last realize the potential for extending theme parks from collections of stand-alone attractions into platforms for truly immersive storytelling. Parks have made progress toward that goal but no one's quite gotten there yet. Will Universal finally do it next spring in Japan?Tweet
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.