All aboard the 2020 Hype Train for Super Nintendo World

December 27, 2019, 1:07 PM · What's the biggest entertainment franchise in the world? Is it Star Wars? Harry Potter? Marvel? While those are top three IPs from movies, all are dwarfed by a franchise from another segment of the entertainment industry.

So who is the King of IP? It'sa Mario.

Nintendo's Mario franchise has earned more than $30 billion dollars worldwide, according to industry estimates, about a third more than the Marvel Cinematic Universe and more than three times the box office haul from both Star Wars and Harry Potter. Boys and girls, women and men, people from nations all over the world play Mario on their TVs, computers, tablets, and other devices. Mario — and its entire Nintendo family — enjoy a cross-demographic and cross-cultural appeal that could best be described as truly (please, God, forgive me this one)... Universal.

But just because a franchise wins in video games does not guarantee its success in other entertainment media. Just ask the movie studios that have watched so many game-based IPs disappoint at the box office. Interactive media such as video games just don't translate well to more passively consumed media, such as film.

Of course, there's another popular entertainment medium out there that does support interactivity — one where people can play with their favorite video game franchises, but in an environment that feels much more real than they can ever experience in front of a screen, even one mounted in front of their face as VR.

So what happens when the world's top video game IP gets reimagined as an interactive theme park experience? We are about to find out.

Super Nintendo World
Concept art courtesy Universal

Opening this summer at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, Super Nintendo World will give fans the opportunity to step into a real-life Mario Kart race. They can play Nintendo in a three-dimensional, practical environment, tracking their scores and connecting their theme park experience with their online play. With Super Nintendo World, Universal — which eventually will bring the land to its parks in Hollywood, Orlando, and Singapore, too — has an opportunity to redefine how an entertainment franchise exists across media, amplifying Nintendo and Mario from beloved video game IP into even more engaging lifestyle brands.

Earlier this month, I called Disney's new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance the world's best theme park ride. Blending multiple ride experiences and settings with an engaging story and nonstop action, Rise of the Resistance raised the bar for new theme park attractions worldwide. But Universal's new Mario Kart ride looks ready to challenge Rise of the Resistance with its attempt to create a practical version of the world's most popular entertainment experience.

Will Universal beat Disney with this? I truly have no idea. But I cannot wait to see its effort.

Ultimately, what Universal does with Mario in no way affects what Disney accomplished with Rise of the Resistance. Theme parks are not sports, with its winners and losers. A "win" for Universal here is not a loss for Disney. It would be just another great experience for theme park fans. But corporate ego is a thing. And I love it when Disney and Universal try to out-do each other, because that results in a fresh supply of great new attractions for theme park fans.

I have been going to theme parks for decades. I have been writing about theme parks now for more than 20 years. I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit parks all over the world. So it is with that perspective that I say... this is the golden age. The opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 opened a new era in themed entertainment design, in which companies saw again the payoff from investing in the highest available quality for their attractions.

Ten years later, the industry could be facing another defining moment, one that will show fans whether the industry's development over this past decade has reached a trim brake... or another launch — one that will accelerate theme parks and their attractions to new heights of quality and engagement.

I never have been more excited by theme parks than I am right now. And that's why Super Nintendo World tops my list of the most anticipated theme park attractions in 2020.

Previously on "All aboard the 2020 Hype Train":

Now that I have finished this series, I am wishing that I had expanded it to 12 so that I could have included the upcoming Lego Factory Adventure dark ride at the new Legoland New York, and the Drawn to Life Cirque du Soleil show at Disney Springs, both of which deserved to be on this list. And there are plenty of other great new attractions coming in 2020, too — rides worth planning a trip to visit, including Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Pantheon, Cedar Point's Celebrate 150 Spectacular parade and Snake River Expedition, Epcot's Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, Hersheypark's Candymonium, Kings Island's Orion, Legoland California's The Lego Movie World, Six Flags Great Adventure's Jersey Devil Coaster, as well as SeaWorld Orlando's Ice Breaker, San Antonio's Texas Stingray and San Diego's Emperor.

It's going to be a great year for theme park fans.

Replies (8)

December 27, 2019 at 1:43 PM

I am going to make a late Christmas wish. While I love the Lost Continent area at Islands of Adventure, it does seem like this area could be converted to Zelda. Especially now that the stunt show is closed. That’s a large space, and frankly, Universal still needs more to do.

Okay, so, a few wishes. Kids need things to do in Universal, the little ones. But is Barnie as relevant as some of the many Dreamworks offerings? There are so many options to retheme Barnie, Woody Woodpecker, and Curious George. As well as add a few more family friendly attractions. A small dark ride, a carousel, and a spinner. If they can hire someone in story and show development away from Disney, a new child friendly show would be great.

Last, but not least, probably my biggest wish is one I think Universal Orlando would master. Ever since Hollywood Studios lost the Osborne Lights, the holidays in Orlando haven’t felt the same to me. Universal Orlando has the perfect spaces to recreate this. Potentially in two areas, New York & Hollywood. (I’ll armchair Creative and even give it a name...Universal’s Holiday Light Bright). Bring dancing lights, with remixed Christmas music to the park. It would give them a reason to stay open later, and I’m certain Drive additional revenue in food, beverage, and merchandise!

December 27, 2019 at 2:01 PM

@Robert Parker - There have been rumors about a re-imagined KidZone for years and years. In fact, the long standing rumor until just a couple of years ago was that Nintendo was going to take over that space in USF, particularly in the months after Universal announced the licensing agreement. However, with the announcement of Epic Universe it's clear that Universal needs to leverage their most appealing IPs (including: Dreamworks, Illumination, and Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts) to generate interest in the new park, which is not directly adjacent to the current UO property. That's also why you're unlikely to see any substantial changes to the Lost Continent. UC has its hands full, and aside from small additions/modifications here and there, I doubt they will be doing anything substantial at USF or IOA (after the Jurassic World Coaster expected in 2021 of course) that may undercut what they have planned for Epic Universe.

I agree that this development could be a game changer, and opening it first in Japan will give Universal a lot of good data and feedback before they try to open similar lands in the US to a more fickle and segmented fanbase.

December 27, 2019 at 5:33 PM

This is the first time there has been a major attraction that I honestly haven't been excited about. I'm sure if I visited Nintendo World I'd enjoy the attraction but I have literally zero interest in gaming, zero interest in Nintendo and frankly wouldn't know Mario if I fell over him, so the whole development leaves me utterly cold. I suspect I'm massively in the minority here, especially amongst theme park fans boys who, I suspect, are also mostly gaming fans, but I can't help how I feel.

December 28, 2019 at 7:11 AM

I haven't been to Galaxy's Edge, so my input is based entirely on the reactions of others, however; I noticed a rather muted positive response to Smuggler's Run, compared to the overwhelming praise for Rise of Resistance. Now, it always seemed that the Millennium Falcon ride was always going to be secondary to the escape from the First Order, however, one is very interactive, while the other is an innovative mix of passive observation and active participation - as if Disney found the perfect way to combine taking part in the ride, and just enjoying it.

One of the chief complaints I seem to hear with Smuggler's Run is, people don't want to have to keep turning away from the ride experience to hit buttons, or pull levers. I'm not sure people love to be distracted from the ride by being forced to participate. First-person-shooter rides seem to be the limit of wanting to take active participation on a ride, and still enjoy the setting around. (Men In Black being the one ride where I sometimes wish I could just sit and look at the settings around me. Midway Mania and Buzz Lightyear are simple enough in their surroundings to make me less distracted by immersive detail - which I find myself wishing there was more of)

Video games are interactive by definition. Mario World games are something you actively take part in. Is there a balance between being taken to those worlds, and still being able to enjoy them without interacting with them? Can I visit Mario and Bowser, and just enjoy their world without feeling like I am the one bouncing around in it, and manipulating the outcome of my visit? Or will I have to pull myself away from the (fantasy) detail and settings, to actively take part in the (reality) objectives of completing tasks to "succeed" in the ride?

It should prove fascinating to see how Universal manages to pull off this balance, considering the interactive nature of video game I.P. characters and their worlds.

December 28, 2019 at 9:21 AM

@David Brown, I’m 50/50 with you on this. I am a gamer, and have been since the (no surprise) early ‘80s. As I’ve gotten older though, Nintendo just doesn’t really appeal to me anymore, with the exception of Mario, so I totally get why some - probably a lot - of people won’t be too bothered about it. I am excited for Super Nintendo World, but not because of the IP. Because of the new ride systems that I’ll get to experience. As a current example, I couldn’t care less about Avatar, but I can’t wait to ride FOP.

December 28, 2019 at 3:13 PM

As someone who grew up with Nintendo I am hugely excited for this. With additional popular IP like Pokemon, Zelda, DK and others I can see the Nintendo franchise supporting Universal for decades to come.


My sentiment is the exact opposite. Although I love and appreciate the realistic 3D open world gaming that we have progressed to from 8 bit NES I often find myself missing the quirky, fun and far less serious Nintendo style games. Im actually planning on purchasing a Switch in addition to my PS4.

December 28, 2019 at 4:55 PM

Thank you for the list, Robert! Looking forward to riding MMRR and YouTubing POVs of Mario Kart!

December 28, 2019 at 10:03 PM

@Daniel Galvan

I do see where you’re coming from. Nintendo absolutely has a place in the gaming world, and I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow a decent Mario adventure (or platformer, in general). I actually bought a Switch about a month ago. Played the heck out of Mario Odyssey, Luigi’s Mansion, Mario Kart and DK Tropical Freeze. Thought they were all great fun. Then I went onto Breath of the Wild and I tried really hard to get into it, but just couldn’t for some reason. Then I did some research on the 2020 releases and there were hardly any first party titles which interested me. So, after two weeks of having it, I returned the Switch and figured I’d just stick with my PS4, until PS5 is released.

Anyway, I got totally off track there, and now I’ve forgotten what I was going to talk about! Plus, it’s really late. Happy new year :)

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