Open Up the Gates!
I absolutely love theme parks, and I don’t make a secret out of that. That’s why, whenever there’s big theme park news, I always want to know every detail that I can get. I have not yet gotten a chance to go to Galaxy’s Edge in Florida as the day I arrived there to visit a relative was just a day before Disney World shut down over Covid-19 concerns. But, I have looked into every detail that I can and could have a reasonable discussion with you about if the implementation of Project Stardust to prepare the California park for Galaxy’s Edige is going to be good in the long run or not. I just really enjoy discussing theme parks. As such, I have to say, the things I have heard about Super Nintendo World are giving me cause for concern.
Wait Just a Moment
Before we begin, I have to get out there that I am looking at this as someone who can get pretty pedantic about these matters. For example, when I say theme park, I’m not talking about somewhere like Six Flags where it’s more just a color overlay on the roller coaster than a fully themed land. I love theme parks in that I love places that go all in on the themeing either entire park sections (like you see in Universal’s handling of Harry Potter) deeply immersive ride experiences within the park. I believe most big rides should have a theme to them and some sort of a story. It’s really not that hard, just give me a video in the queue that tells a story instead of playing Loony Toons and ads, or set the mood somehow while I’m waiting.
That being said, what do we currently know about Super Nintendo World? Not all that much, really. Like a lot of other theme parks, Universal is playing things pretty close to the chest at the moment. We’re getting some vague talk and then a little info here or there based on what has come out of the Japanese edition of the land. From that, people are speculating about the Orlando park based on the assumption that there will be similarities between them. We know that Universal Studios Hollywood is likely only getting a few rides without a themed land since it’s a park with very limited space. The Universal Studios Japan park was said to be hopefully opening in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics, but with those being pushed back, there will likely be a bit of a delay in the park’s creation as well.
For most American fans like myself, all eyes are on Universal Studios’ Orlando location since it’s going to be the biggest Nintendo park stateside and comes along with something else. The Florida land is going to be part of Universal’s Epic Universe, which is set to be the “third gate” (or third theme park – if not counting waterparks) for the Universal Studios’ Florida complex. This park is relatively mysterious in general, however, since there’s not a ton to go off of based on the concept art. The only things widely known are that it will likely contain some form of a Harry Potter land (likely based more in the Fantastic Beasts series) and that Super Nintendo World has been confirmed for the park. There are other rumblings and rumors, but nothing that is solidly confirmed as the 750-acre park is still in the process of development and construction. This one is also likely going to see Covid-19 related delays since Florida is one of the heavily impacted states.
Concerns about Ride Types
Now, I am very impressed with Universal’s handling of Harry Potter. I have always adored the Hogsmeade section of the Florida parks. The theming is immaculate and the the way in which the two existing roller coasters were rethemed and retrofitted with new queues to create a new tone and story were a great feat. Additionally, the Hogwarts Forbidden Journey ride is one of my top five in both currently existing parks combined. After how they have recently proven themselves with their handling of a book series near and dear to my heart, you would think I would be excited to see them tackle Nintendo, but I have my reservations., rather severe reservations, in fact.
Outside of a small handful of rides, I have to admit that the Universal Parks aren’t my favorites. It’s not a case of me preferring Disney properties or anything like that, but a case of me not liking the style of ride that they prefer to build. I like a good thrill ride and Universal definitely likes to go for thrill rides, but the way that they handle the creation of them can be kind of lazy. You see, when you’re developing a sense of immersion for a place like Super Nintendo World, one of the ride types that you are going to see crop up a lot are dark rides, rides that are usually entirely indoors. Dark rides are some of my favorite ride types, but their construction can vary. Sometimes, you get ones that are full of animatronics and mostly practical effects with a little help from projection. Other times, you get a dark ride where you’re just in a cart that wobbles in front of a giant screen, and sometimes you get a mix of both.
All of the last three rides that have been constructed at Universal Orlando have been primarily screen-based rides. Two of those plant you a bus-shaped cart in a screen tunnel (one of which has a single large animatronic at the end) and one where you’re literally in theater seats which wobble a little bit in front of a screen. Unfortunately, I find that screen rides don’t hold up during re-rides as well as a more practical ride or even a mixed one. Not to mention that there are people who get more motion sick from screen-based attractions. My biggest fear is that in order to get you into Nintendo’s worlds, Universal’s instinct is going to be to use similar tactics to their last three rides. They have great queue lines, but none of the rides even reach my top ten in the park.
There’s also one more sad truth about screen-based rides, they’re easy to replace. Just change the movie and movement, redesign the queue, and you can have a “new” ride much faster and cheaper than making something from the ground up. The problem is that if you liked the old version, it will be really easy to tell that you’re riding something that was simply put over the top of its corpse.
Concerns about Mario Kart
One of the more popularly speculated things to be coming to Orlando’s Super Nintendo World based on announcements from Japan is a Mario Kart attraction. This is something that I could see being really interesting if it is handled well, but I still have my concerns about it. I think that this ride would likely be pretty disastrous if it was just a plain screen-based ride with no form of interactivity. But, I also don’t think that simply making a screen ride interactive would add anything to the experience of playing Mario Kart normally besides a wiggling car that you’re sitting in. This would presumably be the flagship ride of the land given the ability of it to be a big draw. Universal does like to push technology in their big rides. Forbidden Journey, for example, made excellent use of space and movement by using kuka arms for vehicle moment instead of a standard track. Luckily, Mario Kart may not simply be a screen ride. There is some speculation of this being a physical ride with some sort of glasses/headset-based augmented reality.
While I think that it would be interesting to see the implementation of this sort of technology into a ride setup, at the same time, I am mindful of the ways it could be a huge downside for the experience. There is always a level of disconnect when you wear glasses or a headset. There a constant awareness that when you take it off, whatever is in front of you will vanish. I know I may have a bias for animatronics and Universal doesn’t always have the best track record of maintaining some of them, but a huge animatronic Bowser that’s really there would be much more intimidating in a ride than a CGI one that you know is more like a ghost.
There’s also the problem of technology being… fussy. I’ve personally ridden a roller coaster with a VR headset when my local theme park did a limited run with them on one of the older coasters that needed more attention. What it did was greatly inflate the time that it took to get everyone boarded and sent off, even though they were alternating between one ride with VR and one without. You needed to get everyone on like normal, get their headsets synced and ready, and then inevitably one or two wouldn’t work so you would have to repeat the whole process. By then, three minutes have passed just to send one ride off! Ride loading and unloading is paramount in the theme park industry, which makes me feel like this AR rumor is unlikely. But, in the event it is true, I’ve ridden a coaster where my headset was de-synced with the ride by just two seconds and it was not a pleasant feeling. There’s a reason that the VR promotion at my local park didn’t last long.
Concerns about Interactivity
Universal seems to also be looking at some sort of an interactive element with Super Nintendo World. There are reports that Universal is looking to give guests digital wristbands themed after Mario characters that allow for tracking points and collecting coins in a special app to game-ify the park. This is something that I really like, but let’s be honest, they’re not going to be giving those wristbands away for free. They’ll likely be something that you have to purchase extra, much like the interactive wands in the Harry Potter areas, which cost $48 by the way! If the wristband is just a way to more easily do something without having to pull your phone out all the time, I don’t have a problem with this. But, if you’re completely locked out of an entire large aspect of the land, it’s kind of scummy. At least with the interactive wands, you can still kind of get the experience by watching someone else trigger the effects, even if you didn’t buy one yourself.
There’s also the issue of point tracking itself. Does it carry over from visit to visit? Is the tracking is to just compete with your family or friends? Is there a parkwide leaderboard of some sort? Just having something like this for your friends and family is a really fun way to get everyone involved even if they’re not that into Nintendo properties. It could give those who don’t feel like going on a particular ride something to do while they wait! Which, as someone who sometimes has to leave people behind while I ride, would give me a lot less guilt about doing that. I will say, though, if there is a persistent leaderboard for the park, that could cater to those who can afford to visit frequently and invest the most time, creating an avenue to essentially pay your way to the top. There’s no word about that being something that is planned, but when we have so little information, we do have to speculate a little and ask questions about the implementation of vague plans.
Concerns about Variety
I know I’ve gone on about this for a while, but there is one more thing that I think it is vital for fans to keep in mind. Despite this being called Super Nintendo World, everything that has come out has been entirely Mario related. There hasn’t been a touch of any other of the major Nintendo properties. This isn’t an entire theme park, but just one land of a larger park, which means there will maybe be three rides, perhaps one or two shows/films, and a handful of food options. It’s not like this is the Mario land and you can go next door to the Legend of Zelda area. I expect the only reason that it’s not being called Super Mario World is because that’s already the name of a game and that’s not good for popping up in search engines.
We’re likely not going to see anything besides Mario since all the concept art is Mario related with maybe a tiny bit of Donkey Kong, who isn’t confirmed for the park at all, but shows up in enough Mario games that he might as well be a Mario character. If you’re hoping for a Legend of Zelda experience or a Metroid shooter ride, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be seeing that anytime soon. Perhaps there will be some goods in one of the gift shops or a themed menu item, but likely not anything more than that.
I know I’ve been pretty negative through all of this. With the information that I have, I do have a lot of concerns about this theme park land. I will say that I’m hoping it’s wonderful and I want it to be wonderful, but until I get more details, I am worried about a lot of the implementation of the vague concepts that we have been given. I am hoping that I will be able to go once it opens up and see the land for myself. But until then, I’ll just have to curl up on my couch with my Switch and wait to hear more.