Imagining Nintendo Rides at Universal Studios
Okay, it’s not Disney. Let’s take a moment and make our peace with it, because we all know, on a strangely intimate level, that Disney would have made a heaping of Nintendo rides the right way. Oh well. It’s Universal Studios, the company with the second best track record in adapting beloved licenses to the physical, amusement park world.
Yes, Nintendo and Universal Studios have announced a deal to bring Nintendo-themed attractions to the production company’s highly successful theme parks, potentially melding Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Mario in a dreamlike cross-section of pop culture phenomena. Or it could just be a ride, a food stand and a whole bunch of merchandise. For now, let’s assume all of our dreams will come true and these Nintendo rides will receive the kind of attention and care we all give them in our heads. Speaking of, here’s what’s going on in my idealistic head:
The Obvious, Video-Gamey Ride
The first and best example of a ride that’s actually a video game is Disney’s Toy Story Mania, in which you sit in a booth that whisks you from one simulated carnival game to another, 3-D glasses equipped. The screens might be virtual but your weapon, a tiny cannon with a pull-string, is not. Aim it and watch your variance of projectiles smack their targets. There’s even a video game version of it. The sheer number of Nintendo properties that would into this mold is too much to consolidate efficiently. Metroid, though, especially in context of the first-person shooter Metroid Prime series, comes to mind.
Imagine a version of Toy Story Mania isolated to your own vehicle, alone in the creaking halls of an abandoned pirate space ship, echoes of the Alien movie franchise thumping in the back of your mind. You’re Samus Aran, responding to a distress signal in search of a bounty, as she always does. The ride escalates from pirates to metroids to, finally, a massive Ridley in the open of space. You’re equipped with an arm cannon, and your ability to collect upgrades by shooting them free along the ride plays heavily in the outcome of your final battle. Fully equipped, you can freeze, shoot and blow up the beast. Underprepared and he will escape, beckoning you to ride again.
This kind of atmosphere wouldn’t fly in the princess-dominated Disney World. Luckily, Universal Studios makes its case with more thrilling experiences. Welcome to the modern haunted house.
The Eatery that Sucks
Not all attractions are rides. Tucked into the Marvel Super Heroes section of Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure is a Fantastic 4-themed restaurant. Perhaps there’s a canonical reason why that might be the case. The Thing might need to eat an excessive amount of food. Whatever. Not good enough. Queue Kirby, a character that exists solely to ingest stuff who, if taken literally, is the most disgusting and adorable creature in existence.
It’s not just about the window dressing, though. That’s cheap. That’s easy. It’s about the experience of eating stuff, attaining its powers and then using those powers to destroy your enemies. Short of a magical leap in science, we’ll have to settle for theming the meals after Kirby foes and giving out hats in their makeup for patrons to wear around the park. It’s a callout between hot dog or hamburger lovers as they romp from one attraction to the next. And it might give you the necessary information on who to avoid sitting next to while in line for our next ride on this list.
If a Roller Coaster, Then this One
Sometimes the answer is served up on a King Dedede-sized platter. This happens in Super Mario Sunshine:
Do that, and please include the squirt gun.
The Absolutely Ridiculous and Impossible Fantasy
Mario Kart. Everyone knows Mario Kart. It’s crossed just about every vaguely modern video gaming generation. It’s the best example of Nintendo as gaming’s Pixar, capable of conjoining the hardcore with the casual, the old with the young in a mishmash of vehicular luck and skill that grants everybody an equal chance at miraculous victory and wrenching loss. It’s not enough to dress up some go-karts in Mario Kart skin. It might be enough to design a completely new kind of ride around this seminal series. So, what would that be? It would just be Mario Kart, pulled off the screen and put into real life. Here’s how it goes:
An obnoxiously large building with the words Mario Kart Experience plastered across the front, massive and glowing red, eats at your attention. Familiar faces of the Mushroom Kingdom invite you in. Stand close enough and you can hear the karts roaring around their turns, but you’ll need to wait a bit before you see it. An hour later, after wading through a bulky line adorned with demo stations running the actual video game, you enter the loading area. Eight karts sit on a short piece of track cut off at each end by massive black walls. That’s it. Eight karts. Two walls. One weirdly gleeful amusement park employee ushers you into your vehicle. You’re buckled in, a depressing traffic light starts counting down from red to green. 3… 2…
“Wait, wait! Hold on, we forgot the best part,” yells the employee. Three other people seem to come out of nowhere and the four of them start equipping the racers with virtual reality headsets. You’re in the back, so you have to wait just an extra second. Finally, one of the happy idiots reaches you, gently places the headset over your face. Nothing still. Black walls. Eight karts. An engine erupts behind you. The black wall opens up in front of you, and, as the dense nothingness peels away, an entire, voluptuous virtual racing track is unveiled, superimposed through the wondrous technology of virtual reality onto the real-life race track upon which the grip of your wheels will soon take hold.
Koopas, Toads and Yoshis are bounding up and down in riotous cheer. You look up and see a cartoon sky filled with balloons and gleeful clouds. That engine roar grows louder and closer from behind, finally accompanied by the iconic Bowser cackle as the villain zooms by you and your fellow racers. Then, in that ridiculous Italian accent, “C’mon, let’s a go!” Mario whips by in chase, your kart rumbles to life and the word Go! springs to life ahead on the track. The kart is real, the track is real, the race is real. Once you understand that to be true, you can believe the rest is real. Away you go, burning rubber directly into the Mushroom Kingdom.
Along the way you’ll realize the people that used to be your family are now represented by random characters in the Mario mythos. Your Mom is Princess Peach. Your brother is Luigi. Somehow your Dad got assigned the enviable avatar of Toadette, despite the fact that she’s your sister’s favorite character. She turned out to be Waluigi, of all people. Afterwards they’ll let you know your role as the big gorilla himself, Donkey Kong, ridiculous red tie and all. The best part: there are item boxes, which after touching cause a big red button at the center of your steering wheel to flash, begging to be slammed so that a red shell might burst out of your kart and home in on the poor sucker in front of you.
You might be able to convince yourself it’s just an illusion, an image projected for your benefit, but then when the red shell hits the enemy kart, that kart actually shudders at the impact and veers slightly off-course. “Okay”, you think to yourself, “I give up. It’s real.”