Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood is this year’s best addition at any theme park in the US. Its counterpart in Japan is even better, and the Florida version coming to Epic Universe in 2025 will be the best yet. Expansion is already on the way, with a Donkey Kong mine cart roller coaster being the first addition in Osaka, Orlando, and maybe Los Angeles. (Updated November 19, 2023.)
Despite this, it frankly feels like the video game maker’s back catalog is being underutilized. That’s in part after seeing The Super Mario Bros. Movie smash through $1 billion at the box office, causing even Disney CEO Bob Iger to congratulate Universal on the tremendous success. It’s also in part after seeing what else is rumored for Universal’s Epic Universe theme park, which looks like it’ll have flashes of brilliance and exciting areas…but also, some headscratchers.
Understandably, Universal wants to diversify its additions in an effort to make Epic Universe and all of its other parks as broadly appealing as possible. Universal might have trepidations about leaning too heavily into Nintendo, but that’s truly its best stable of intellectual property that rivals (or surpasses) the vast library of characters at Disney. If the performance of the Mario movie is any indication, video games are far more mainstream than many believe–and are one of the “final frontiers” for massive media crossovers. In short, Universal should be bullish and bet big on Nintendo as the future of its parks. And this wish list is how!
As is obvious from the above, this post is inspired by the blockbuster success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie and also by Super Nintendo World at USJ and USH. We don’t do regular updates from Universal Studios Hollywood due to the blog’s subject matter and reader interest, but I would implore those of you visiting California to make a side trip to USH.
Super Nintendo World and other recent additions are absolutely worth braving Los Angeles traffic. Universal Studios Hollywood is home to several of our favorite domestic theme park additions in the last few years and the whole park packs an exceptional single-day punch; it’s a really satisfying park. (See our Universal Studios Hollywood Planning Guideand our Strategy Guide for Super Nintendo Worldfor everything you need to know.)
I’m also in a Nintendo sort of mood these days, as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom isn’t just my favorite game of the year–it’s my favorite ever. (Surpassing even Resident Evil 4, my prior #1 for the last couple decades–and a game that’s remake ranks as #2 of the year.) I was skeptical that Nintendo would be able to top Breath of the Wild, but holy cow, did they ever!
On that personal note, I should probably add the disclaimer that this is my wish list and is based in large part on my favorite Nintendo games, not comprehensive calculations about title sales or character awareness. My favorite series by far is Zelda, which is probably obvious if you read Breath of the Wild: The Magic Kingdom of Video Games from last Christmas. That Switch classic was actually my entry-point into the series, and after playing that during COVID, I burned through several earlier entries in the series.
With that said, time is finite and there are many Nintendo franchises I haven’t touched. Super Smash Bros, Splatoon, Fire Emblem, Kirby, Pikmin, and Xenoblade are series that I haven’t played at all. They don’t make my personal wish list for attractions in Super Nintendo World(s) as a result, but I’m guessing some of them could make great rides. Splatoon is an obvious one, and even though I know little about the character, seeing a shape-shifting Kirby Audio Animatronics figure would be awesome–and might be the hook I need to invest in that series.
Time is finite and so too, obviously, is space. Universal Studios Hollywood and Japan will struggle to find the room for new Nintendo rides. The good news is that Universal Orlando has much more space. “‘Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland Universal Hollywood or Japan – the blessing of size. There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.’ ~Walt Disney” ~Shigeru Miyamoto
Okay, so Miyamoto-san never actually pulled a Michael Scott re-quoting Wayne Gretzky, but he might as well have. Whether it be in Epic Universe (the most logical spot) or the existing gates, there’s plenty of space to build or reimagine rides and add even more franchises beyond Mario and Donkey Kong.
With that out of the way, here’s my ‘just for fun’ top 10 list of additions in attractions at Super Nintendo World, in no particular order…
BONUS: The Neverending Story – This is the Christmas-time addition, as two of my favorite games of the year share one feature in common: dragon rides. I’m not going to share the second that features this as it definitely qualifies as a spoiler and, although you can see it coming, it’s such a magical moment that I don’t want to ruin that for anyone.
The more recent dragon ride is in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, the first new side-scrolling Mario game in over a decade and probably my favorite one ever. This is a game jam-packed with memorable moments, but the Wonder Flower dragon you ride in the Dragon Boneyard level is my second-favorite. (#1 wouldn’t translate to a video game at all.)
Both of these games remind me of Avatar Flight of Passage, and make me think it’d be awesome to get a Nintendo ride featuring an exhilarating and majestic dragon ride. This actually isn’t a ‘bonus,’ as there’s an entry above it could easily replace or be combined with, but that might give away the spoiler.
Metroid Encounter – Two of my favorite games that I’ve played in the last year are Metroid Prime Remasteredand Metroid Dread. As highly rated as the latter is, I still it might be a bit underrated–at least, in terms of public popularity and sales.
My initial inclination was an Alien Encounter-inspired theater attraction, with guests touring a Galactic Federation base when Samus captures a Chozo or Metroid and needs to teleport it to the base for some reason or another. Predictably, something would go terribly wrong and chaos would ensue. However, this would almost require narrative-driven storytelling, and Metroid excels at creating moodiness and tension through environments, music, exploration, and uncertainty. This attraction could have some of that, but the need for dialogue might make it a nonstarter.
Journey to the Center of Zebes – An obvious alternative for a Metroid ride would be based on Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo DisneySea. In this groundbreaking attraction, you board a subterranean vehicle and encounter curious creatures and unexpected danger while exploring caverns.
Had Disney or OLC somehow secured an agreement with Nintendo, Journey to the Center of the Earth probably could’ve been reimagined into a Metroid attraction–it’s already sufficiently similar in setting, atmosphere, and mood. Drawing heavy inspiration from this existing ride for Journey to the Center of Zebes would make complete sense; just change out the ride vehicles, little critters, and climactic encounter. (A shooter ride would be another obvious option for the Metroid franchise.)
8. Enchanted Tale of Hyrule Castle – Sticking with Tokyo Disney Resort quasi-clones, we have the Zelda-based Hyrule Castle dark ride. Rather than being a love story between Link and Zelda like Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast, this attraction would be an adventure through Hyrule Castle, culminating in an encounter with Ganondorf.
The attraction could start slowly with a focus on scenery, building in excitement and intensity as the tour progressed. Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland is another good example of what this ride could resemble in terms of pacing and vibe.
7. Star Fox Flight Fight – Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run is a great attraction. Well, minus the fetch quest gameplay…which is kind of a big asterisk in a gamified attraction. Honestly, the best part about the interactivity in Smugglers Run is the asteroid field segment, and that’s only triggered when there’s a delay at load or unload.
A version of that set in the Star Fox universe would be perfect. The gameplay is engaging and accessible, the characters are cute and memorable, and despite going dormant, the franchise is relatively recognizable. The ride itself is a slam-dunk concept for Universal, and could be just what Nintendo needs to reinvigorate interest in Star Fox. Win-win.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker Water Ride – Everyone loves boat rides, and no video game is better suited to be the basis for one than Zelda’s Wind Water title. The game itself has proven to be timeless, with the music and design of the talking boat being especially iconic. Although I love the cutesy cel-shaded style, the character models might need to be updated to the current look of Link, Zelda, etc. The game itself could be re-released for Nintendo’s nextgen system alongside the debut of the ride, adding much-needed synergy.
As for the ride system or inspiration, well…it’s a boat. Beyond that, there were actual credible rumors of a Zelda ride replacing the Lost Continent at one point, and it seems like Universal Creative had some pretty good ideas for that. With the recent closure of Poseidon’s Fury, maybe that’s gotten greenlit after Nintendo’s other recent successes.
Luigi’s Mansion: Shine & Seek – Since Super Nintendo World is basically Mario land, this list is largely devoid of entries featuring the iconic plumbers. That’s arguably a mistake, as they are the most beloved and recognizable characters, and there’s plenty of potential for future attractions based on Mario and Luigi. (Personally, I’d love something based on Odyssey or Galaxy settings, or some of the suits from Super Mario 3D World–but I’m not sure how those would translate to rides.)
With that said, there is one game that’s absolutely begging for a ride, and that’s Luigi’s Mansion. This was obvious even before Super Nintendo World was announced, and now it’s just a no-brainer. The Luigi’s Mansion attraction would be similar to Haunted Mansion with an interactive element similar to Monsters: Inc. Ride & Go Seek at Tokyo Disneyland.
Hang Glidin’ Over Hyrule – Sticking with various obvious ones, there’s this flying theater attraction based on Link’s key mode of transportation in Breath of the Wild and, presumably, Tears of the Kingdom.
When it comes to geographic diversity, Hyrule rivals California in its range. Guests could fly over hot deserts, tropical forests, snowy mountain ranges, an active volcano, and much more, encountering mythical creatures and enemies along the way. You could argue that it being entirely CG would cheapen the appeal, but that hasn’t hurt the popularity of Soarin’ Around the World.
Wario and Waluigi’s Wild Ride – Much of what I know about Wario and Waluigi comes from social media lore and memes. The rest is a result of Sarah and I always choosing to play against them in Mario Party Superstars, as their mannerisms crack us up. All of this has painted a bonkers picture of these two arch-nemesis slash alter egos that makes them seem perfect for a weird, comedic attraction. Since they aren’t established or important, Universal Creative could be given a bit of latitude for non-canon world-building and goofiness.
As for what Wario and Waluigi’s Wild Ride would entail, I truly don’t know. I just like the name. With that said, the dynamic duo has a lot of potential as being the hosts you love to hate in a montage show or attraction featuring a medley of Nintendo characters that don’t make the cut for standalone attractions.
Animal Crossing – This is more Sarah’s cup of tea, but I’ve watched enough Animal Crossing: New Horizons to get the gist of it. From that, it seems to me that the game is all about savoring the little joys of life and, inexplicably, a celebration of capitalism. I can think of no better way to embrace both than with a walk-through exhibit brimming with details and Easter Eggs…plus a food court and gift shops.
Seriously. I don’t mean this in a cynical way, or as a lazy critique of commercialism. (C’mon, I’m a Disney fan!) Animal Crossing would lend itself to a World Showcase or Pacific Wharf-esque area to explore, with small storefronts, snack windows, and more. (Minion Park at USJ is actually the exact blueprint for a successful Animal Crossing area–just make it bigger.)
Pokemon – Honestly, Pokémon is a complete blind spot for me. By the time my parents allowed me to have a video game console, I was “too cool” for Pokémon. It also obviously wasn’t a college party game, and I already have too many games to play now. Pokémon feels like an all-or-nothing kinda thing, and I’ve picked nothing.
Nevertheless, I’m aware of the popularity of Pikachu and his posse. It stands to reason that one of the most popular video game franchises of all time would be represented in a future Nintendo land at Universal Orlando. Rights issues would need to be worked out, but I assume that’s doable given the presence of Pokémon in pop culture.
As for what type of attraction, I assume we all agree that it should be Hall of Pokémon. Inspired by the Liberty Square stage show, each Pokémon would stand up and squeak their name, with Pikachu delivering a passionate and patriotic speech. In actuality, I have no clue what kind of attraction would be best for Pokémon. I like the idea of seeing them as adorable Audio Animatronics, but am guessing some sort of shooter to “catch ’em all” might make more sense than a bunch of squeaked speeches in a stage show.
Which Nintendo games or characters do you think Universal should adapt into theme park attractions? What kind of rides would you like to see built? If you’ve experienced Super Nintendo World, did the land leave you craving more or is this little area enough video games in theme parks? Eager to step foot into this video game universe? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!