Tomorrow, Universal will announce its third theme park for its Orlando, Florida resort. According to rumors from theme park news sites like Orlando ParkStop, this will be home to Super Nintendo World, a land based on the beloved video game company.
Although this park hasn’t been announced, it has been the subject of rumors and leaks for years (Update, August 1 8:20 a.m. Pacific: Universal has announced the project). Universal is already building the property and has been clearing land for months. Right now, Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks, a water park, a shopping district, and six hotels. This new project will encourage guests to book longer visits to the resort.
Fantastic Worlds was once the rumored name for this park according to sources like Orlando ParkStop and theme park journalist Jim Hill, although an objection from Warner Bros. (who owns the Harry Potter film franchise along with the Fantastic Beasts subseries) forced Universal to switch to Epic Universe as a moniker. This park will have a similar structure to Universal’s second Orlando theme park, Islands of Adventure. Each land will represent some kind of popular media franchise. Other rumored areas for Epic Universe includes sections based on Fantastic Beasts, How to Train Your Dragon, and classic Universal monsters like Frankenstein, the Mummy, and Dracula.
But Super Nintendo World will be the highlight of this new park. Universal and Nintendo announced their partnership to create theme park attractions based on Nintendo’s popular gaming franchises in 2016. This includes expansions at the existing Universal theme parks in Osaka, Japan and Hollywood.
However, while those versions will have one or two Nintendo attractions, the Super Nintendo World in the new Orlando theme park could be the biggest of them all and host three rides.
This is kind of a big deal. pic.twitter.com/boxonV1uJF
— Universal Orlando Resort (@UniversalORL) July 29, 2019
Nintendo takes Orlando
“It’s strongly believed that the brand new theme park will open with Super Nintendo World, including the Mario Kart ride, Yoshi’s Adventure family ride, and Donkey Kong’s Mine Cart Madness roller coaster,” Alicia Stella of Orlando ParkStop told GamesBeat.
Stella and her site have been at the head of many of the rumors and leaks concerning Universal’s new park. Her research includes the discovery of the trademark filings for both Fantastic Worlds and Epic Universe. She believes that Super Nintendo World will be the cornerstone of Universal’s Orlando expansion.
“The Nintendo area is expected to be the most important for the new park, and I expect it will be utilized heavily in marketing going forward,” Stella noted.
The Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast posted pictures of a supposed model for Super Nintendo World earlier this month. We have asked Universal if these models are real and will update this story if it responds. The diorama includes Bowser’s Castle, which will serve as the entrance for the Mario Kart ride. You can also see a parade of Yoshi characters marching along the hills of the land. These represent the ride vehicles for the family-friendly Yoshi attraction.
Another image shows off the Donkey Kong Country-themed area of the land. This includes a roller coaster that will simulate the series’ mine train levels, including the illusion of jumping broken sections of the track.
Universal’s original plans for Nintendo in Orlando were much smaller. Like in Japan and Hollywood, it would have just created a smaller-scale Super Nintendo World inside the original theme park, Universal Studios Orlando. Moving it to the new park and its untouched land allows for a larger plan.
A plumber to beat a mouse
Universal is in an IP war with Disney, its chief competitor in the theme park market. Universal was always a distant second, but its introduction of Harry Potter-themed offerings in 2010 helped close the gap. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter changed how both companies approach theme park expansions. Both used to more often use a franchise as the inspiration for a single ride. Now an IP is used to create a comprehensive land of connected rides, shops, and dining. These are theme parks within a theme park. Disney has so far countered Harry Potter with new lands based on Avatar, Toy Story, and Star Wars.
But Universal may have found an IP coup with Nintendo. Video games have become a cross-generational hobby, and characters like Mario are as beloved as any cartoon or film character. Disney has long suffered in its attempts to enter the gaming market and doesn’t have anything that it could easily use to counter Nintendo.
“I will tell you flat out that the Nintendo park worries Disney, because they just don’t have — you can respond to a Harry Potter with a Star Wars,” theme park journalist Jim Hill told GamesBeat last year as we were researching a story on the Millennium Falcon ride that opened with the new Star Wars land, Galaxy’s Edge. “But the thing is, what worries Disney is this generation of gamers who now have kids that they themselves game with. When Fantastic Worlds opens in Orlando, how do you respond to that if you’re Disney?”
If Disney wants to compete, it will have to do what Universal did and make a deal with a popular gaming company. But no other publisher has access to as many beloved franchises and characters as Nintendo. In fact, Universal’s plans for Nintendo in its theme parks could extend outside of the three rides we talked about.
“Universal has lots of ideas for more attractions based on several other Nintendo properties, but they are hesitant to green-light them until after waiting to see how the initial Nintendo lands perform in Japan next year, and in Hollywood soon after,” Stella told GamesBeat. “Rumors for additional rides or lands include everything from Pokémon and Zelda, to Super Smash Bros. and Kirby. While the Universal Orlando Resort has the most space available for new additions like these, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the land in Japan’s park get an addition like these sometime in the next few years as well.”
Plans for theme parks often change (the iconic Haunter Mansion ride was once envisioned as a walk-through attraction, for example), and we won’t know what exactly Universal will be revealing tomorrow until it makes its announcement. But Nintendo will be a huge part of Universal’s future, and it could be the next Harry Potter-sized step toward surpassing Disney.
Update, August 1 8:20 a.m. Pacific: Universal has confirmed the park, which will be called Epic Universe. Although the announcement was short on details, Universal did reveal concept art that shows Super Nintendo World (both the Mushroom Kingdom and Donkey Kong Country areas) as part of the complex. Alicia Stella took the art and labeled what it shows.
The worlds of Universal's Epic Universe pic.twitter.com/yhpUMnMP29
— Alicia Stella (@AliciaStella) August 1, 2019
You can also see the rumored lands for the classic Universal monsters, Fantastic Beasts, and How to Train Your Dragon.
Update, August 1 8:20 a.m. with details from announcement, confirming much of this report.