Nintendo, Universal will team up on interactive park rides

Nintendo will develop attractions based on the company's popular video games and characters

Visitors to Universal Studios theme parks may soon be able to jump on interactive rides inspired by fast-paced video games.

Osaka-based Nintendo Co., the world's largest video game company, announced a partnership Thursday with Universal Studios Parks & Resorts to develop attractions based on the company's popular video games and characters, such as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Pokemon and Legend of Zelda.

Although Nintendo and Universal Studios were tight-lipped about details of the partnership, including how much money changed hands, industry experts say the deal reflects the growing importance theme parks place on creating attractions inspired by beloved characters and stories.

Universal parks already operate attractions based on the popular "Harry Potter" books, the irreverent "The Simpsons" television show and the pulse-pounding "Jurrassic Park" movies.

"Any time you are dealing with an intellectual property that people already know, you have an opportunity to appeal to fans that love these properties," said Robert Niles, author of the website ThemeParkInsider.com.

The deal is sure to help Universal Studios target a surging segment of society — gamers — who haven't been tapped by other theme parks, said Dave Cobb, vice president of development at Burbank-based Thinkwell Co., an attraction design company.

"It's one of the most shrewd and smart decisions they've made for those parks," he said.

Worldwide video game sales are expected to top $100 billion this year, according to industry estimates.

In the last few years, theme parks across the country have relied heavily on popular television and movie characters to inspire new attractions.

Next month, Universal Studios Hollywood plans to unveil a new addition to its iconic Studio Tour: an attraction based on the "Fast and Furious" movie franchise. The most recent sequel in the franchise, "Furious 7," generated $330 million in the U.S. and Canada and last month became the top-grossing movie ever in China.

Construction is also underway at Universal Studios Hollywood for an attraction to open next year based on the wildly popular "Harry Potter" movies and books. Universal parks in Florida opened larger versions of "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" in recent years to huge sales.

During the summer of 2016, Universal Orlando Resort will open an attraction called "Skull Island: Reign of Kong," in a collaboration with Peter Jackson, the director of the 2005 movie "King Kong."

In Anaheim, Disneyland is preparing for its 60th anniversary celebration with an upgraded parade, fireworks show and a new "World of Color" extravaganza at adjacent California Adventure Park. But Disney executives have hinted that the next big expansion or makeover at the park may involve characters from the blockbuster "Star Wars" franchise.

If successful, the deal between Universal and Nintendo would attract more millennials, often devoted game players, into the theme parks.

"Video games are a huge part of most consumers' diets, especially if you are 40 years old or under," Cobb said. "That is a huge market."

Theme parks experts say any ride based on Nintendo games probably would be interactive and allow riders to compete against each other.

"They are going to do a high level of interactivity to create an experience that rewards repeat visitors," Niles said. "With Nintendo, they need to take it to another level."

Already, interactive attractions are gaining appeal at theme parks.

This summer, Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park plans to open the park's first interactive, 3-D ride, called "Voyage to the Iron Reef."

Universal Studios officials declined to say whether other theme park companies competed for the rights to partner with Nintendo.

Since Nintendo launched its game consoles in 1983, the company has sold more than 4.3 billion video games and more than 680 million hardware units.

Nintendo shares rose $1.38, or 6.6%, to $22.16 a share, while Comcast Corp., the parent company of NBCUniversal, closed at $57.92 a share, up 26 cents, 0.45%.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Twitter: @hugomartin

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