February 2023

Are Video Games the Next Theme Park Frontier?

An exciting new trend is gaining traction in the theme park industry, one that could create worlds like no other that we’ve seen off the screen.

While video games and theme parks have gone hand-in-hand for decades, namely in the form of arcades, entire themed areas dedicated to a video game world has gone largely untapped.

Until now.

Super Nintendo World is set to open Feb. 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood, featuring attractions based on the Super Mario franchise, known among gamers since the 1980s but now exploding in popularity with a film coming to the big screen in April.

At Super Nintendo World, you’ll be dropped right in the middle of the Mushroom Kingdom, where you’ll have the chance to get behind the wheel of a “Mario Kart” while collecting coins and throwing Koopa shells to throw off your opponents, using augmented reality headsets as your vehicle traverses a go-kart-style course.

The newly built land within Universal Studios also features various video game-inspired challenges, along with dining and shopping options, as well as a chance to snap a selfie with the mustachioed plumber himself.

Universal Studios Japan opened a similar area in 2021, with more planned across other Universal Studios parks.

Could this be the catalyst for future video game theme parks? Some industry experts think so.

Lance Hart, founder of Screamscape, a theme park rumor website that is frequently spot-on with its predictions, writes that as Hollywood begins to tap into video games for its new movies, the theme park industry will follow, as history has showed.

Just over the past few years, we’ve seen Sonic the Hedgehog get his own series of movies, while a new streaming series based off of the PlayStation game “The Last of Us” has recently been released. “Uncharted” got its own movie starring Tom Holland in 2022, and later that year, PortAventura in Spain announced it would open a roller coaster based off of the series in 2023.

Closer to home, we’ve seen California’s Great America turn a video game franchise into an attraction. In 2016, the park opened Mass Effect: New Earth, refreshing the park’s 4D theater with a new experience based off of the world and characters from the popular “Mass Effect” games, including a live actor to help guide riders through the attraction.

As a lifelong gamer, I’m beyond excited to see my two nerdy passions bridging the gap with each other.

On the Horizon

Expect Treasure Hunt: The Ride to open sometime this year in Monterey, after it missed its advertised “late 2022” opening date. The pirate-themed “dark ride,” now under construction on Cannery Row, takes riders on a four-and-a-half minute journey featuring hand-crafted set pieces, animatronics and special effects blended with interactive media.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has a new ride cooking, according to a permit application filed earlier in 2022. Details are slim right now, but I’d expect to learn more as the year progresses.

Some breaking news as I type this: On Jan. 12, Great America applied for a permit to construct a “Windstarz” ride in the place of an existing attraction. No other details are available. A “Windstarz,” manufactured by Zamperla, features 12, two-person “hang gliders” that rotate and allow the rider to control their own movement. With park owner Cedar Fair announcing in 2022 that it would be closing Great America sometime in the next decade, I expect these carnival-type rides will be the only new additions to come in the following years. Great America opened Liberty Twirler, a classic scrambler, in 2022.

Save the Dates
Clam Chowder Cook-Off: The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s 42nd annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off, benefiting Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation, returns Feb. 25-26. Info: beachboardwalk.com/Clam-Chowder-Cook-Off

Fun Run: Registration is now open for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s Fun Run on April 1, featuring a 1K race for children 12 and under and a 5K for everyone 4 and up. Info: beachboardwalk.com/Fun-Run

Gilroy Gardens Opening Day : March 25

Great America now open weekends: California’s Great America is now open year-round, operating during weekends in January and February for the first time in its history.

Peanuts Celebration: From April 1-30, the Peanuts Gang will take over the entire Great America with new musicals, activities and special food and drinks.

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