Will Super Mario theme park use virtual reality?

Mar 08, 2016, 12:46 PM EST
Beloved Nintendo characters.
(Source: _QueenGeek_/flickr)

On Saturday Nintendo announced it will be building a $351 million Super Mario theme park in Osaka, Japan. The firm is aiming for the park to be ready by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics.

By featuring its beloved cast of characters, including Mario, Luigi, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and various Pokémon, Nintendo is trying to emulate the astronomical success of Disneyland and Disney World. They attract roughly 17 million and 20 million annual visitors, respectively, and are so popular and crowded that last month for the first time Disney introduced demand-based pricing. (Thus, Disney will rack up even more money – up to 20% --during weekends and holidays.)

Nintendo’s park will have "immersive experiences," but details haven't yet been provided.

The latest innovation in theme parks -- one sure to catch on --  is using virtual reality (VR) headsets. Last Thursday Samsung and Six Flags announced a partnership using Samsung VR on nine roller coaster theme parks across the U.S. and Canada starting this month. John Duffey, president and CEO of Six Flags, said that VR “is a definite game changer…” In six of the rides, participants will be able to do more than see exciting new worlds; they will also be able to interact, for example by firing the weapons of their virtual aircraft in aerial combat.

There are endless possibilities of VR experiences that theme parks can deliver. Everyone could be experiencing the same simulation or a park could “even give guests a choice of what adventure they want to ride each time,” said Brett Petit, senior V.P. of marketing for Six Flags.

From the parks’ perspective, VR could not only attract many more users, but also spare costly construction of new rides. VR would make pre-existing roller coasters seem like an entirely new experience every time, so people wouldn’t get tired of them.

Nintendo would be wise to get on board the VR train for its Super Mario theme park right from the initial planning phase. Advanced VR is debuting commercially this year (see Blouin News’ recent feature), so by 2020, there will be significant advances in capabilities as well as in user familiarity and demand. By that time, visitors will hopefully be able to play their favorite character’s role in the different stories, with a wide range of virtual actions possible. A theme park along these lines could be a new high score for Nintendo.