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Universal seems to really be in love with videogames right now, which, one can suppose, makes sense – they are the last main frontier for theme parks to conquer (film and television have been conquered long ago). After signing a deal with gaming legend Nintendo with much fanfare, rumors immediately sprung up that the company was then busily drawing up plans to make its long-awaited third gate solely based off of videogames.
The jury is still out on just how accurate that last story is, but we can reveal that we’ve been hearing some chatter from our sources that will add another stick to the gaming fire: Universal just may be currently in talks with Konami to bring its massive slate of franchises to Universal Orlando Resort.
Yes, that’s right – Solid Snake, Pyramid Head, and friends just may be coming to a theme park near you in the not-too-distant future.
Who is Konami?
For all you non-gamers out there, Konami has long been a household name in the videogame industry. After originally being founded as a jukebox rental and repair company in 1969 in Osaka (my former stomping grounds!), the company metamorphosed into a gaming publisher and developer in 1973, releasing a string of popular arcade games, such as the ubiquitous Frogger.
In the ‘80s, the company devoted the bulk of its efforts to console systems (most notably the Nintendo Entertainment System, making this story come full circle already), creating some of the most iconic properties of the period – and on to the present day: Castlevania, Contra, Dance Dance Revolution, and, of course, Metal Gear. Today, it is best known for the Silent Hill, Pro Evolution Soccer, and Metal Gear Solid franchises, which continue – to one degree or another – to dominate the market.
Troubles, they are a-brewin’
Despite all this success, Konami has actually been the focus of some controversy over the past several months. In March, Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear franchise and one of the most famous game designers in the industry, was downgraded from a full-time employee to a simple contractor – along with all the rest of his Kojima Productions staff – and all marketing materials were scrubbed of his name. It has since come to light that there was something of a power struggle with Konami’s new corporate leadership, and that Kojima and his 200 employees will be severing all ties with the publisher once their contracts expire at the end of the year.
In case Konami losing such a high-profile, 29-year veteran of the company weren’t a big enough blow, its latest entry in the highly popular Silent Hill franchise, which “starred” Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead (yet another Universal connection, as Welcome to Silent Hill was one of the mazes in Halloween Horror Nights 2012) and co-directed by horror film legend Guillermo del Toro and Kojima, was cancelled a month later – at almost exactly the same time the company took itself off the New York Stock Exchange (don’t worry, all you investors – it’s still being traded on the Tokyo and London exchanges).
This may very well be what has led Konami executives to consider the expansion into themed territory, just as Nintendo, a former juggernaut in the gaming business, has had the worst console sales of its 32-year tenure as a hardware manufacturer and, as such, has been forced to branch out into new markets (including the mobile phone space). If true, the videogame publisher’s loss will once again be Universal’s (considerable) gain.
What could be on tap?
Befitting the company’s long and storied history, there are actually quite a few viable options out there – perhaps not as many as Nintendo’s insanely large roster of characters and titles, but certainly more than nearly any other publisher out there. Here are four to get your design gears spinning and to pump your anticipation level way high.
First and foremost, returning Silent Hill – which originally started off as a Resident Evil clone in 1999 but has since established itself as one of the most terrifying properties (the terrible film adaptations notwithstanding, of course) – to Halloween Horror Nights would be a no-brainer, and not least because the first attempt three years ago was marred by its status as a last-minute replacement, being saddled with a maze layout that was designed for another license entirely (you can hear all about that sordid backstory on the Orlando Informer Podcast). The second iteration of the franchise could not only feature entirely new characters, creatures, and designs, it could even – in a sweet bit of poetic justice – feature the likeness of Norman Reedus, a way for fans to scratch the Silent Hills itch that they’ll now never be able to in digital form and for Universal to stick it to Walking Dead owner AMC, who never allows the likenesses of the actors to be in the annual event.
Castlevania, which has had nearly three dozen installments across the past 29 years, is one of the highest-rated videogame franchises of all time and would be a horror-infused property perfectly suited for traditional attractions instead of haunted houses. A Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey-esque experience, plunging guests into a series of Gothic environments while attempting to escape Dracula and his hordes of undead minions, seems almost too good to be true.
Being a “tactical espionage stealth” game, Metal Gear Solid would seem to be a rather difficult attraction to design, but the game series’s insane character designs (particularly for the Metal Gears themselves, which are a combination of giant mechas and mobile nuclear missile platforms), already-immersive locations (particularly Shadow Moses Island, a nuclear disposal facility located in the Fox Archipelago), and a storyline that spans from the Cold War-centric 1960s to a technologically advanced version of 2018 would all make for an extremely intriguing experience. If handled correctly, it would be a ride not to miss.
Finally, Zone of the Enders – yet another Hideo Kojima-supervised series – follows humanity’s efforts to colonize the solar system using mechas; the action elements, political intrigue, and space setting have already led the franchise to expand to other media, most notably anime, which would, in turn, provide a terrific foundation for a thrill ride. Transformers: The Ride – 3D would provide a terrific starting point, but incorporating the physical thrills of The Incredible Hulk Coaster would really put this over the top – particularly if the track would wind between giant, dueling mechas as the civilian population has to be evacuated below.
Where, exactly, would this go?
This is the main question, should the rumor prove to be true and Konami will be opening the floodgates on its many properties. Bundling it with Nintendo’s forthcoming attractions would seem to be the most logical approach – “Videogame Land” not only has a nice ring to it, it would more than be a worthy successor to Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone – but such a move poses many difficulties, starting with the possibility that Nintendo may not be too keen on sharing the spotlight and ending with the fact that Nintendo Land already seems to be a done deal (not to mention that there is only so much acreage available in that particular corner of Universal Studios Florida).
The next best option would be to look over at Islands of Adventure, which has at least two out-of-date or otherwise weakened areas that are primed to be replaced (Toon Lagoon and The Lost Continent, respectively). While this would certainly offer a far bigger slice of real estate to work with, it creates something of an awkward proposition: two parks and two different videogame-based sites (and two that wouldn’t be able to be connected either figuratively or literally, as the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter are).
The least probable but, perhaps, most optimal scenario involves that now-legendary third gate, which would be able to use Konami – and, just maybe, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft – as the basis of the park and build out from there (using our suggestions as a guide!).
Given the extremely short amount of time between Nintendo’s contract being signed and the announcement of the deal, it may not be that long before we’ll get some answers to these questions…
Excited for this possibility? Still not sold on using videogames as the basis of the next park? Tell us in the comments below.
In the meantime, read even more about what the future (possibly) has in store for Universal with both Fast & Furious and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Ministry of Magic.
Next up, read about what to expect from Nintendo at Universal Orlando.
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