Super Nintendo World’s Power-Up Bands Are the Newest In Digital Souvenirs

Ilana Gordon
Ilana Gordon is an entertainment, culture, and tech writer originally from Connecticut. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
Super Nintendo World’s Power-Up Bands Are the Newest In Digital Souvenirs
Anastasia Lee (NBCUniversal)

During last year’s LA Tech Week, the word on every AR professional’s lips was “gamification” — the process of incorporating game elements into everyday experiences to help companies drive traffic and engagement, elevate in-person experiences, and provide consumer incentives and rewards. And nobody knows how to gamify a park experience quite like a gaming company.

Enter Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Merging old school theme park values with new school technology, a trip to Super Nintendo World is as immersive and technologically ambitious as guests want it to be.

Upon arrival, guests have the option of enjoying the park in one of two ways: either as a traditional park goer who is there to partake of the food, attractions, and character meet and greets, or as an active participant in the game, an experience open to anyone who chooses to purchase a $40 Power-Up Band.

Available inside Super Nintendo World and at corresponding retail shops within Universal Studios, the bands — basically high tech snap bracelets — come in one of six character options: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, and Princess Daisy. Whichever character a guest chooses will determine the team they play for inside the park. Once purchased, the Power-Up Bands sync with the Universal Studios app, and allow parkgoers to collect digital treasures, level up by completing milestones, and to check their scores. Back at home, the Power-Up Band can be used as an amiibo — a physical item featuring a Nintendo character that consumers can tap against their Nintendo systems to make that character appear in the game, and unlock special items.

Nintendo’s Power-Up Bands share some similarities with Disney’s MagicBands, which were originally introduced in 2013. Serving as something of a Disney resort-specific wallet, the bands are equipped with radio frequency chips and allow guests to access theme park and hotel room tickets, and make purchases.

When beta testing on the MagicBands began in 2014, revenue in the company’s parks and resorts segment increased by 6%. And in October of 2022, the company released a revamped version of the product, calling it the MagicBand+. A waterproof, rechargeable version of the same tech, the MagicBand+ allows patrons to unlock exclusive games within the parks and retail for between $35 and $65.

Which is to say, the possibilities for gamifying the park experience are enormous: in 2022, Universal announced a partnership with The Pokemon Company, and their intentions to bring interactive experiences to their park in Japan. PokemonGo is credited with being one of the most successful AR apps since its launch in 2016, so expectations for the collaboration are high.

The journey into Super Nintendo World begins, as one might expect, at the mouth of a green pipe. Walking through a tunnel pulsating with lights as the Mushroom Kingdom comes into view while the game’s theme music and signature sound effects echo in the background, it’s hard not to get excited — even for me, someone who has never won a game of Mario Kart in her entire life.

For Power-Up Band participants, the premise of the game is simple: Bowser Jr. has stolen the Golden Mushroom and hidden it away behind minion guards. Guests are charged with collecting at least three of the necessary keys to take back the Golden Mushroom before being permitted to challenge Bowser Jr. in his Shadow Showdown. Keys are accrued through participation in the park’s four mini-games, like Goomba’s Crazy Crain, which requires guests to pump a handle as fast as they can to keep Goomba from falling backward. Or the Thwomp Panel Panic, where guests compete to turn all the boxes a certain color before time runs out (during my turn, I was advised by an employee that blue is the easier option because there are fewer boxes).

Also available for collection are hidden stamps (I found the mushroom), and coins, courtesy of the yellow question boxes scattered around the park. To claim the coins, guests are instructed to touch the face of their Power-Up Bands to the bottom of the box (“hit it hard,” an employee recommended after watching me fumble around for a minute). By the end of the day, I collected 1,271 points and, given that these encounters were entirely hands-free, hopefully, zero germs.

Incorporating AR and VR technology into the theme park experiences is becoming increasingly standard. Legoland offers an AR scavenger hunt, Disney partnered with Snapchat to create AR lenses so guests could snap selfies with their favorite characters, and the company is also working on new technology that would allow visitors to experience AR attractions without AR glasses.

Nintendo representative director and fellow Shigeru Miyamoto was instrumental in helping to bring the company’s vision for the park to life. In an interview with Polygon, he explains how the team fused new technology with traditional park design, saying, “we have AR technology and Mario Kart that’s blended together to create this harmony of the actual physical backdrops that are in the physical space and the changing virtual backdrop that’s in front of the screen.”

The theme park experience is changing: at the minimum, a one-day ticket to Universal Studios Hollywood will run you $109 dollars; at Disneyland, a similar pass retails starting at $83. These prices are prohibitive for most families, and adding attractions available only to people who can afford to purchase additional technology will continue to widen the rift between the people who can and can’t afford to enjoy these kinds of experiences.

That said, the Power-Up Bands are fun, intuitive, and reusable. And for families who have the means, or plan on taking multiple trips to the park, the bands are an easy way to capture some of the experience and bring it home with you. Amusement park gift shops are still well-trafficked, but digital souvenirs like amiibos give patrons a functional memory of their time at the park, and offer a creative way to elevate their at-home gaming experience.

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Taylor Swift Concert in the Metaverse? Ticketing Platform Token Is Using NFTs To Optimize Experiences
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. With Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”