It didn’t take long after entering the colorific and kinetic Super Nintendo World to find a non-gamer like myself jumping with my fist in the air like Mario while playing a series of video game-like challenges throughout the new themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Super Nintendo World had me punching mystery blocks and competing to solve beat-the-clock puzzles despite my utter lack of knowledge about Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser and the host of other characters in the land from the blockbuster video game universe that has become one of the biggest franchises in the world and raked in billions for Nintendo.
Super Nintendo World officially debuts Feb. 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood with the video game-themed land set to begin “technical rehearsals” in January. Universal season passholder previews of the new land will be held on select dates from Jan. 29 through Feb. 11.
The technical rehearsals will allow lucky Universal visitors to explore the land and maybe even ride Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge at select times when the park wants to put Super Nintendo World through its paces before the grand opening.
I toured Super Nintendo World a few weeks ago when the land was still a warren of construction crews and materials. I scooted around ladders, hopped over extension cords and ducked under scaffolding during an hour-long tour that included every corner of the land — except the highly-touted Mario Kart augmented reality dark ride.
What stood out to me was that you can’t see into Super Nintendo World from the outside and you can see hardly any of the outside world once you’re inside the completely immersive land that feels like you’ve been sucked into a video game.
There’s only one way into Super Nintendo World and only one way out — and the two paths don’t cross. Visitors enter through a green warp tube with a clever bend in the middle that slowly reveals the saturated colors and chaotic frenzy of the video game universe recreated inside the land.
Super Nintendo World has a relatively small footprint once you’re inside — which ought to present Universal with some logistical challenges when the initial crowds descend on the new land.
The land is squeezed between two castles — belonging to the villainous Bowser and perpetually imperiled Princess Peach — and surrounded by towering recreations of Nintendo video game worlds. Animatronic prizes dance and trot along the castle parapets like tempting video game bounty.
Sheer walls tower around the edges of the compact land carved out of what was once studio backlot. A construction crane that won’t be around forever was the only thing I could see when standing in the middle of the Mushroom Kingdom land surrounded by toadstool seats and umbrellas. The outdoor Mario Kart queues offer a few fleeting glimpses of backlot building rooftops — but otherwise you’re sealed in a theme park version of a life-size video game environment.
If you’ve always dreamed of stepping inside a real-world recreation of a Super Mario video game — and let me just say that is something that has never once crossed my mind in my entire life — then Super Nintendo World is your chance to eat, drink, jump, drive, breathe and live like the mustachioed hero of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Like many new theme park lands, Super Nintendo World appears void of any trees – which ought to make for some hot and sweaty summer days in the bathtub-like environment.
For better or worse, most visitors will likely be standing indoors in 12 distinct and interconnected queue areas waiting to ride the new Mario Kart AR racing car attraction.
The expansive queue winds through themed spaces dedicated to preparing for the race ahead — from a library filled with driving tips and tricks to an armory brimming with video game weaponry and ammunition.
A menacing Bowser statue awaits visitors near the middle of the queue.
I didn’t get to ride Mario Kart — or even see the attraction vehicles — suggesting that Bowser’s Challenge may remain a work-in-progress during much of the technical rehearsal time as Universal dials in the augmented reality components of the complex ride system.
Universal Studios Hollywood does have the advantage of being able to learn from the experience and expertise of Universal Studios Japan where a larger version of the Nintendo themed land debuted in 2021.
The technically advanced Mario Kart augmented reality racing car ride lets riders steer through familiar race courses and Mushroom Kingdom worlds while slinging shells at their opponents or objects along the route.
AR headsets with visor screens attached to Mario’s distinctive cap allow riders to see the video game-style action playing out against physical sets and projection screens while slaloming, drifting and spinning through the attraction.
My favorite part of the new Super Nintendo World was the real-world versions of video game experiences sprinkled throughout the land. The challenge is to complete them all while accumulating digital booty along the way before advancing to the final challenge. The games were easy to understand even for a non-gamer like myself and insanely infectious. It didn’t take long for my competitive nature and teamwork instincts to kick in during games that are played solo, in pairs or as teams.
Universal will sell $40 Power-Up Bands that will enhance your gameplay but aren’t necessary to enjoy the games or the land.
What concerns me about Super Nintendo World is the relatively small size of the land with game queues snaking around the edges. It won’t take much for the in-the-round nature of the space to quickly feel crowded and congested.
Visitors looking for relief from the sun and crowds will find some respite in the 1Up Factory retail shop selling a fun collection of Mario and Luigi merchandise that will let you look just like the fictional Italian plumber and his brother. Just make sure to bring cold, hard American cash or your credit card. Universal doesn’t accept golden coins from the Super Mario games.
The Toadstool Cafe was adorable during my visit with tables and chairs that looked like they were pulled directly from a video game. Video screens along the back wall of the spacious sit-down restaurant offered a peek into the digital kitchen where virtual chefs were busy preparing a menu of video game-inspired dishes.
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