An Insider's Tour of Super Nintendo World

December 29, 2022, 2:17 PM · Yesterday, Universal Studios Hollywood invited me to be among the first members of the public to walk through its new Super Nintendo World. The land's not quite ready for park visitors, but even with its finishing touches coming into place, Super Nintendo World scores as one of the most amazing theme park lands yet built.

Standing next to Transformers The Ride 3D on Universal's Lower Lot, the closed-off green warp pipe that leads into Super Nintendo Land has been tempting park visitors for months. Many visitors have been able get a few glimpses into the land from the Starway escalators to the Lower Lot, as well as from vantage point behind Super Silly Fun Land. But it's only when you step into Super Nintendo World that you can truly appreciate Universal's effort to bring a video game to life in a fully immersive, practical setting.

With final decorations underway, Universal did not permit video recording inside the land, and I could take pictures only of a limited number of sites where crews were not working. Universal Creative Vice President Jon Corfino showed me around the land, previewing the adventures that will await Universal Studios Hollywood visitors when the land opens for technical rehearsal previews next month. So consider this your spoiler warning going forward.

Jon Corfino
Corfino, with one of the many interactive Question Blocks around the land. Unless noted, all photos by Robert Niles for Theme Park Insider

First, while fans may be tempted to rush across the land to the Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge interactive augmented reality dark ride when they first enter Super Nintendo World, Universal has designed the entire land as a practical game experience. Fans who stop to listen and watch instead of rushing through Princess Peach's Castle on the far side of the entry warp pipe will learn that Bowser Jr. has stolen Peach's Golden Mushroom. And that by completing four Golden Key tasks in the land, visitors can earn the opportunity to play the Boss Battle Junior game for the Golden Mushroom and return it to Princess Peach.

Universal will be selling Power Up wristbands, starting January 5, that visitors can use to track their activity across Super Nintendo World - and as an amiibo on your Nintendo Switch unit at home. The Power Up Bands are not necessary to interact with the challenges in the land or to see your score on Mario Kart, but they will keep a record of your scores. Corfino said that the live characters in the land - Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach - will have access to your scores if you are wearing a Power Up Band when you meet them.

Leaderboards in the land also will list the top scorers using Power Up Bands in the land. The Power Up Band syncs with the Universal Studios Hollywood app to link your account in that app, which will be updated when the Power Up Bands launch.

The four Golden Key challenges feature Sleeping Piranha, Goomba, Thwomp, and Koopa Troopa. I got to see Corfino play the Koopa Troopa challenge, which requires hitting a block at the right time to knock the Koopa Troopa up a warp pipe. Like all Super Nintendo World challenges, it's all about the timing. Just remember that when you hit your block to light it up, that light must transfer across two more blocks before it hits the Koopa. Hit your block too early or too late and you won't win the challenge. And the challenges can operate on both an easy and a hard mode, which broadens or narrows your margin for error on the timing, all to keep the game from becoming stale on multiple plays.

Sleeping Piranha
Photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood

The final Boss Battle Junior is a multi-player game that takes place in a theater inside Bowser Jr's lair. Using a mix of practical and screen effects, the game promises to be a show unto itself and will initially be open to all Super Nintendo World guests, whether you have completed the four Golden Key tasks with a Power Up Band or not.

After getting a preview of Boss Battle Junior, we headed up an adjacent staircase to a view point above the land, where visitors can use AR tower viewers to see animated Nintendo characters in the land below.

AR viewer in Super Nintendo World

Okay, enough with the supporting players. Let's get to the star of this show - Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge.

Bowser's Challenge

Comprising multiple rooms in Bowser's Castle, Mario Kart's queue is one of the most visually engaging I've ever experienced. Easter eggs abound, including some clever book titles in Bowser's library.

Bowser's library books

Inside the Mario Kart queue
Photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood

More inside the Mario Kart queue

Bowser statue
Photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood

The queues leads into two pre-show rooms, where visitors will watch "Mario Kart Television" to learn how to play the game, which pits Team Mario against Team Bowser in a real-life game of Mario Kart that blends practical and augmented reality video effects.

Mario Kart preshow room

"You can have brilliant game engine technology, but having the visual nature of it be that seamless - having the ability to blend the physical elements on set, and also interior game engine lighting and everything else, is really where the magic happens," Corfino said. "You're going around and you're turning and you're going through sets that are incredibly detailed, and yet the images have to match those backgrounds. Lighting has to match with the AR, with the physical environments, with whatever projected video mapping or LED screens we have. So that's where having it all come together is what really puts you in that world of 'Wow, I can't believe I'm doing this.'"

Universal Creative developed its own augmented reality visors for the ride, which click onto a red Mario visor that riders will put on in the final preshow area. Four people ride on each Mario Kart ride vehicle, but Corfino said that they will play independently.

"If you're looking that way and I'm looking this way, I'm not seeing what you are," he said. Corfino also said that the game will adjust its level of difficulty for riders using Power Up Bands, based on their success (or lack of it) in the game.

I did not get to go on the ride yesterday, so I cannot report on how successfully Universal has redesigned the classic Mario Kart experience for a practical setting. But the level of visual and interactive detail present through the rest of the land sets a high bar for Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge to clear.

Super Nintendo World also includes the Toadstool Cafe restaurant, which we walked through but did not get to sample.

Super Nintendo World opens officially at Universal Studios Hollywood on February 17, with reservation-only passholder previews starting January 29. A larger version of Super Nintendo World will open with Universal Orlando's Epic Universe theme park in 2025.

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Replies (20)

December 29, 2022 at 3:18 PM

This just … doesn’t sound great. I love Mario Kart, but an entire land filled with augmented reality features that leads to (one) VR-based attraction isn’t something I can imagine getting excited about at a theme park.

December 29, 2022 at 5:19 PM

The only AR (not VR) is on the ride itself. (Plus the tower viewers upstairs, but most people will miss those.) The game elements in the land are almost all practical.

December 29, 2022 at 5:43 PM

I applied to be part of the opening team at Cafe Toadstool but it wasn’t meant to be. I really wanted to experience opening a new land(I will try to transfer at a later date).

Regardless, looking forward to this land to open in the coming weeks.

December 29, 2022 at 6:24 PM

This land looks amazing! Like millions around the world, I'm a big fan of Nintendo and Mario. Have been now for several decades. What Universal has created here is visually appealing and a wonderful place to hang out. The ride itself is very intriguing so Im eagerly looking forward to checking it out in person. Super Nintendo World looks like a winner to me and I congratulate Universal on finding a place to put this in a space-limited park.

December 29, 2022 at 6:58 PM

I'm hoping to be able to preview this land at the end of January, but either way I'm looking forward to it opening. It absolutely looks to match the level of detail seen in Universal's other recent projects, and is probably as close to bringing the Mushroom Kingdom to real life as can be done practically. If the anchor attraction is a worthwhile E-ticket level experience, then I think Universal has a win here.

That said, I must admit that I don't feel as confident about this being a slam dunk as I did with the Wizarding World. Not only is it incredibly small, but it sounds as if there isn't a ton to do for those who opt not to purchase a Power Up band, as those presumably will be required to fully engage with all the interactive elements in the land. While Wizarding World is enhanced by purchasing an interactive wand, in addition to the rides there are numerous shops to explore (all straight out of the films) and small scale shows intermittently performing that can all be viewed without any investment beyond a park ticket. Nintendo, unfortunately, sounds like it doesn't have that, and particularly if the ride isn't amazing, could come up short for non-gamers.

December 30, 2022 at 5:26 AM

I phrased that poorly — but I will note that the ride being AR and not VR is a distinction without a difference. Based on what I’ve seen of this land in Hollywood and Osaka, it seems underwhelming — particularly if you don’t purchase the power up bands. It’s the bounty missions in Galaxy’s Edge with only one ride, one restaurant and a far less immersive environment.

I’ll be happy to be proven wrong!

December 30, 2022 at 1:11 PM

I think there was a poster years back who once referred to parks adopting the "park as a platform" approach when it came to innovating interactivity. This definitely feels like Nintendo can fit in that category.

December 30, 2022 at 1:27 PM

A much wiser man than I advanced the distinction of "Waders. Swimmers. Divers." Good luck USH.

December 30, 2022 at 3:35 PM

@T-Rex ... This from THC in January 2013: "The park as the platform. A fully immersive approach where the walk between attractions is itself an attraction."

However a key to the success of this approach is for the guest to play a passive role. Streetmospere entertainers. Character greets. Entertainment in building windows. All of whic are active and constant.

December 30, 2022 at 5:09 PM

Sorry but this land looks lame. Virtually all hardscape, AR and interactive games. If this is what theme PARKS are becoming, I’m losing interest.

December 30, 2022 at 6:58 PM

I feel that a successful land needs a solid secondary attraction. I worry that guests will get stuck in this dead end, see a 2 hour line for Mario Cart and leave. The interactive band activities are cool, but not enough to keep guests engaged. Hopefully the land going into Epic Universe will be fully fleshed out with more for guests to do and to be fully immersed in the Mushroom Kingdom.

December 31, 2022 at 12:24 AM

As someone who has dreamed of a Nintendo theme park since I got my first NES in 1987, this theme land both excites and fills me with apprehension. I would have never imagined that a Mario Kart ride would be about shooting things and not have any active control of the Kart...but, much like Diagon Alley, the actual land itself (and the ride queue) look amazing!

I'm most looking forward to the interactive games and the Donkey Kong Mine Cart coaster at Epic Universe's installation. If the rumors and scene breakdowns I've seen online are true, it should be really cool, but there aren't going to be Kremlings or King K. Rool. That's like leaving Bowser out of a Mario attraction!

December 31, 2022 at 7:02 AM

Considering some of the underwhelmed assessments from the TPI regs along this thread ("Hopefully the land going into Epic Universe will be fully fleshed out with more for guests to do"; "Sorry but this land looks lame"; " I must admit that I don't feel as confident about this being a slam dunk as I did with the Wizarding World"; "This just … doesn’t sound great".) it makes me fear the new addition to USH might be a harbinger for UEU.

I am quickly coming to believe that the hype generated by Universal fans has set an unreasonably high bar for Epic Universe. YouTube is lousy with videos from producers that swing back and forth between hard criticism of the Disney parks to predictions that UEU will be the themed entertainment equivalent of the second coming. This has resulted in a shared, conventional wisdom among these fanatics that UEU is a money-in-the-bank product that represents the kind of model that will easily (or at the very least "likely") dethrone Disney as Central Florida's theme park champion.

There's no doubt the Universal parks put on a helluva show. But if the UO fan community maintains expectations that UEU will be a next-level, themed entertainment experience -- surpassing the show quality of previous Disney and Universal productions -- some of the impressions presented in this particular thread might/should cause others to temper their enthusiasm.

December 31, 2022 at 6:49 AM

That’s how I feel as well. There have been incredible instillations in Universal parks in the past decade … but that doesn’t mean they will continue to produce hits at that clip. Past results doesn’t indicate future performance. That this has happened at the same time folks have grown weary with many aspects of Disney parks has generated an interesting vision for UEU that probably can’t be matched.

We’ll see — and frankly, given the way confirmation bias works on the internet, it might not matter how good any of this is.

December 31, 2022 at 12:02 PM

This land isn’t made for us but for the primary grade schoolers and tweens that play Nintendo games. It will be a colorful land that will have a lot to see and do with the game described in the article that won’t necessitate standing in a long line. Kids will want to keep track of their scores so parents will buy them the tracking device. I hope the land is a success because I see it as more of a test ground for the much larger planned land at Epic Universe.

December 31, 2022 at 12:32 PM

Yeah, I don't think it's fair to compare this to what's going at Epic Universe either. While both lands will have Mario Kart and the interactive quests, the EU iteration will also have the Yoshi omnimover and the Donkey Kong coaster. Hollywood doesn't have an abundance of space and has to work with they got. It seems that most of the criticism seems to be directed at how small the CA land is, something FL won't have to worry about.

@TH, we at least know Nintendo will have one of those features (character greets). However, I don't know if this particular area will be well-suited for the other two given the space issue mentioned above.

BTW Robert, has Universal addressed what the plan is to keep the land ADA-friendly? Watching videos coming out of Japan, there's a lot of traversing up and down stairs. I'm sure there are elevators present, but will they be enough for an opening-day crush?

December 31, 2022 at 12:34 PM

My problem with these installations of Super Nintendo World is that they are opening without the star attraction. I fully believe that once the Donkey Kong coaster opens, these lands will feel full and justified. The Donkey Kong mini-land will also provide a nice blend of nature and rockwork to counterbalance the "plastic-ness" of the Mario mini-land. The coaster will also be a nice thrilling counterpart to Mario Kart (which is honestly a pretty disappointing ride in my eyes). The issue here is that Donkey Kong doesn't open in Japan until 2024, and we don't even know (although there are rumors) if it will even come to Hollywood.

December 31, 2022 at 6:32 PM

Ooof, this looks and sounds a lot like the opening of Galaxy's Edge. A visually impressive, immersive environment with one weak ride and not much else to do. Sorry, but magic band / push-button interactions are lame, and don't interest anyone but little kids and fanboy completists.

So, as with pre-Rise Galaxy's Edge, it's awe-inspiring the first time you see it, you ride the ride because it's there, and you're done.

As with Galaxy's edge, I'm amazed they don't also include a children's ride in the first instance. Sure, the E-ticket anchor may take extra time, but why not throw in a cheap and easy kid's ride, like Mater's Tractors? Gives people more to do and makes the land seem more substantive and fulsome. Surely they could have added a dumbo-style bouncing Yoshis or whatever.

December 31, 2022 at 11:34 PM

@TwoBits I own a Switch and I would venture a guess that many people in this thread owned a Nintendo gaming system growing up, so I’m not sure if limiting this to a tweens and under demo would be taking full advantage of the market.

January 3, 2023 at 1:22 PM

I agree with Jacob. Nintendo has the market cornered on the "casual gamer" which gives it mass, mainstream appeal. The Switch is in the top 5 best selling gaming consoles of all time (and Mario Kart is in the top 10 best selling video games of all time) Nintendo gained notice for bringing in a world of new "gamers" (including seniors) with the Wii. The DS was huge as well.

Nintendo & the Mario IP definitely have awareness & popularity outside of the tween / kid demographic.

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