Universal Studios Hollywood soft opened its Super Nintendo World for "technical rehearsals" this morning, giving American theme park fans their first look at Universal's Super Mario-themed land.
The crowd of about 100 or so guests who were there at the morning opening pretty much all made a beeline for Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge, the augmented reality "real life Mario Kart ride."
The queue provides countless visual delights - and Easter eggs for devoted Mario fans - but you can discover and appreciate those at your own speed while you walk through the queue. Once on board the Mario Kart ride, though, the visual detail comes, well, I hesitate to name check another Universal racing franchise, but... fast and furious.
Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge is the most visually overwhelming experience I've had in the more than two decades I have been covering theme parks worldwide. The combination of augmented reality imagery with the practical sets in this adventure provide a multitude of focal points for riders to choose. You can look down at your steering wheel and see how many coins and shells you have collected. (The later is very useful information during the ride, so don't forget to check it!) You can look up to see your teammates and competitors projected into the space around you. And you must look to aim the shells that you will throw at your competition on Team Bowser throughout the ride.
If you're lost reading any of this, I suspect you might not be a Mario Kart fan. I will concede that I do not possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the world's most popular video game, since my kids dominated our Nintendo console back in the days when we had one. You do not need to come in with any knowledge of Mario Kart to play - or succeed - on Bowser's Challenge. But some background might help you make sense of the chaos all around you.
In short, it's a race. You're on Team Mario. Your competition - the baddies - are Team Bowser. Unlike real-world auto racing, you get to play defense on Mario Kart. Shells are the weapons you throw to slow the competition, while coins are the prizes you pick up along the way for doing well. Get 100 coins, and you win the Gold Cup.
With zilch advance preparation (I have been avoiding spoilers from the original installation at Universal Studios Japan), and limited Mario Kart experience, I scored 141 coins on my first attempt, with the slightest possible improvement to 142 on my second. Driving skill really doesn't come into play on this tracked dark ride, where four people - each with their own steering wheel - share each Mario Kart. The augmented reality system will show you an arrow when you need to steer, and if there are any Easter eggs in the steering system to play with drifting and speed boosts, I haven't found them yet.
So just enjoy the spectacle. Widen your vision to take in the practical animation and set details in the front half of the ride, rather than allowing your focus to narrow on Bowser's baddies. Then wonder at the immersive animation on the Rainbow Road scenes in the back half of your race. Don't worry about the end result. In this race, the good guys always win - as do the riders.
My review of the interactive gameplay within Super Nintendo World, including the Boss Battle with Bowser Jr. show: Having Fun With Real-Life Gameplay in Super Nintendo World
My review of the land's restaurant: Having Lunch With Super Mario at Universal's Toadstool Cafe
Super Nintendo World opens officially at Universal Studios Hollywood on February 17.
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