Super Nintendo World Soft Opens in Hollywood

January 12, 2023, 5:18 PM · 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.

More from Super Nintendo World

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.

For discounted tickets to the park, please see our travel partner's Universal Studios Hollywood tickets page.

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Replies (10)

January 12, 2023 at 6:43 PM

Can you address how the headsets effect load times? I can see some folks taking forever with the headset.

Also: I know the ride is brand new, but how did you feel about putting ride apparatus on your FACE (It's like bowling shoes but on your face!) What about the obvious COVID issue?

January 12, 2023 at 7:07 PM

You get the headset in the queue before you descend to the load platform, so everyone had them on before getting assigned for seating.

Then you just click in the visor while you are seated. Frankly, I found getting into the rather deep seats more challenging than clicking in the visor. The visor is also farther from your face than I had though it would be. No contact issue there.

But I found the whole head unit to be a bit heavier than I expected. I didn't notice the weight once the ride started, however.

Ops seemed to be flowing very smoothly today. The only holdup was a brief delay inside the ride at the transition into Rainbow Road, which I suspect is a hold point when dispatch backs up. But no downtimes that I saw, and relatively few delays as people were getting on board.

January 12, 2023 at 7:37 PM

Ik space is a rare resource at USH but the coolest thing about USJ and soon EU Mario Karts is that you can enter through the castle and stand around it. Now you can't even enter it head-on. One of the two focal points of the land and you can't even get a good look of it up close.

Oh well.

January 12, 2023 at 10:00 PM

So are you competing against the other cart full of riders like Men in Black, or is it a collective team effort for both sides?

January 12, 2023 at 10:14 PM

Collective effort. We’re all Team Mario here.

January 12, 2023 at 10:18 PM

Thanks, can't wait to check it out for myself.

January 13, 2023 at 10:34 AM

I think from a COVID standpoint, these devices are superior to traditional VR headsets in that nothing is physically touching your face - the only contact points are on the head (like a hat), not around the eyes and/or nose. That will allow guests to still wear a mask if they choose without any issues (VR headsets can often contact the nose area, making it tricky to wear a mask or the inevitability that your breath is forced into the headset, creating fogging issues on the lenses).

Obviously overall space within the land is an issue here, and just like in Disneyland with Space Mountain, the best views of the land will be from the second level exterior portion of the ride queue. It looks like Universal did a great job making efficient use of the space they had available, but it is a bit annoying that some of the best places to visually observe and take in the detail of this land are from a long and winding attraction queue - though I would argue that some of my best photos of Galaxy's Edge at DL are from the second level of the MFSR queue.

January 13, 2023 at 11:09 AM

The outside area looks rather small in the video. Does it feel small in person?

The Mario Kart queue looks MASSIVE. Can you give an example of an indoor queue of the same size (if one exists)?

January 13, 2023 at 11:54 AM

@TwoBits Is Temple of the Forbidden Eye the longest queue at Disneyland? Or has that been surpassed by Rise of the Resistance? The latter would be my guess for a comparatively long queue, but I agree.

January 13, 2023 at 12:36 PM

The land itself seems to have about the same guest walking space as Springfield. It's just that the entire land is completely surrounded by high walls, which makes the space feel more intimate.

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