Having Fun With Real-Life Gameplay in Super Nintendo World

January 12, 2023, 5:16 PM · Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge might be the headline ride in Universal Studios Hollywood's new Super Nintendo World, but the land itself plays like a practical game-based attraction.

Here's the set-up: Bowser Jr. has stolen the Golden Mushroom from Princess Peach, and you've got to retrieve it. But you can't fight Bowser Jr. until you win three Gold Keys in challenges across the land.

Super Nintendo World is perhaps the most visual dynamic theme park land get designed. So much is moving around and above you in this space. The idea is that you have entered a video game come to life, so of course, you're going to want to play it, right?

The Key Challenges allow you to do that, in a series of physical activities that should satisfy every parent who ever yelled at their kids to go outside and play instead of sitting in front of a video game. Now if you want to keep score in this game, you'll need to buy Universal's Power Up Band ($43.80 after tax), which is available at the land's store and from separate vending area in Super Nintendo World. (Eventually, they will be available in other stores throughout Universal Studios Hollywood, as well.) But the Power Up Band is not necessary to play, you just won't get credit - or a place in the Universal Studios Hollywood app - if you don't pay.


To activate your band, you use the Universal Studios Hollywood app to scan the QR code on the backside of your slap band. Just click the Super Nintendo World link on the app's home page to start, then follow the instructions. Once active, you can collect points from gameplay in the land, from your score on Mario Kart, and even use the Band as an amiibo on your Nintendo Switch unit at home.

Here's my trip around Super Nintendo Land, wrapping up with the final Bowser Jr. Shadow Showdown.

The Bowser Jr. game offers some clever animation tech in transforming you into an on-screen character for the battle. And, of course, you pick up coins based on you performance in the battle.

But, wait a minute, what's that black flag doing back up atop the Mushroom Kingdom at the end of my video? Did Bowser get the Golden Mushroom again? I guess we'll have to go win it back once again.

Interactivity has gotten a bad rap from theme park fans recently. See the dismal performance of interactive elements in What Makes You Want to Ride Again?. But "Overwhelming detail" and "Physical sensations" took the top two spots in that poll, and Super Nintendo World's in-land gameplay delivers both. As such, this isn't just a "video game come to live," but a different form of play - a good-natured "Survivor" challenge or Japanese game show stunt - something that invites you to get active, work with others around you, and just have some fun.

More from Super Nintendo World

My review of Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge, see Super Nintendo World Soft Opens in Hollywood.

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 (4)

January 13, 2023 at 12:01 PM

My concern with this is how it performs when people are shoulder to shoulder in the land. Some people are very type A, and will push their way to the front to play, while others will naturally hang in the back until a space opens up. Will team members help manage the interactive experiences so everyone has a chance to play, or will it end up being a free for all? Much like Galaxy's Edge and PtWoA, I expect there to be plenty of employees around the land to help guests out and to manage crowds when the land officially debuts, but after the first few months, will Universal staff the interactive games with enough team members to effectively maintain order on all these mini-attractions. Wand helpers have all but disappeared from WWoHP, so I would be concerned guests will be on their own after a few years.
Also, is there enough space around each of these areas for an orderly line to form, or is it going to be complete chaos?

The Power Up Band seems even chintzier than the MagicBand/MagicBand+ from a product quality standpoint. Does the real-life look and feel of these bands really warrant a >$40 price tag (more than MagicBand+, which has lights and haptic feedback), or are you ONLY paying for the ability to see your name on a scoreboard and the amiibo functionality?

January 13, 2023 at 11:06 AM

I can really only echo Russell's thoughts on this. I can't imagine shelling out $40 for this bracelet for the same reason I'm not buying a MagicBand — it's dorky and the features don't justify the cost (monetarily or otherwise). Having interactive easter eggs is one thing, but with so many guests pulsing into the land, I can only imagine how packed these experiences will be.

January 13, 2023 at 1:58 PM

I'd also add that with just ONE ride in the land, people wanting to soak up as much Mario as they can will linger and want to perform every one of these interactive experiences. There's just not a lot to do in this land - save for standing in line for Mario Cart, so it's going to be JAM PACKED with people trying to do these interactive experiences (probably multiple times). Every new land opened over the past few years has been designed with more than one ride - WWoHP Hogsmeade (Dragon Challenge in Orlando, Flight of the Hippogriff, and HPFJ), WWoHP Diagon Alley (Gringott's and Hogwart's Express), PtWoA (FOP and NRJ), Toy Story Land (TSM, ASS, and SDD), Galaxy's Edge (MFSR and RotR), and Avengers CAMPUS (Web Slingers and GotG:MB). Even Super Silly Fun Land at USH opened with Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and a spinner with Secret Life of Pets expanding the Illumination offerings next door a few years later.

The dead-end design of this land (in the very BACK of the park - and at the bottom of the massive escalator/stairs) will make it even worse for guests who will be looking for SOMETHING to do for all the time and effort spent to get into the land (assuming they will be strictly controlling guests in and out like when WWoHP and Galaxy's Edge debuted).

The land looks amazing, but these little interactive activities are not designed to be a major attraction. Methinks Universal saw how popular and lucrative the wands were at WWoHP, and instead of giving guests another ride or show, they are relying on these minor elements to fill in as well as generating $$$.

January 13, 2023 at 3:24 PM

Universal has queue space and team members at each interaction, and the Boss Battle is set up like a small theater show, with an interior queue and preshow wait area. So I’m not concerned about guest flow, so long as Universal limits capacity in the land during peak periods.

And again, if you don’t care about showing up on a leaderboard, you can skip the band and still play.

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