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 Golden Mushroom 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 Boss Battle against Bowser Jr.
The Bowser Jr. show 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.
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.
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