Super Nintendo World has officially opened at Universal Studios Hollywood!
The opening to one of the most anticipated lands in theme park history kicked off its 3-day event with a Red Carpet celebration, featuring celebrities along with Nintendo and Universal executives. By Friday morning, hundreds of guests were waiting during the early morning hours to be one of the firsts inside Super Nintendo World.
First announced in May 2015, the opening in Hollywood has surely seen an eventful construction timeline – which started back in late 2018 with Soundstage demolition. Of course, the timeline was heavily altered by the 2020 COVID pandemic which saw construction pause for a whole year.
“We are thrilled to share it with our team members, fans and guests who have been enthusiastically waiting for this day to arrive,” said Scott Strobl, Executive Vice President & General Manager, Universal Studios Hollywood.
Universal has worked hand-in-hand with Nintendo, especially alongside Shigeru Miyamoto, Representative Director and Fellow, Nintendo Co. Ltd. – who is the creator and designer of iconic games like Super Mario and Donkey Kong.
“This is truly one of the most dynamic moments in the history of Universal Studios Hollywood, and we are very proud of our partnership with Nintendo to bring to life a new genre of highly immersive, next-level interactive theme park entertainment,” said Strobl.
We spent 3 days exploring everything the Mushroom Kingdom had to offer. So what did we think?
MARIO KART: BOWSER’S CHALLENGE
The headlining attraction of the land, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge mixes physical sets while seamlessly including augmented reality (AR) with projection mapping technology.
The good news is you don’t need to be a “Mario Kart Pro” to have a good time. To aim at a driver or object, you merely just point your vision in that direction. That’s it.
As part of Team Mario, guests steer through an assortment of courses to win the Golden Cup and defeat Team Bowser. The goal is to accumulate as many points during the ride by successfully hitting Team Bowser with your Koopa shells. Successfully “drifting” your Kart will also help accumulate coins, adding another level of interactivity.
There are secrets, of course, as any Super Mario fan should expect – with flying “?” blocks located throughout the race tracks that offer up bonuses when hit.
The queue starts us off at Yoshi’s Island before traversing Mt. Beanpole to finally get inside Bowser’s Castle, where a bulk of the waiting is done. Universal utilizes stereoscopic 3D, similar to Nintendo’s 3DS handheld console, to create some really awesome effects throughout the queue – including bringing to life some mischievous Boos.
The ride’s MO is pretty simple; you’re racing against Team Bowser and need to beat them. There is no “something gone wrong” angle. It’s purely “Let’s go race!”.
Speaking as a big fan of not just Super Mario, but the Mario Kart series, I think the right balance was struck to bring Mario Kart to life, as there was definitely the possibility of overthinking it. Universal and Nintendo have created a family-accessible attraction that allows for an abundance of interactivity. While Mario Kart is about racing, the game is not about going fast. It’s about bombarding Koopa shells at your competitors in unique locations. If the ride went too fast, you start not only moving away from a family attraction but possibly losing the interactivity. The Power-Up Band keeping track of one’s progress also brings a new level of competition, seeing who has unlocked the hardest sticker achievement, or who is the Monthly Leader in collected coins.
Do yourself a favor and do not base any opinions on online footage. It does not do the AR or speed simulation any justice.
On a side note, I would recommend taking off the AR goggles to soak in the environments. I took off the goggles during one ride to just enjoy the sets and it’s pretty crazy the attention to detail that you miss when you’re busy throwing shells. As a dark ride, it’s pretty impressive. Of course, the element of speed is lost – but it definitely allows for a unique and different way to enjoy the attraction.
THE LAND ITSELF
Universal turning the Mushroom Kingdom into a reality is truly remarkable. It really feels like you stepped into the world of Super Mario Bros. The land is bright, colorful, and extremely kinetic. Everywhere you turn, there is something to look at, and something moving.
Pokey wiggling around the desert? Check. A Koopa Shell stuck ricocheting between two blocks? Check. Look up? There’s a stack of Goombas (and some hidden Pikmin).
More importantly – the land tells a story through those visuals.
“The whole land melds together. It’s not just about doing Mario Kart, or the land, it’s about going through this experience”, says Jon Corfino, Vice President, Universal Creative.
For example, as soon as you enter through the warp pipe and into Peach’s Castle, there is already a tease for Bowser Jr, who has taken the Golden Mushroom away from Peach.
But we need to talk about the elephant in the room…
Hollywood’s Super Nintendo World is much different from its sister park in Japan. As Hollywood’s version is smaller, the layout of the land is completely different so adjustments were made to accommodate the smaller land plot. Most notably absent is Yoshi’s Adventure, the slow-moving family attraction that offers some great views of the land. To make up for the lack of Yoshi, Hollywood has included some “Yoshi’s Island”-themed areas at the beginning of the Mario Kart queue. Also different is the lack of additional store and snack stands, and the Bob-Omb Kaboom Room is absent from the Key Challenge lineup.
Sadly, it’s the lack of those offerings that keep the land from being perfect as it can get a bit crowded. The land needs some more of the “small stuff” to really flesh it out and spread capacity. Hopefully, Universal is able to add a snack stand and maybe one or two more interactive game areas to help alleviate the crowding issue.
Toadstool Cafe is the lone restaurant inside Super Nintendo World. It’s well-themed with hyperrealistic wood grain found throughout the building, accented by the familiar mushroom design – with windows overlooking the Mushroom Kingdom and its daily shenanigans, from Mario chasing Goombas, to Toads going about their day. About every 30 minutes, the lights dim blue and storm clouds come thundering in as Bowser starts to attack the area in his airship.
Even though Toadstool Cafe is a quick-service restaurant by definition, Universal is treating it along the lines of a sit-down restaurant, utilizing a greeter to help seat you at your table after you order. As the Cafe dealt with some of the longest lines during the week, it helped avoid seat saving.
Here’s where the lack of an extra food spot is felt, as Toadstool Cafe is the only place to get food. Undoubtedly, being the sole location has made an impact on how big the lines have been and most likely will be – which caused us to wait a considerable amount of time to not only order our food but have it brought to our table.
While we didn’t try everything, we tried a lot – and most of the items were very enjoyable. Universal really leaned into the mushroom gimmick as many of the dishes feature the fungus in some way, shape, or form. Without question, the Super Star Lemon Squash signature drink is a must-get. I spent my 3 days inside Super Nintendo World drinking more than what is probably recommended by dieticians. The drink is very reminiscent of Sprite with bursts of mango juice from the boba balls.
As far as the food, the Luigi Burger aka Pesto Chicken Sandwich, was a nice change of pace and the side of truffle-seasoned fries was a step above the usual food fare found throughout theme parks. The Fire Flower Spaghetti & Meatballs was fine but had a bit too much red pepper for my liking. The desserts are whimsically sweet, with each dish offering something different. For not being a mushroom fan, I actually found the Super Mushroom Soup to be really tasty – though it’s a shame I couldn’t take the bowl home. Hopefully, Universal does something about offering some dinnerware because that Mushroom Bowl is an A+ presentation.
The Fireball Challenge was on display, but not available yet for guests. It is expected to join the line-up sometime in March. The dish is a one-pound meatball with melted mozzarella sitting atop a mushroom ragu. The “challenge” comes from the side of hot sauce, which guests are encouraged to add as much, or as little, as they can handle.
While not perfect, Toadstool Cafe is in the running for some of the best food within Universal Studios Hollywood.
KEY CHALLENGES/BOWSER JR SHADOW SHOWDOWN
The highlight has to be the interactive activities found throughout the land. While the Power-Up Band isn’t necessarily needed, you’d be cheating yourself of enjoying Super Nintendo World to its fullest.
They are available in six design options with character themes (Team Toad, represent!) and can be purchased both within the land and at Super Nintendo World retail shops located within the theme park and on Universal CityWalk Hollywood for $40. It’s worth mentioning that your Power-Up Band’s usefulness doesn’t just end at Universal, as you can bring it home and tap it on your Nintendo Switch to use it as an amiibo. Each Power-Up Band can be used as amiibo for its corresponding character.
From pounding “?” blocks to taking part in several key challenges, guests are encouraged to explore every crevice of the land to earn as many coins and collect as many stickers as possible. The Power-Up Band also lets you unlock a few little fun secrets scattered throughout the Mushroom Kingdom.
Your participation also allows for a unique interaction when meeting Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach, as they may have something to say about your recent race score or coins collected.
The main interactive activities are the 4 “key challenges”, which allow guests to “unlock a bonus boss level” and challenge Bowser Jr. The games are challenging enough to feel rewarded upon completion, but easy enough that kids can play, too. Of the 4 games, Piranha Plant Nap Mishap is the most challenging, and highly recommended that it should be done with friends (unless you want that feather in your cap of doing it solo). The game requires you to keep the Piranha Plant from waking up by “snoozing” all the alarm clocks within a certain time; so it’s a lot of running around.
It’s also worth mentioning that each Key Challenge game has an Easy mode and a Hard mode, so if you found Easy to be challenging, you may want to invest in some help for your next play.
Once 3 keys are collected, it’s off to face Bowser Jr in the Shadow Showdown, which felt like the most “video game come to life” of all the games. Guests approach a wall where they are represented by a “shadow” avatar that can interact to defeat enemies and earn different power-ups. Guests must duck to avoid getting “shrunk” by Bullet Bills, swat away Bob-Ombs, and collect Fire Flower power-ups to attack Bowser Jr and defeat him to take back the Golden Mushroom.
The wristbands sync with Universal Studios Hollywood’s app, which tracks individual and team scores, digital coin totals, unlocked keys, and your sticker collection.
The sticker collection are basically milestone accomplishments, which you can compare to friends and other guests. Some are as easy as “Visit Super Nintendo World during Opening Month” or “Meet Princess Peach”, to the more challenging “Hit Bowser and all the Koopalings in a single race”.
Super Nintendo World is a video game lover’s dream come to life, nearly achieving perfection. Yes, there are a few issues; but nothing that overshadows the accomplishments that Universal and Nintendo achieve – especially when it comes to the interactive elements.
It encourages multiple visits and offers a new way to compete among Nintendo enthusiasts.
In short, Super Nintendo World is a giant win for Universal Studios Hollywood.