Despite what you may have seen in films like Tron or Jumanji, it’s impossible for humans to jump from their couches into a video game. Or, at least, it was. That’s the experience Universal and Nintendo are hoping to recreate with Super Nintendo World, the brand new themed land that opens at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA on February 17. It’s the first of its kind in North America and the second in the world.
Ahead of the opening, io9 got a walkthrough tour of the new attraction. Located on the lower lot of the theme park, guests first walk through a familiar-looking green pipe and hear that unmistakable “Bwah, bwah, bwah” warp sound. You’ve just left Universal Studios and are in the Mushroom Kingdom, a fully immersive, 360-degree world filled with Super Mario everything. There are mushrooms, there are question mark blocks, there are Goombas, Koopas, pipes, Piranha Plants, and Thwomps as far as the eye can see. You emerge from Peach’s castle, where something’s been stolen from her—and, in the distance, you see Bowser’s castle, where you can race him and all of his friends.
io9 was part of a group of journalists given a whirlwind walking tour of the still-under-construction land last week. So, unfortunately, we weren’t able to ride the land’s main attraction, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, but we did learn that’s only one of the many things you can do in Super Nintendo World, all of which get instantly cooler if you buy a $40 Power-Up Band.
With that band (which doubles as a Nintendo Amiibo and is available in six different designs), you can collect coins everywhere in the land. And we do mean “everywhere.” While coins will primarily be accrued on the Mario Kart ride and through various physical mini-games (more on those in a second) there are multiple nooks and crannies built into the land specifically for exploration. See a random arrow on the wall? Follow it and you might find a series of magic blocks and AR binoculars, similar to the ones elsewhere in the park. Curious why there’s an alcove to nowhere? Go in and a mysterious “M” on the wall will reveal why. Some question mark blocks give you one coin, others give you more, but all are only activated if you have a Power-Up Band. (If not, you get that familiar “thud” noise like when mini-Mario can’t break a block of bricks.)
The main story of the land is that a Golden Mushroom has been stolen from Princess Peach and it’s up to you, the guest, to try and get it back. To do so, you’ll have to acquire at least three of four available keys that you get by completing “key challenges,” which are short, Mario-themed interactive games. One involves defeating a Piranha Plant, another a Goomba, the third a Koopa Troopa, and finally, a Thwomp. Each will require you (and in some cases a few friends) to physically solve puzzles or play games against a timed clock and have both easy and hard modes, depending on your ability and previous progress. At the time of our visit, we were only able to do the Thwomp challenge, which demands you and your friends to communicate in order to change a huge screen of tiles all to the same color. It was manic, intense, and fun.
Each challenge will have its own individual queue and if you complete it, you get a key that will be registered by your Power Band, as well as the number of coins you got. If you don’t have a Power Band, you can play all the challenges, you just won’t be keeping score; score is kept in the Universal app as well as on interactive leaderboards in the land. (Your Power Band also keeps your score when you go home so you can come back and add to it.) Once you get three keys (though you don’t actually have to, because buying a Power Band isn’t a requirement) you can go into Bowser Jr.’s castle and compete in a mini-boss battle. Here, up to 12 people will jump and react to a 180-degree screen that tracks their movements and, if the group defeats Bowser Jr., Peach’s Golden Mushroom will be returned. Again, this challenge was not operating when we toured the land but even just standing in the space and looking at it, you could tell it’s easily the second coolest thing you could do, behind the Mario Kart ride.
As for that Mario Kart ride, lining up for it will take you up and around the outskirts of Super Nintendo World and ultimately through the entrance of Bowser’s Castle, the centerpiece of the entire space. Inside, you’ll walk through Bowser’s office, which is filled with Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart Easter eggs. Some favorites include books such as “Don’t Bring Bananas to a Shell Fight,” “Shy Guy: Behind the Mask,” “The Art of Balloon Battle,” a multi-volume set called “The Saga of the Mushroom Kingdom,” and a miniature recreation of the ride’s virtual track. Those are just a few I noticed at first glance but you could seriously spend hours in the office section of the queue and keep finding new things.
Again, we weren’t able to ride the ride itself but the queue is breathtaking. We were also that told, once onboard, you’ll be fitted with a visor and glasses to fully enjoy the experience during which you can steer and throw shells as you race against all your favorite Mario characters. To be clear though, the ride simulates a race, it’s not an actual race. You just sit there and enjoy but, if you choose to do a little extra along the way, you can impact some of what happens and accrue more coins, which are tallied at the end and displayed to everyone on board. If you have a Power Band, it’ll then be added to your total.
Beyond the Mario Kart ride, four key challenges, and boss battle, Super Nintendo World has two character meet-and-greets section—one for Princess Peach and one for Mario and Luigi—as well as the table service restaurant called Toadstool Cafe (in which many, but not all, of the items include mushrooms) and a gift shop, 1-Up Factory, which also serves as the exit to Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. For now, that’ll be filled almost exclusively with merchandise available at other shops around the park like Mario-themed hats, shirts, stuffed dolls, and more.
As a long-time Nintendo and Mario fan, what impressed me more than anything you could do in Super Nintendo World was just standing in it. Though you’re on the Universal Studios backlot, a few feet from Transformers: The Ride and right off the 101 highway, the land feels detached. With the Mario music blaring, walls built up just high enough to block most distractions, and the ever-moving, beautifully designed sets, you really do get that “I’m inside a Mario game” feeling. I wanted to put down my notebook and run around like I was six years old and high off of a killer session of Duck Hunt. Will a person who doesn’t know Link from Zelda or Chris Pratt from Bob Hoskins feel the same way? To an extent, it would be hard not to—the land is that physically engrossing—but big Nintendo and Mario fans are absolutely going to get more out of the experience than people who aren’t.
Also, it is called Super “Nintendo” World, not Super “Mario” World, so there’s at least one little wink to another Nintendo franchise (Pikmin)—but that’s it, at least for now. Future expansions are possible, if not probable, but take lots of time and planning, especially when the entirety of Universal Studios Hollywood is already an elaborate puzzle piece, clicked into a space between the studio itself and several major highways. That means, for now, Super Nintendo World is all about Mario, Luigi, Peach, and the crew, with the aim to hopefully immerse fans in the iconic video game franchise.
However, it’s important to note, all of this was experienced in a land that was not overrun with people. There were no lines for hours on end. No virtual queues conquered or reservations needed. How Super Nintendo World will end up feeling once it’s a fully integrated part of Universal Studios Hollywood is something theme parks fans can debate in the future. Even at first glance, though, it being so far from the park entrance feels like a misstep, even if it was necessary. Either way, at this stage, weeks before opening, the positive intentions and attention to detail are undoubtedly there. The goal is to transport fans from Hollywood to the Mushroom Kingdom, and in that aim Super Nintendo World succeeds.
Super Nintendo World opens at Universal Studios Hollywood on February 17. It’ll be open to anyone in the park unless it reaches capacity, then reservations will be required. Click here for more info.
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