My impressions of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood | The DeanBeat

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Some Super Mario magic is headed our way soon through that not-so-magical word “transmedia.” This time, it is taking the form of a theme park addition. Super Nintendo World opens at Universal Studios Hollywood on February 17.

I’ve managed to get a couple of hours to play around the space, which is packed into a relatively confined space in the Lower Lot of Universal. Before you go in, you can buy a Power-Up Band, which costs $40 in addition to your Universal Studios entry ticket. If you’re a video game geek, you won’t blink an eye at that price to visit a place that will bring back both your childhood and adulthood. The music alone will do that.

The band combines a small hockey puck on a wraparound wristband. It enables you to record your interactions during the visit. And yeah, it’s probably somebody’s great idea to make new money with the theme park addition. This is a very creative way to expand the culture of video games to the mainstream and fulfill the prophecy that video games are eating all of entertainment.

Also, if you’re planning a trip, there’s a process to go through for reservations on the Universal site. You’ll also want to get the Universal app so that you can access the details that your wristband collects for you. Once you sync your band with the app, you’re ready to record your trip.


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Peach’s Castle.

You can see from the videos what it’s like when you just walk into the world. You go through a green tunnel and a castle foyer to emerge into the Nintendo space. It felt like walking into a video game. Except you’re kind of small and everything else around you is big. The blocks from Mario games are ubiquitous in this space, which is not so much a world and is more like a crowded town square.

Lots of people were dressed up in Nintendo cosplay gear. I felt a bit naked. It wasn’t like the place was claustrophobic. They let a lot of people in, but not so many that you have to squeeze your way around. It’s like the size of the Avenger’s Campus in Disney California Adventure. I wish Universal was able to add more land to the space, but it still felt I was in another place, with all of the animatronic characters adorning the walls.

Animatronics adorn the walls of Super Nintendo World.

The blocks are big and made of soft rubber. If you go to various queues, you get the privilege of bumping your wristband at the bottom of a block. It makes a wonderful little “bleep” and “coinish” sound when you bump the block. You can see the coin you’ve collected in the app. There is some amazing attention to detail. There are huge piranha plants ready to eat you.

If that sounds like primitive fun, you should enjoy the moment. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time waiting in lines. I saw Princess Peach come out and I was walking over to take a picture with her since there was no line, but then she turned around and left. I was too slow.

The blocks didn’t run from me. So I bumped about every single one that I could in the place.

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge

Part of the queue at Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride.

The main attraction is the Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride. The line was long but it moved fairly fast. I was fascinated at the detailed statues of Bowser and other Mario lore built into the waiting line as you went upstairs into the Mario Kart ride. I was assigned to Team Mario.

Finally, we got to a large room for a few dozen people and a video played to show us how to do the ride. I felt like they spent an inordinate amount of time telling us how to do the ride. But I didn’t pay enough attention in any case.

When I got up to the two-person kart, which had fairly small seats that you have to squeeze into, it dawned on me that I had to take the AR glasses (attached to a red Mario hat) and connect them to another visor that was attached to the kart. The visor covers your face and goes over your glasses. Once I fully assembled it, I was ready to go.

The kart took off at a relatively slow speed and I looked around. As the Kart moves around the physical track, you see tons of things coming at you. There were plenty of targets to toss things at as you raced around a winding track. Just like in the Mario Kart game, you can press a button (on the steering wheel) and launch a green turtle at someone (a virtual kart overlaid on the physical space) ahead of you.

If you hit it, you slow the other kart down. You can also lob bombs and run over cubes to get power-ups. There are multiple environments where you chase Bowser, like an underwater part with bubbles. Aficionados will recognize a lot of places from the games.

The secret little Mario outside the Mario Kart ride exit.

When you’re done with the AR glasses, you hand them back to an attendant who sanitizes them. I didn’t get nauseous from the ride, despite the AR headset and the jerky motion of the kart. It was a lot like the Web Slingers ride at Disney California Adventure. When you exit, make sure you bump your wristband on a secret Mario on the wall.

You can also collect a few keys by waiting in lines and walking through some smaller areas that are akin to the waiting line for the Mario Kart ride. One of the places is the Koopa Troopa Power Punch, where you have to wait for the exact moment to bump a cube and launch a projectile to hit the Koopa Troopa at the exact moment he is walking over the spot. I was wondering why the blocks were so low that I had to get on my knees, but I suppose they expect a lot more kids to come through.

Once you get your final key, you can go battle Bowser Jr. Once you get through another fun line, you can join a group that battles Bowser Junior. You wave your arms about to launch bombs and other projectiles that you aim at Bowser Junior.

The Koopa Troopa Power Punch.

I thought I did just about everything. But I walked out with 26 out of 128 possible stamps and 1,315 gold coins. So by no means was I a completionist. But the gamification was one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole experience; the $40 wristband is worth it.

When you walk out the exit, there is, of course, a store full of Nintendo souvenirs. One of the fun things was being around so many obviously happy people who were excited to be there. I got myself a red Player 1 shirt. I enjoyed the two hours there and promptly went on the awesome Harry Potter ride.

Bowser in the Mario Kart ride waiting line.

The one thing I didn’t get to visit was the Toadstool Cafe, which offers things like a Piranha Plant caprese salad, Fire Flower Spaghetti and Meatballs and decorations that are like inside Toad’s house. There was a line that probably took a half hour or more to wait for seating so I decided to head outside and get some food at the nearby Jurassic Park area. I was in the mood for a Bronto burger after all that excitement.

My score on the Nintendo part of the Universal Studios app.

The place doesn’t have the other rides that are available at the theme park in Japan. Can it beat Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland? Not at all. But everybody who goes through will feel like they’ve been through a video game and will want to play it all again. I felt like there was enough there for a memorable Mario experience. And now I’m antsy for the Super Mario Movie.

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