Back in July of 1964, Universal Studios Hollywood officially opened it’s gates as an entertainment destination for people living in Los Angeles. Since then, it’s been the home to: War Lord Tower, The Flintstones Show, E.T. Adventure, Battle of Galactica, Back to the Future: The Ride, Jurassic Park: The Ride and so many more classic attractions that put Universal Studios Hollywood on the map.
We personally have so many fond memories of these attractions while visiting the park with our families while growing up in Southern California. But over those years, Universal Studios Hollywood has grown from a locals entertainment destination to a destination for people to visit from all corners of the world. With additions like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, themed entertainment was pushed to new heights. Now, in 2023, Universal Studios Hollywood is welcoming it’s latest addition…SUPER NINTENDO WORLD. This is where the Mushroom Kingdom comes to life with familiar faces like Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser and many more. It’s absolutely insane that this land was officially announced to the public way back in 2016 and it’s finally here to dazzle guests with it’s bright colors, iconic music, and ground breaking attractions.
We’ve had the amazing opportunity to visit Super Nintendo World during many ohases of it’s opening at the park. Earlier this year, we visited the park for a construction tour of the land (where Gabe cried), we visited during the Annual Pass Preview Event, and visited for the Grand Opening Celebration days before it’s official opening at the park. So we’ve had some time to formulate our thoughts on Mario Kart, the interactive games, the food, and the land as a whole.
If you want to hear us talking about our experience, first impressions, and thoughts after you’re done with the article. We released an entire podcast episode where we went into depth on many experiences.
I don’t think any theme park land has ever had me this emotional. That’s not to say I’m not an ALREADY emotional person. But when something touches me, I don’t shy away from showing how I feel about it. When I first set foot at the entrance to Super Nintendo World I was already nervously excited. My heart was pounding and my palms were clammy. Having played these games all my life and watching this land take shape at the park; my expectations for Super Nintendo World, and my anticipation for my experiences within it, were at an all time high.
The entrance to the land is subtle enough that it makes you excited. Yet it gives you enough to know exactly what you’re about to experience. As you approach the entrance, you’re met with a massive green warp pipe, recognizable sound effects, music, and a massive sign (and photo op) that says Super Nintendo World.
As you pass through the green warp pipe, the inside walls of it change color and before you know it the floor begins to change as well. At the end of the pipe you’ll find that you’ve entered the inside of Princess Peach’s Castle which serves as the entrance to the land. This is where you’ll be given the first sign that something else is happening within the Mushroom Kingdom, more about that later!
As you exit the castle (which is technically the entrance) you’re met with a view that is so overwhelming in the best of ways because you’ve left Universal Studios Hollywood and entered a living breathing Mario game. Everywhere you look you see moving characters, power ups, coins, and the whimsically iconic design elements of Super Mario environments. With everything moving, it creates a wonderful kinetic energy that gives the sense that the world of Super Mario has come to life.
You might even get a peek at Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach meeting guests within the land, which you can do too! While maybe there might be a certain building behind Mt. Beanpole that is somewhat noticeable while you enter the land, I don’t particularly feel as though that sightline takes away from the experience of seeing the land for the first time. There is just so much to look at and when you’re busy looking around, you won’t really notice it. Then by the time you do look up, you’re far enough into the land that it’s hidden from view.
While just being in the land is exciting, it’s how you interact with it that is the most fun and brings you into the a living video game.
THE “GAMIFICATION” OF SUPER NINTENDO WORLD
Unlike the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there was an inherent challenge in bringing Super Mario to life in Super Nintendo World and that’s the interactive nature of the land itself. Video Games as a medium are inherently interactive, so how do you incorporate that style of interactivity or “gameplay” into a themed land? Universal took this challenge head on by incorporating a few different things into guest experiences while visiting Super Nintendo World. The first major aspect of the land is the necessity of the Power-Up Band. The Power-Up Band is a themed wristband that not only allows you to interact with your surroundings within Super Nintendo World, but it also allows you to keep track of your score within the Universal Studios Hollywood app.
Of course, just like video games, you can score points (obtain coins), unlock achievement stickers, track your progress on multiple interactive games in the land, and compare how you do to the rest of the visitors at the park. The genius of this idea is in its simplicity. It doesn’t need to get anymore convoluted than any normal video game experience is, and Universal hit the nail on the head.
Not only is it easy, but its accessible to literally everyone who wants to partake in the fun with the Power-Up Band. But the “gameification” of the land doesn’t end at simply having bragging rights over your friends. There is an over arching story to why the interactive elements need to be done.
Bowser Jr. has stolen Princess Peach’s Golden Mushroom and it’s up to us to get it back! In order to gain access to Bowser Jr.’s Castle and fight him, we need to successfully obtain 3 gold keys from 3 of the 4 interactive games in the land. These interactive games are the Piranha Plant Nap Mishap where you need to avoid the giant Piranha plant from waking up. The Koopa Troopa POWer Punch where you need to have a well timed punch to a POW box to knock down the Koopa Troopa. Then there is the Thwomp Panel Panic where you need to turn all the squares on the panel to one color. And lastly there is the Goomba Crazy Crank where you need to spin the Goomba off the moving path.
Before moving forward, we need to talk about these games and how satisfying it is to play them. Not even from an achievement standpoint. But as a MASSIVE fan of the Super Mario franchise, just hearing the iconic sound effects and music used for these games sent me into a tail spin of emotions. It’s very hard to contextualize exactly how happy it made me. It almost took me back to when I was a kid playing those games for the first time.
Honestly, all these games are not only easy but just a ton of fun. Admittedly, Nikki had some difficulty in understanding what was actually happing during the Thwomp Panel Panic. But it made for a much more hilarious experience when she started shouting at the screen. A helpful hint, the Piranha Plant Nap Mishap is significantly easier with more than 1 person. While you can do it, you’ll get your cardio workout for the day if you do.
Once you gain your keys, you can access Bowser Jr.’s castle where you can finally fight to get the Golden Mushroom back. The inside of the castle is absolutely amazing. From the ambiance, to the music, to the iconic items strewn about. The attention to detail is second to none. Now I don’t want to spoil the Bowser Jr. experience because for us it was a pretty big shock at exactly how Universal was able to get us “into” a video game. But what I will say is that we had a lot of fun and dorked out the whole time. If you’re you’re a die hard fan of the franchise, there will be moments that you’ll love. And even if you’re a passive fan, the experience as a whole is like nothing else in any theme park we’ve visited so you’ll not want to miss it.
The interactive elements within the land aren’t the only places where you can obtain coins and this is where things get interesting. Because you can take your Power-Up Band to the main attraction…MARIO KART: BOWSER’S CHALLENGE!
MARIO KART: BOWSER’S CHALLENGE
The flagship attraction of Super Nintendo World is Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge and it’s where guests visiting can live out their Mario Kart dreams without the need for a Nintendo console.
Put on the special goggles and battle Team Bowser alongside Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach on Mario Kart™: Bowser’s Challenge. You’ll steer through underwater courses and courses in the clouds, collecting coins and throwing shells to win the Golden Cup.
This ground breaking attractions puts guests in the drivers seat of their very own kart to race against Team Bowser (or Team Mario depending on which side you’re on) through recognizable locations from the game. Before we go into more detail on the actual attraction, let’s talk about the queue first.
You enter the attraction through Mt. Beanpole which is to the very back of the land. As you enter the green warp pipe, to the right you’ll find the Single Rider Entrance as well as a test seat for those who are worried they might not fit in the ride vehicle. I know in the past, Universal has been in hot water for rides that are less accommodating to people of specific body dimensions. But even though the sign might say people with 40 inches and above cannot ride, we’ve personally witness people with rather large sizes waists (including myself) fit perfectly fine within the ride vehicle. Thankfully the seats are bucketed, so you fall into it far which gives a bit more room for the saftey restraint. But even with this reassurance, we highly suggest checking out the seat to make sure you’re good to go.
The queue for the attraction is broken up into two different areas. The first area is all themed to Yoshi. While we don’t have the Yoshi attraction here in Hollywood, we do have this whole section of the queue completely dedicated to him. It’s so vibrant and very cute. Nikki nearly burst into tears when she saw him pop his cute face out from the trees and made his trademark sound.
The second half is located within Bowser’s Castle. This area is far less vibrant, more sinister and still very highly detailed. When I say there are many references to the game, I mean it. There are too many to count! So when you’re walking the queue, make sure to keep your eyes peeled.
One thing I want to mention is the usage of “lenticular” screens to simulate 3D elements. Throughout the Bowser’s Castle portion of the queue, there are these lenticular screens scattered throughout with different elements on them. Some have first, some have Boo ghosts, some have machines making Mechakoopas and Bob-ombs. It’s a simple yet convincing illusion to simulate depth within an image.
After you’ve finished traversing Bowser’s Castle, you’ll enter the first of two video pre-show rooms. Here you’ll see multiple screens showcasing some of the recognizable Mario Kart tracks from the videos games, but more importantly this room visually shows guests how the ride works and what they’ll be needing to do. The drifting, the shells, and the coins. The second room and arguably the cooler room (simply because it has Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, and Yoshi’s racing outfits across the wall) tells you about Team Mario and Team Bowser. But crucially, it shows guests how to use the headset that is needed for this attractions and how to interact with the game itself. After you’re released from the room, you’ll be handed a headset and you’re close to boarding.
Mario Kart is like no other attraction we’ve been on at any theme park. It’s a great mixture of beautiful practical sets and media in the form of augmented reality. The headset you’re handed before boarding the ride is rather simple. You place it on your head and turn the circle on the back to tighten. Bewared those with large heads like myself! You don’t have to turn it much to make it tight. Once you board the ride and pull down your restraint, you slide the visor into your headset and when you hear it click…you’re good to go! Also, do not forget to scan your Power-Up band on the Mario logo in the center of your steering wheel. This allows you to track how well you did on the attraction within the Universal Studios Hollywood app. Hold it flat to the center of the steering wheel until the circle around the “M” turns rainbow. That is how you know it’s connected appropriately.
Again, very much like the Bowser Jr. experience, I very much do not want to spoil this experience either. But what I will say is this…I cried. Like I’ve said before, I am a MASSIVE fan of Nintendo and the various Mario videos games. The incorporation of the characters, locations, bad guys, music, and sound effects was so overwhelming in the best of ways. By far, the ending location being my favorite. Which if you’re a Mario Kart fan…you know what I’m talking about.
This ride presents some really gorgeous and incredibly detailed physical sets which act as a backdrop to the digital media being projected on your visors. At times when I think about it, I almost dislike how most riders won’t even pay any mind to how beautiful the sets are because they’ll be so caught up in the ride itself. Which, if there were any cons, I guess that’s a great one to have. Which actually leads me to my next point, which is peoples contention for the speed of the attractions.
While yes, when we think about Mario Kart, speed is typically one of the ideas and concepts that comes to mind first. Does the ride go fast? No, not even close. Do I personally think this is a negative about the ride? No, not at all. While yes, I would have preferred my Mario Kart attraction to go fast. I almost prefer leaning towards interactivity more for a couple reasons. First, if the ride moved any faster it would make the playability abysmal. As it is, the slower speed in which your moving feels too fast at times. Especially if you’re focusing on doing certain things within the experience, your moment slips away pretty quickly. And secondly, by focusing on the playability of the ride, it encourages re-rides. For us, we wanted to keep going just to see if we could beat our high scores, hit certain enemies, and discover other hidden secrets…JUST LIKE A VIDEO GAME!
Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is one of the most fun and least exhausting interactive attractions we’ve ever been on. From the fun physical sets, cohesive digital elements and it’s ability to place riders into a REAL LIFE Mario Kart game; this attraction (with minor faults) succeeds in so many ways. Fans of the Mario Kart franchise will be happy with it’s execution and those who are just now being introduced to these characters through the attraction will find the fun the playability of the ride.
After working up and appetite on Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, you’ll want to head on over to the main eatery within Super Nintendo World and that’s The Toadstool Cafe. This restaurant is run by Chef Toad himself and there are many delectable treats to partake in when visiting.
The Toadstool Cafe is a quick service/table service restaurant. What does that mean exactly? You’ll order and pay for your food at a counter like many other quick service locations at any theme park. But after that, you’re escorted to a table within the dining room where you food will be brought to you by servers. Honestly, it’s a nice touch. Makes the value of your visit feel much higher. Although I do wish there was some type of “to-go” option for those who might not want to sit inside.
Again, like the rest of the land, there are so many different references to the games that I couldn’t help but smile. The back wall behind the cashiers is lined with recognizable “power ups” from various Mario video games. When I first saw that, my eyes widened and I gasped. But nothing prepared me for the main dining room.
Along the walls of the dining room are screens that act as windows that look outside the restaurant and inside the kitchen as all the chefs cook your meal. Above you on the ceiling are rendings of the same “powers ups” you saw on the way. And in the center sitting atop a green warp pipe is a Mushroom Power Up. Again (I sound like a broken record) the music, while low, is iconic and recognizable music from the games. They even included one of my favorite songs from the games which even brought a tear to my eyes. It’s this one right here:
And if you stay long enough, you’ll probably start to see a dark sinister change begin to happen within the dining room. It gets darker, the music changes and this is the sign of Bowser attacking!
On the various screens you’ll see Bowser’s Airship shooting off Bullet Bills which chase the various characters on the screens. It was rather hilarious watching the various Toad Chefs running around their kitchen with Bullet Bills chasing them.
Because the Toadstool Cafe is the only food location within Super Nintendo World, it’s really carrying a lot of pressure to live up to the hype of the land itself. Unlike lands like The Wizarding World, there are NO iconic food items that can really be replicated. So the food team at Universal had to take inspiration from the game in order to create items that feel as though they fit thematically within the land.
While we haven’t had the opportunity to try all the different food items on the menu. We can tell you about what we did try and our thoughts about it. The first item we tried was the Super Star Lemon Squash! This yummy drink (like the drinks outside the land) have popping boba pearls at the bottom and has a nice sweet and citrusy flavor. We actually really enjoyed the drink, maybe event a bit more than the other three beverages outside the land.
The second item that we tried were the Toadstool Cheesy Garlic Knotts. The flavor on these were outstanding, but the texture of the bread itself was a bit chewy for our liking. But after having the sweeter drink, this savory option was nice, especially with the tasty marinara sauce on the side.
Next up was the Luigi Burger, which is actually a Pesto Grilled Chicken sandwich. First, I’d like to ask why they named it a “burger” when it is not a burger. Honestly, if someone doesn’t read the fine print they might just assume it’s a burger. Never the less, this was hands down the best thing we had! The bun was soft, the chicken was juicy, the pesto sauce was delicious and the ring of bell pepper added a nice fresh crunch to the sandwich. Including the pesto sauce to use as dipping sauce for the truffle fries was the best decision someone made. That person deserves a raise because the sauce was the major highlight and really set off everything on the plate. I’d 100% get this again!
Lastly, we got the ? Block Tiramisu! We love tiramisu in this house and this one did not disappoint for us. It was chilled to perfection and the cookies surrounding it were a shocking highlight. They were incredibly tasty cookies and not just a pretty cookie. In terms of presentation, the ? Block looks incredible and lots of care clearly went into constructing it. I can only hope in the future there is more care given to the berry sauce on the side.
THE 1-UP FACTORY
Of course with any themed land, you’re going to need merchandise! And as many fans know, Nintendo has never shy (guy’d) away from creating every single piece of merch under the sun. Just as long as it ties back to Super Mario. Thankfully, the merch at Universal Studios Hollywood doesn’t stretch to reach the same heights. But they do include enough to satisfy many people who might be looking for something a bit more specific.
Within the land, you’ll find The 1-Up Factory. This is the main store of the land where you’ll find anything and everything. Whether you’re looking for a ride shirt for Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, a Mario Lamp, Power-Up Bands, Luigi Head Bands, or a copious amount of plush; this store has it.
As mentioned, Universal did include specific things that shocked me and made me happy. Not only can you get items featuring the titular plumbers themselves, but you can also buy yourself a huggable Goomba, Chain Chomp, Bob-omb, or even Chef Toad! I love the inclusion of these characters because the games have a constant revolving door when it comes to their inclusion within each game. But we have some of the major favorites here for purchase and it puts a smile on my face.
*Images of items are from a store on the upper lot. But these are all avaiable within The 1-Up Factory*
Also, do not fret. If you can’t make it into the land, there are plenty of other locations throughout Universal Studios Hollywood and Citywalk where you can purchase most of the items.
Universal Creative keeps raising the bar within themed entertainment. Super Nintendo World is a crowing achievement in bringing the recognizably colorful world of Super Mario to life within a theme park setting. Not only is it visually stunning but on many levels Super Nintendo World succeeds in creating an environment that’s not only believable, it feels familiar. And for people like myself who grew up playing these games, the familiarity and accuracy conjure up nostalgic memories and the happiness that comes along with them. Is the land perfect? Of course not. Rarely is anything perfect. There is always room for change, improvements, and fixes. The land could be larger, but you can’t have that conversation without mentioning the unique position Universal Studios Hollywood is in. There is a literal working movie studio right behind the Lower Lot portion of the park and the fact that they were even able to get the land to build our SNW is astounding. Yes, the plot of land is smaller than what we would have wanted, but what they were able to do with that small plot of land is nothing short of genius.
Depending on the success of Super Nintendo World at the park, we’ll more than likely see some type of expansion to the land in future years, even if nothing has been officially announced. But from a visitors perspective, after seeing the smiles, tears, and joyful laughter of guests entering the land; it’s rather clear Universal has something spectacular on their hands.
FOR MORE INFORMATION REGARDING SUPER NINTENDO WORLD OR UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD, MAKE SURE TO VISIT THEIR WEBSITE TO PLAN YOUR NEXT VISIT!