Theme park expansions are more than character meet and greets and tasty treats. They are also amusement rides that provide thrills and chills. All of which takes place in a world where your imagination can run wild. But lately, they needed to be more. Much more personable, nostalgic, and interactive. And that’s what we get with “Super Nintendo World” at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Though the world is small, it has plenty to offer as it utilizes every square inch it was given to turn an older section of the park into a Super Mario World come to life. Your journey begins as you walk up to a series of pipes, three standing upright and one laid out (the entrance). The three upright ones are the perfect opportunity for a photo op with the “Super Nintendo World” sign.
After that, you’ll enter through the giant green pipe. As you warp, you’ll hear a familiar sound that has played every time Mario or Luigi enters it. You’re then transported to a magical world where Princess Peach’s beautiful castle is adorned with shades of colorful stained glass windows that form a pretty silhouette of Princess Peach. And the surrounding area itself is a sight to behold.
Super Nintendo World is based on the iconic video game franchise of the same name. It is similar to the version of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, Japan. There are a few slight differences, though. The one in Hollywood doesn’t have as many rides as in Japan. Of course, there is always time for another expansion by adding more rides. But we’ll just have to be patient.
But your experience playing on Mario’s Go-Kart, finding the keys, and hitting the ? Blocks will be different every time you play. To get this experience, you’ll have to purchase the exclusive interactive Power-Up Band and sync it to your phone and the Universal Studios Hollywood App. And more on how all this works later, but you will want to have this if you want the full “Super Nintendo World” experience.
There is something so delightful in a place that’s more than just meeting your favorite characters and going on rides. Let’s remember the food and merchandise to make the experience more memorable. Exploring this place may take some time, even if you are in a small area, but you will surely find nostalgic joy along the way.
Now, these bands are priced at $40 apiece. But they come with different designs of your favorite Mario emblems. From the M and the L for Mario and Luigi, respectively, to the crown for Princess Peach and the egg for Yoshi. Even Toad gets one with the classic red mushroom with white spots. Not getting one would mean you wouldn’t be getting the full experience. My only issue with this is the slap wrist style design needs to fasten tighter around someone who may have a smaller wrist. I only held onto it when I wanted to hit the ? Blocks or unlock the challenges. That’s my recommendation if you have trouble with it.
Now onto the breakdown of the park.
MarioKart: Bowser’s Challenge
Of course, attractions are the whole point of going to a place like “Super Nintendo World.” The biggest and only attraction that “Super Nintendo World” offers is Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. Remember that it will be the busiest place since it is the only attraction. Which means a very long queue. Luckily, Bowser’s castle has plenty to look at as you wait in line. There are lovely hand-drawn flowers reminiscent of the Yoshi’s Island game and a few other colorful decorations. But as you go further, you’ll discover that you are walking into Bower’s Lair. This place is adorned with statues and tapestry made in his honor. Race Cup emblems that decorate the walls are a clear nod to the actual game. And there are the winning trophies as well. Eagle-eyed fans of the game and frequent park guests might even recognize an exclusive trophy explicitly made for this ride.
But don’t expect to find an aforementioned key to unlock Bowser Jr.’s Lair. Instead, the queue and the ride are made to collect coins as you race. So you won’t have much to do, but look at the cool aesthetics.
As for the attraction itself, it’s a fine combination of the old and new school. But before you put on your hats and attach the 3D visor, know that this is also an interactive game that requires you to look when arrows are lit on your visor and throw shells at your enemy when they appear. And be sure to hit the M with your interactive Band before you race so that you can collect coins.
The Mario Kart Bower’s Challenge teams you up with Mario as they race against Bower and his Koopalings. You view the ride through your visor, which shows your team members as the opposition races through. There’s no way of telling your racing position, but as you hit question blocks along the way, they will give you the shells you need to slow down the Koopalings. And arrows on your visor will tell you where to look so you can collect coins along the way.
And with all Mario Kart games, you will have to face obstacles. Some may be elemental, while others are mind-bending. But you’ll indeed have fun when you enter the rainbow road. Just be sure to have good aim because you only have a finite amount of shells to throw.
Overall, I had plenty of fun, especially after discovering that you don’t actually throw the shells. So pay attention to the rules on the video screen or ask any cast members about what to do on the ride. But it might be a little frustrating since the visors are so small, and the ride asks you to press a button to throw at one moment and then look in one direction the next. At times, I looked too far in one direction, which made me miss a chance to score a hit against the Koopalings or collect some coins. It could be overwhelming, but for the most part, it is a lot of fun.
Now I talked a lot about the Power-Up Band. Having the Power-Up Band will allow you to feel like you are an actual character and enhance the gameplay experience. Using the Power-Up bands enables you to interact with the ? Block that are scattered throughout the land. And just like the game, not every block has coins. So it’s up to you to find them.
But having these bands gives you more than just hitting the blocks or interacting with the Mario Kart: Bower’s Challenge. Four other smaller challenges could be found in the land as well. Two team-based ones and two single-player ones. The first team-based one is a literal race against time, as you and your friends have to shut off several alarm clocks before they wake up the giant Piranha Plant. We were warned to hit the buzzer in the middle, not the bells themselves, because the bells are much harder than the soft middle part of the alarm clock.
For the second team challenge, you must flip tiles on a screen all the same color before the timer runs out. This is much more difficult than it sounds if you do it yourself. So if you don’t have anyone with you, the cast member will be glad to help you out to get a key.
For the third challenge, you’ll need a good sense of timing. The goal of this challenge is to make sure you hit the POW block that would knock a shell ricocheting back and forth between pipes so that it goes up the middle to hit another Koopa. Sounds more straightforward than it looks. You get three attempts before going to the back of the line if you are unsuccessful. I saw some get it on their first try, and it took me my third.
For the final single-player challenge, you must turn a crank to roll over a Goomba. Again, it’s more challenging than it sounds, but getting another key is worth the trouble if you want to enter Bower Jr’s Lair.
And the whole point of these challenges is to get at least three keys to “unlock” Boswer Jr’s lair. The baby Bowser has apparently stolen a golden mushroom, and it is up to you to help get it back for Princess Peach. But don’t expect to go on a ride. But instead, play a fun shadow game where you will have to dodge Bullet Bills and swat Bob-Ombs. ? Blocks that fall contain certain power-ups from mushrooms that help you grow to Fire Flowers that make you throw fireballs. There’s even a Super Star that makes you invincible. It’s entertaining, and like any game, it keeps score, so there is a competitive factor to it. And when it’s played against the Mario-style music and video game sound effects, it makes the entire thing much more fun to play.
So hitting the ? Blocks do more than activate the signature chimes. It actually gives you coins. And because there are different experiences, you’ll get different rewards. This is a place that is designed for repeat plays. The more you play, the more points you get, which means more rewards. And you can follow your progress on the app or the screen.
And then there’s the food. Oh, the delicious food you’ll eat at Toadstool’s café. The menu has plenty of fun and playful offerings, all designed to look like you are eating something from the game. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to eat everything as some options were sold before I could taste them. I was just too busy playing games before I realized I needed to get something to eat.
I did manage to get the Fire Flower Spaghetti and Meatballs, Super-Star Lemon Squash, and the ? Block Tiramisu. All of which were very delicious. I expected the Fire Flower Spaghetti and Meatballs to be spicy by amusement park standards. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was spicy. But in a way that wasn’t overpowering or making you sweat. And the meatballs were very hearty that will surely leave you feeling satisfied. Not sure if this one is for the kids, though. So keep that in mind.
As for the drink, it reminded me of drinking boba. The pearls have this popping effect, which was also a pleasant surprise. But the real winner of the meal was the ? Block Tiramisu. Don’t let the small block fool you. It may look tiny, but it’s four question mark cookies surrounding a tiramisu cake, with another standing upright to reveal what power-up item you got.
As for the interior, well, it looks like a massive assembly line kitchen run by a bunch of multicolored Toads. They are running around trying to get your order ready as soon as possible in a way that looks like chaotic fun. And be sure to watch what they are doing on screen. One moment, it can be a peaceful sunny day. A few seconds later, the lights dim, and the sounds of a thunderstorm rain in as Bower’s flying ship ruins their day. It’s so much fun to see how this place is more than just a place to eat. There’s an actual story being told in the background.
The 1-Up Shop.
Well. The 1-Up Shop is the only place to find items exclusive to Super Nintendo World. There are Super-Star popcorn buckets, Mario and Luigi hats, Boo t-shirts, ? Block pillows and a lot of plushies. If you are a fan of Bob-Ombs, Goombas, Bloopers, and Piranha Plants, you might consider taking one, two, or maybe all. It’s up to you. And there are also Mario Kart toys if you or someone you know is a fan of the game.
As of right now, there are three characters whom you can meet and interact with. Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach are all available for you to meet and talk to. Yes. You can talk to them. And one of my favorite parts about this place is that the three aren’t silent, but they ask you how your day is going and say their signature phrases. They look like they were pulled from the game and placed into “Super Nintendo World.” And if you are close enough to them while you are in the queue, you’ll see the attention to detail that went into bringing these characters to life.
What more could you ask for?
Super Nintendo World is one of my favorite places to visit in the entire park. While it may be cliché to say that they are ahead of the game when it comes to interactive entertainment in a theme park, it is the most fun you will ever have at once. Of course, the area might connect more with others, especially if they’ve played the games, but what Universal has done here is uniquely fun. And by distancing itself from other portions of the park and even its competitors with its rides and interactions, it is in a position to be in a place where guests will stay and play for as long as they can.