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Our sneak peek inside Super Nintendo World at Universal Hollywood

by Attractions Magazine Staff

It’s going to be a big year for Universal Studios Hollywood. The Southern California theme park is preparing to open its first all-new land since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter made its debut in the spring 2016. Super Nintendo World is set to open for Annual Passholders (who managed to snag reservations for themselves) at the end of January, and then to all guests in mid-February. We were given a first look at this upcoming land.

Super Nintendo World early preview at Universal Studios Hollywood.

By Mike Celestino

This afternoon I was invited to participate in a guided tour of the still-unfinished Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood on behalf of “Attractions Magazine”, and even though there’s still some work left to be done on the finishing touches, I walked away with a very positive impression of the fun guests of all ages can expect during their visits.


Piranha plant and updated warp pipe at Super Nintendo World.
A Piranha plant, left, and updated entrance warp pipe, right, at Super Nintendo World in Universal Studios Hollywood.
Left photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood. Right photo by Mike Celestino.

As Nintendo and “Super Mario” fans may already be aware from the existing version of the land at Universal Studios Japan (which first opened nearly two years ago), guests will enter Super Nintendo World through a dazzling warp pipe complete with light and sound effects. “We’ve been working on it for a fair bit of time, and it’s very exciting to now share it,” said our tour guide Jon Corfino, vice president of Universal Creative, as we approached the colorful entrance. “We’re about to start technical rehearsals, but not everything is done yet.” With that in mind, our media tour group was only permitted to take photos of certain things, avoiding wide shots of the land itself because many features were still in the process of being painted. “It’s all about the green warp pipe. That’s what takes us away into the game. This is where the adventure begins.”


Color and detailed animatronics at Universal Studios Hollywood's Super Nintendo World.
A Pokey moves back and forth in the land, left, while a wind-up Mechakoopa, right, can be seen inside the queue for the ride.
Left photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood. Right photo by Mike Celestino.

The first impression I had when I stepped out through the other end of the warp pipe was one of amazement, as I finally got a look at the land as a whole. As I noted above, I wasn’t permitted to take any very wide shots, but rest assured, the space is a pretty good size, and larger than I had anticipated.

The other thing that jumped out at me, and something Super Nintendo World has over Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, is the kinetic nature of this immersive land’s execution. Everywhere one turns, there’s something moving – be it a Goomba, a power-up mushroom, a Koopa Troopa, or a Piranha Plant. These objects and characters are present and moving on just about every level and in every corner of this multi-dimensional, tiered space, and it’s easy to get lost in the awe of feeling as though you stepped right into a Super Mario video game. Not only that, but many of these figures have more articulation than I was anticipating, making them feel very lifelike.


Bowser's Statue and Castle Details inside Super Nintendo World.
You’re entering Bowser’s castle when you get in line for the Mario Kart ride at Super Nintendo World. You’ll see a statue of Bowser and his chair.
Left photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood. Right photo by Mike Celestino.

“The partnership with Nintendo was absolutely fantastic,” said Corfino. “[Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru] Miyamoto was part of this every step of the way. It’s really been a pleasure. I’ve been working on this project for about five or six years now, and he goes way back to the very beginning along with the folks at the creative studio and everybody else that’s helped to develop and design this. It’s just been a tremendous collaborative project.”

Once we got our bearings in the land, Corfino began to tell us about its interactive features. “One of the fun accessories that you have the opportunity to get is your Power-Up Band. The idea here was no matter what your experience level or desire, there is something here for you. Whether or not you have [the band], you still get the full experience. But when you have [it], you’re actually a little bit more in the game. You’re tracking your score, [it’s] also an Amiibo, and it ties into the ride as well. [If] you’re tied into the app, your experience can actually elevate over time.” Corfino then demonstrated how guests can use their Power-Up Bands to hit the underside of Question Mark Blocks to collect coins around the land.


Preview of Gamification inside Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood
See some of the gameplay inside Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood.

“There’s a lot of kinetic activity. You’ll see it everywhere. There’s no rules here – it’s just like the game: you can explore however you want to, in whatever order. It’s all about discovery.” At that point, Corfino swiped his Power-Up Band against Mario’s initial on a wall, which conjured up pixel art of Princess Peach. “There is a storyline behind the whole land, and that is that Peach has had her golden mushroom stolen by Bowser Jr. He basically absconds with it, and we have what we call four key challenges in the land. And we have the opportunity, should we choose to accept it, to help her get the golden mushroom back.”

After completing the four key challenges, guests can proceed to an interactive game called “Boss Battle Jr.,” which sees them jumping for blocks and flinging fireballs at a variety of enemies projected onto a giant wrap-around screen. Other mini-games called “Piranha Sleepers” and “Goomba Gimme” are accessible in the exterior areas, each factoring into the key challenges. “That’s really the big difference here. As opposed to other rides and attractions that we’ve done. This is putting you into a game, not trying to take you backstage at a movie. This is more like you are inside the game.”


Super Nintendo World Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach And Toad Character Meet And Greets
Video of the characters you can meet at Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan.

There are also a couple different costumed character experiences: guests can meet Princess Peach, and of course the brothers Mario and Luigi around the land. “The Mario meet-and-greet is right in the middle, and the characters are capable of communicating with you,” added Corfino. “And guess what? Since we’re in a game, they know your score.” That promise reminds me an awful lot of the credit system at Galaxy’s Edge, so I’m very curious to see if it pays off in Super Nintendo World more than it has on the planet Batuu.


Queue details for Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge.
More things you’ll see inside the Mario Kart ride queue.
Left photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood. Right photo by Mike Celestino.

During our hour-long visit to the land yesterday, we did not have the opportunity to ride the Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge attraction, but we did walk through its impressive queue. “We’re all about variable attendance levels,” said Corfino about the winding switchbacks. On busier days, the line is capable of extending into additional rooms and up stairs. We also walked past some augmented reality (AR) viewfinders that allow guests to look out over the land with added characters, effects, and details. But the most detailed parts of the queue are the last few rooms leading up to the boarding area of the ride itself, which take you through Bowser’s study and laboratory before guiding you through the concept of the attraction and your role in the experience.


Additional queue details and easter eggs inside Super Nintendo World.
A Goomba statue you’ll see and general scenic areas inside the Mario Kart queue.
Left photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood. Right photo by Mike Celestino.

There were also a pretty good number of Easter Eggs and references to Mario games from throughout the past four decades in the queue, including “Super Mario 64”, “Super Mario Sunshine” and “Super Mario Galaxy”. The final two rooms of the queue teach “some important stuff we’re gonna need to learn before we ride the ride,” noted Corfino. “Once we get the visors, we’re gonna go through the following room and our AR glasses will snap into the visor,” he continued, explaining the hardware needed to make the Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride work.


Mario Kart: Koopa's Challenge Overview at Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan
An overview of the Mario Kart ride at Universal Studios Japan. The ride will be the exact same at Universal Studios Hollywood. In Japan, Bowser’s name is King Koopa, so their ride is called Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge instead of Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge.

“We actually developed our own AR goggles,” he added. “Universal created and developed this whole system, which is really an incredible achievement. So kudos to our team that did that. This ride is very next level. The real creative craft of what we’re doing here is that it is actually a moving ride, and you will go through a series of environments where there is video mapping. There’s LED screens, there’s physical animations, there’s special effects, and there’s your AR goggles. And how you seamlessly blend all that together to make it look like it all goes away and becomes one thing is really the art of the whole thing. It’s very very cool. You are in the game, which is pretty fantastic.”

But Corfino did also warn us about the attraction’s learning curve: “I’ve done this a million times, and I’ve had a lot of people go through it. The first time you do it, you’ll think, ‘Boy, I didn’t do that well.’ The next time you do it, you’ll get better at it – just like the game. It’s no different.”


4K Sneak Preview Tour of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan
A look at the land in Japan.

At the end of our tour, we were given the chance to ask Corfino a few questions, and the first thing I wanted to know was the differences between Universal Studios Hollywood’s version of Super Nintendo World and the one that’s been open in Japan since early 2021. “In terms of the ride itself, [there is] no difference. In terms of how we had to adapt some of the queue lines, it’s only different in that the configuration is different. They still have the same areas; they’re just laid out a little bit differently, because the space is different. In terms of the land itself, we do not have a Yoshi ride, they do. But aside from that, I would say pound-for-pound, you’re gonna get the same game experience [and] the same visual experience. It’s essentially the same, but it’s a different configuration because they have a bigger geography than we do. We had to kind of compress it to [fit the space that] we had.”

On our way out, we got a quick look at the entrance to the Toadstool Cafe, which will serve as Super Nintendo World’s counter-service restaurant serving Mario Burgers, Super Star Chicken Salad, and an assortment of other fun themed dishes.


Exterior character details and entrance to Toadstool Cafe at Universal Studios Hollywood's Super Nintendo World.
This Thwomp, left, lifts and drops in the land. Right, the entrance to the Toadstool Cafe restaurant.
Left photo by Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood. Right photo by Mike Celestino.

Overall I would say I was left with a very positive impression of what I’ve seen so far at Super Nintendo World. I hadn’t watched too many videos of the land in Japan, so I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but my initial reactions were excitement at the overwhelming feeling that washed over me when I first stepped foot into the land (as a lifelong Nintendo fan) and sheer enthusiasm to check out the rest of what I didn’t get to experience, including the Super Mario Kart attraction. Remarkable visual design aside, the real emphasis here seems to be on play and exploration, and that to me has always been what both video games and theme parks are all about – making Nintendo and Universal Studios a perfect match.


First Insider Look at Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood
Video of our first visit inside Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Super Nintendo World is set to open on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023 for Annual Passholders and on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023 for all guests at Universal Studios Hollywood. For additional information and to purchase advance tickets, be sure to visit Universal Studios’ official website.

Super Nintendo World is also coming to Epic Universe theme park in Orlando with all of the rides Universal Studios Japan has, including their upcoming Donkey Kong area and ride.

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