“I kinda want to get there at 9am,” my friend (and Super Mario fan) said, to which I rolled my eyes in response. Not that I don’t like getting ready for 8am on a Saturday and stepping out of my cozy, quiet apartment to visit a crowded theme park that I’ve been to more times than I can count (really), but I didn’t think it was necessary.
After all, we were really going to Universal Studios Hollywood to experience its latest neighborhood, the Super Nintendo Worldwhich opened to the general public on February 17. How long might we need?
It turned out to be a good decision to get there early, and not just because, as always happens when a theme park opens a new area, you face queues to die of old age and hordes of super fans and ruthless theme park adults. No, in this case, it’s because Universal Studios Hollywood has simply outdone — even transcended — itself.
When the Los Angeles-based theme park said in its press release that Super Nintendo World is “a journey filled with exploration, discovery, and play unlike anything they’ve ever experienced”, that’s no exaggeration.
The moment you walk through the iconic green pipe feels like a wormhole sending you into another dimension, transporting you to a land more magical than even the neighbor The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The meticulous attention to detail that its creators put into building the Mushroom Kingdom is evident. Super Nintendo World is a visual treat for fans, with goombas and koopas running around; Plant piranhas and pokeys on the prowl; and scattered coins, koopa shells and super mushrooms.
But more important, Super Nintendo World does something no other area of the park has done: be incredibly interactive, with Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challengethe main ride in the area, being the most interactive of all.
Is it (too) worth the wait?
Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is not without its challenges, including technical difficulties. This is not unusual; I remember Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando having similar issues and delays when they debuted, but that sometimes makes the already long lines almost unbearable.
The first time we queued up, we were there for TWO ENTIRE HOURS and only managed to make it halfway. This was mainly because the ride kept breaking. We were starving at the time and didn’t know when the ride would be fixed, so we decided to get off the line to refuel.
It also doesn’t help that Universal Hollywood Studios doesn’t usually have an Express Pass line for newly launched attractions. Fortunately, being there for a media visit, a publicist managed to smuggle us to the start of the line – although as soon as we got there the ride broke again, and we were given one time express passes and we were told to come back later.
So I put your expectations here. No matter what day of the week you visit, you will spend most of your visit waiting in line due to the large number of visitors and some growing pains. And it’s not just for Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challengebut also for “key” attractions and mini-challenges (more on that later).
When we finally got on the ride it was well worth the wait. In fact, it’s probably the only theme park ride I’ll be willing to queue for two hours.
More than just a ride
I screamed and laughed hysterically The Mummy’s Revenge, had disgusting heavily chlorinated water splashed all over my person at Jurassic World: The Rideand sat through the famous park grounds Studio visit more times than I can remember, and I can say with certainty that this Super Nintendo World ride blows them all out of the water.
Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge isn’t just a passive ride, it combines lighting, sound and hands-on effects with Augmented Reality (AR) technology to bring crowd-favorite Mario Kart games to life. Essentially you’re playing Mario Kart, but in a stadium-style four-seater with actual steering yokes instead of on your couch with a controller.
Instead of experiencing the game on your 65-inch TV, thanks to AR projections and glasses that magnetically snap onto your headset, you feel like you’re in the game. On a ride, you also move on a physical track, which adds to the realism and immersion.
And, instead of just sitting there like you would at any other theme park ride, you do whatever you would while playing Mario Kart. You collect coins, hit Bowser’s gang with items like bananas and seashells while being mindful of friendly fire as it will deduct points and trying to reach the finish line before them.
There are limitations here, as it’s still mostly one ride. There were times, for example, when my throws were slightly delayed or didn’t hit the intended target. Also, the frenzy of it all made things a little confusing – sometimes it was hard to tell if it was an enemy in front of me or someone on my team.
Still, it’s so well-designed that I felt as competitive as when I was playing Mario Kart. I found lobbing shells at unsuspecting enemies particularly enjoyable and satisfying, even more so than in the actual game. after a race, I was ready to go when the sun went down (or get back online).
The only thing I hated was that it didn’t last more than five minutes, which wasn’t enough with all the fun I had.
It’s a big game
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If you don’t want to get back in line for another round of Mario Kartyou can still easily spend a whole day there, because Super Nintendo World is just a big game disguised as a themed land. This also makes it unique and, dare I say, better than all the other areas in the park.
The Universal Studios app transforms the entire park area into an interactive world. You can collect digital coins from the “punchables” blocks scattered around the park, collect keys from mini-challenges, like Thwomp Panel Panic And Piranha Plant Napping Accidentand even take on Bowser Jr in a boss battle.
There are a few caveats to this game though: you’ll be queuing often since mini-challenges and encounters with your favorite characters have an average wait time of 30 minutes, and you’ll need to purchase a Power-Up Band separately. to participate, and unfortunately it’s $40 each. It may seem steep, but it’s at least reusable, so if you visit the park often, that $40 will go a long way.
Of course, you can always drop by, take pictures, play Bowser’s Challenge one time maybe have a Nintendo themed dessert then skedaddle. But if that’s the case, you might as well stay home and play Mario Kart on your Nintendo Switch.