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Super Nintendo World Preview: A Fantastic, Immersive Tribute to Mario and Friends

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With a walk through a Warp Pipe, plus a light show and classic jingle, I’m transported from my everyday life and into the magical land of Super Nintendo World.

Super Nintendo World, which opens at Universal Studios Hollywood on February 2. 17 year old feels like you’re inside the cartoonish, unearthly land of a Super Mario Bros.! Game. Huge rolling hills are populated by Mario’s friends and foes: Koopas rush back and forth, Piranha plants pop out of plumber’s pipes and open their toothy maws. All of these beloved characters are in constant motion; a stack of Goombas sways back and forth as Yoshi spins around a shady tree.

There are dozens of these charming tables spread across towering sets, modeled to look like familiar Mario level environments, complete with soundtracks to boot. You can do a full spin in the park without breaking the immersion. The enormous Bowser’s Castle dominates the scene and the Toadstool Cafe attracts hungry guests. The colors in it all look like a game screenshot: the deserts and snowy backdrops evoke classic Mario worlds, and the coin blocks are speckled throughout the area. It’s a totally seamless visual assortment and a sharp shot of nostalgia for any Nintendo fan.

A shot of Super Nintendo World, with a large Pokey in front of a pyramid and coin blocks in the foreground.

Photo: Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood

Super Nintendo World is coming to Universal Studios Hollywood after debuted at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka last year, and boasts much of the same landscape – with main attraction Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge – although it occupies a smaller physical footprint, as Polygon learned during a press preview of the region. You’ll also need to go to Universal in Japan to ride Yoshi’s Adventure, which isn’t in the Hollywood version of the park. However, the expanded Super Nintendo World is set to arrive at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida in 2025.

Bringing Nintendo’s worlds to life is a watershed moment for an amusement park whose identity was historically tied to filmmaking. Universal Studios Hollywood is known for movie-themed attractions like Jurassic World, Transformers, and the famous Studio Tour ride, which features recognizable sets and hands-on effects from classic movies like Jaws. This is Universal Studios’ first amusement park section dedicated to a series of video games.

“Having a higher level of immersion is where we always want to take it, and getting into a game is clearly another step for us,” said Jon Corfino, vice president of Universal Creative, noting the importance of “interactivity” throughout Super. Nintendo World.

The game makes sense. Both video games and amusement parks embody the idea of ​​play; a player/visitor moves through a space, exploring its secrets, and leaving their mark as they progress through the story. This sense of exploration is alive at the park.

A sense of play

A section of Super Nintendo World, featuring a giant Thwomp in front of Bowser's Castle.

Photo: Nicole Clark/Polygon

Super Nintendo World tells a classic story: “Peach had her golden mushroom stolen by Bowser Jr.,” Corfino said. Guests play through a series of four mini-games, plus a final boss battle, in order to help her retrieve the mushroom.

The park delivers on its promise of “game comes to life” beyond the spectacular scenery. There are various interactive coin blocks and spotted games throughout the park. And for $40, guests can purchase Power-Up Bands that serve a similar role to Harry Potter’s Wizarding World wands. Tapping on a strip in a spot marked with Mario’s “M” will trigger an Easter egg or mini-game. There are six groups to choose from, inspired by Mario, Luigi, Peach and their friends. Each of them is also an amiibo, although we don’t yet know if they will work with home consoles.

The unique twist is in the group point system. Interacting with items and playing mini-games adds points to your total score, much like a tally from playing a Mario video game. Guest totals are all synced with the Universal Studios Hollywood app.

A projection of pixelated Mario on a brick wall background.

Photo: Nicole Clark/Polygon

Cute interactive elements are hidden in the nooks and crannies of the park. One place makes one NES-style Mario from the original Super Mario Bros.!., pixel art and all, appearing in a stone wall (pictured). Hitting the underside of one of the many coin blocks produces that telltale jingle of a collected coin. (Punch without a band and it still reacts, but with a different sound.)

One of the four main mini-games in the land asks guests to aim for a huge Piranha plant in order to earn a key. And in the park’s final boss fight, Bowser Jr. Boss Battle, my group crammed into a room with a big screen, each of us standing above a number from one to 15. Our shadows were visible against the screen projection, and we were able to play the game while moving: I jumped hitting coin blocks, smashing Bob-ombs falling from the sky, grabbing a fire flower and wildly waving my hands to throw fireballs at Bowser Jr. as he passed. We won the Golden Mushroom!

Each of these Easter Eggs is a special joy for die-hard Nintendo fans, from the nodes to Mario’s origins to the beloved enemy designs that have appeared in many games since, like a wonky pile of Goomba. The games legacy also extends to the restaurant in Super Nintendo World. Toadstool Cafe is an extension of that playful charm, with screens that show a kitchen full of animated toads – it looks like culinary feats are. Toad’s Next Adventure take and place your orders. Although the cafe has yet to be officially opened, just seeing its interior was a delight.

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge

A large statue of Bowser at the entrance to Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge at Super Nintendo World.

Photo: Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood

The centerpiece of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood is its new ride, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. It will be the first of its kind at this park, mixing augmented reality with classic dark-ride elements to create something new. Four people share a Mario Kart car, don AR glasses, and throw seashells and bananas to their heart’s content. They’ll race underwater courses, zip through clouds and compete for the Golden Cup. According to Universal, it’s worth doing multiple rides: you might get a different ending, depending on how you play.

“It’s a real moving ride and you’ll go through a series of environments where there’s mapping, there’s LED screens, there’s physics animation with special effects and there’s AR glasses” , Corfino said. The way he mixes “it all together to make it seem like it’s all going away and becoming one thing is really the art of it all,” he added.

A photo of Super Nintendo World's Mario Kart ride, which shows Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and Toad's go-kart outfits and helmet.

Photo: Hamilton Pytluk/Universal Studios Hollywood

I couldn’t test the ride, as it’s still going through security before opening. But I was impressed by the level of detail even in the queue; the carousel welcomes guests with a tribute to the Super Mario World games — complete with classical scoreswhich immediately brought me back to long afternoons trying to keep baby Mario from floating in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – and pencil-art style fluffy clouds and trees right out of Yoshi’s craft world. Another section of the queue takes players to a region similar to an ice world, one of the mainstays of Super Mario Bros. Ultimate. level design.

A Piranha Plant Book and a Goomba Paperweight Queue in Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge

Photo: Nicole Clark/Polygon

Guests then move through Bowser’s Castle, gaining a glimpse into the mind of the infamous nemesis of Mario and his pals. There are tons of books scattered around, including self-help for talking to princesses, a guide to the dangers of bananas, and plenty of care manuals for Piranha plants. A portrait of Peach sits on an enormous Bowser-sized throne. If you look closely, you can tell precisely which games are referenced. A floating diorama of a planet reminds super mario galaxy, the 2007 Mario game that changed the paradigm and not only immersed him in a 3D world, but also reinvented the idea of ​​space and perspective. Nintendo’s major evolution over the past 20 years is on full display in the park.


The Warp Pipe-inspired sign and entrance for Super Nintendo World's gift shop, called 1-Up Factory.

Photo: Nicole Clark/Polygon

Super Nintendo World’s 1-Up Factory was not open to the press when I visited, but a shop dedicated to the new section of the park is already open in Universal Studios Hollywood’s CityWalk, the strip of stores and of restaurants that form a mini town center opposite the entrance to the theme park. I peeked inside and was delighted by the stuffed animals, keychains, and clothing to commemorate even Mario’s tiniest friends and foes.

Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and Bowser exist in plush form, but there are also Goombas, Bob-ombs and Toad – including a Toad in a dashing chef outfit (this one was tempting). There are coin block pillows and matching Mario and Luigi shirts that say Player 1 and Player 2 on them, plus tons of mini plush keychains, including a cute little Shy Guy. We’ll have to wait until the park opens to see what’s in the 1-Up Factory, but the options out there already look promising for any Nintendo fan.

Presale is currently open for Super Nintendo World tickets at Universal Studios Hollywood via his website.

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