There are only six weeks left until the next major expansion of Universal Studios Hollywood, Super Nintendo World, opens its doors to the public. Created in partnership with Nintendo, this unveiling is the first Super Nintendo World attraction to open outside of Universal Studios Japan (with more to come in Orlando, Florida, and Singapore). Super Nintendo World, which was built from the ground up on the active Universal Studios lot, will have its grand opening on Feb. 17, 2023, but SYFY WIRE got an exclusive sneak peek tour of the bowl-shaped, immersive space.
While the world is not open to the public yet — some final construction and theming is still ongoing — Jon Corfino, VP of Universal Creative and one of the architects of the new attraction, gave us the insider’s tour during a soft launch testing for the lucky few who work at Universal Studios Hollywood. The area’s marquee ride, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, was not open for a test drive for us, but we got to participate in a few of the interactive experiences that immerse every visitor into the ongoing game inside the world. Corfino also gave us some insider tips about gameplay, leveling up, and making the most out of everything inside Super Nintendo World.
To Power-Up Band or Not?
Super Nintendo Power-Up Bands will be available to purchase in all of the Universal Studios retail stories at CityWalk and within the theme park itself. They come in six designs: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Daisy, and Yoshi. You don’t have to purchase a band to still ride Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, or even interact with certain park elements like the Question Blocks. But, without one, you will be missing out on the interactive missions, point tallies, and games that are embedded into all the nooks and crannies.
Corfino says their overall ethos with the bands was to make the Super Nintendo World experience great for everybody, from the Nintendo stans to the non-gamers. "There’s engagement and interactivity for everybody. There are rewards for everybody, even if you don’t have [a band]. But if you do, you’re truly inside the game," he explains. "We’re adept at putting you inside movie experiences, but this is unique because this is the game. Once you put this [band] on and explore, there’s no order that you’re supposed to do anything. There’s no rule about where you go first. If you see something interesting, go there. And everything is connected. For example, if you go meet Mario and Luigi, they’re going to know what your score is. It’s total immersion."
If you have a Nintendo Switch, you’re probably familiar with Amiibos, which unlock special in-game content for many Nintendo titles. Amiibo technology carries through to the six character-themed Power-Up Bands, which when tapped to a Nintendo Switch unlocks all the content that would come with an actual Amiibo of the character on your selected band.
Lastly, once you pair your Power-Up Band to the Universal Studios Hollywood App, you will be able to see your real-time scores acquired during your interactive gameplay throughout Super Nintendo World. And all of the level-ups and points collected will remain saved via your band and the App for whenever you return to the park.
The Four Key Challenges
As soon as you come through the green pipe that leads into Super Nintendo World, it’s essentially "Game on!" for every guest.
"Princess Peach has a Golden Mushroom and it’s been stolen by Bowser Jr. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to help her get it back," Corfino says of the park’s "story." You can do that by visiting four key interactive games and if you’re successful in going through those and getting the keys, you can go into the final game: a Bowser Jr. Boss Battle. "There you have the opportunity, if you win, to get the Golden Mushroom back."
He adds there are multi-levels of difficulty with the key challenges, so it’s not always the same movements or goals each time you play based on how well you do.
Bowser Jr. Boss Battle
Once you have collected those four keys via your Power-Up Band, Corfino says you can then move to the Bowser Jr. Boss Battle which is a 12-player interactive game. "By the time you get in there, you’re trying to get the Golden Mushroom," he explains. "Inside is an almost 180-degree screen where you’re standing on the other side of a lava pit. Magically, your shadow is cast so you are on the screen. As bombs are floating down, you can jump, batting, and hitting stuff. If you happen to win, the whole screen deconstructs and it reveals you won the Golden Mushroom. And believe me, you can break into a sweat playing this battle."
If you’re an achievement obsessive, Super Nintendo World is going to provide you with plenty to chase during your stay. Corfino says there are opportunities to swipe your Power-Up band all over the area and discover surprises everywhere. Swiping your power band over M symbols within the bricks and walls will result in a specific result.
The Koopa Challenge allows you to log in and a shell will go back and forth. Your mission is to hit it at the perfect time and then level up with increasing challenges, but bigger rewards. There’s also a Piranha Plant Challenge that features a snoozing bad guy surrounded by alarm clocks that activate, so you want to turn them off. If you make the plant go back to sleep, you get points. You can work with others as a team or as a single player to get the alarms turned off.
The Analog Path
If you are not a gamer and don’t choose to suddenly become one during your visit to Super Nintendo World, Corfino says there’s a selection of activities that don’t need a Power-Up Band — or any skills for that matter. There are photo-ops for visitors at the entrance to the world with three green pipes and meet and greet stations for Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach at her castle.
There’s also the Toadstool Cafe which features an array of bespoke sweet and savory foods themed to fit inside the land. You can order from the front registers and then there is an inside dining area under the Toadstools massive cap where your food will be brought out to you.
Guests can also interact with the many Question boxes that are situated around the area. If you punch them without a band, you’ll make a noise and get to feel the joy of random video game aggression. If you punch the boxes with a band on your wrist, you earn points.
Last but not least, if you choose to just join in the Mario Kart queue, you can see the Yoshi-themed black light theming, and halfway through there’s a Frosted Glacier overlook that gets you close to an adorable animatronic Koopa Troopa, some icy Question boxes and a special overlook camera that lets you see an aerial overview of park with special additions.
"This will be a camera that will take the actual imagery that is in the park, in real-time, adding an additional layer of AR that is interacting very accurately with actual animations out in the land," Corfino teases.
Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge
The main attraction ride in Super Nintendo World is Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, which puts guests inside a cart built for four and lets you race it out against Big Bad Bowser. The main queue for the ride starts at the massive beanpole tower that eventually leads into a highly themed, Bowser-centric queue in Bower’s Castle. It’s there that riders will discover how obsessed Bowser is with winning races, learn about his warm spot for Princess Peach, and witness a whole mess of Easter eggs that will have Nintendo gamers in visual heaven. There are even the blueprints for Bowser’s epic Airship with an owner’s manual somewhere in the library, which is basically foreshadowing for the full-size Airship guests will see on the ride.
Aside from the incredible visuals, Corfino says the queue is also meant to teach the impending riders some necessary details. "It’s an augmented experience ride," he says of the unique system. "We’re going to hand you a visor and it’s like a hard hat you will wear. Then once you get to the vehicle, your AR goggles will snap in magnetically and that’s how you will engage in the ride." There are four riders to a car but you will steer, turn and aim at Koopa shells like you are in your own little Mario Kart.
"How you aim is where you look," he explains. "But you are also steering, so you can be going one way but aiming another way. It takes some getting used to figuring out what you want to throw shells at, and what you don’t want to throw shells at. And there are Easter eggs on how to score more points. But that’s part of the fun because you don’t learn it all the first time.
"You’re on Team Mario and there’s no fixed outcome," Corfino says.
"And depending on how well your cart does, you can win or lose. When you cross the finish line, it could be Bowser taking a bow or Mario taking a bow depending on your score. Your ultimate goal is to all do well together," he says of the four players on your cart. "Someone can take you down if they don’t do well. And the fun thing is players in the cart will see different things, and depending on your level, the band changes things. How much does it evolve? We’re on the road to figuring that out. But this ride represents the non-static reality of what immersion and interactivity will do for the in-home experience. It’s the next level. It’s not every level, but the next level for this."
Nuts and Bolts
Corfino says Super Nintendo World Hollywood is an evolving concept that has already benefited from the lessons learned via its operational counterpart in Japan. "We’ve learned from our partners at Universal Studios Japan what works and what doesn’t work," he explains. "We speak all the time with our partners and it’s been invaluable from an operations standpoint. Even down to getting 20 to 30 more guests per hour. And right now, we’re focusing on the ride training which is what gets you on the vehicle, informed and safe, with fun."
They’ve also figured out the best medians to please gamers and novices inside the park. "One of the big things we learned is that the game has to be challenging enough, but you don’t want to make it so challenging you feel defeated," he says of ensuring guest satisfaction. "So, there’s a couple of things you can do that guarantee you do well, and then after that, there’s the Easter eggs and the tricky things for you to figure out to take your level up a lot. And there’s so much going on. We put a lot of energy into things like the details on the sets, and the details of the media on the LED screens. There’s something there for everyone."
With the expectation of big crowds come opening day, Corfino says there will be a system where they can pace guest entry when attendance numbers hit a peak so that the world doesn’t get overly crowded. When asked if the App will provide a cheat sheet for where to find hidden games and points, Corfino smiles and says, "Nope! We want everyone to figure it out on your own."
As for that end-of-the-day points tally, Corfino says they are anticipating that social media will be the place most guests will get their bragging rights. But they are mulling future global tournaments when more parks open their Super Nintendo World sections, and maybe even global leaderboards for truly epic connectivity. All of these are strictly ideas at this point, but Corfino emphasizes that the marriage of tech, gaming, and ingenuity means they’re just starting with the area’s true potential. "Nintendo has been a fabulous partner, but I’m also standing on the shoulders of hundreds of people who have brought this place to life."
Super Nintendo World Hollywood opens on February 17, 2023.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which opens in theaters on April 7, will be a Peacock exclusive when it comes to streaming.