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Universal Studios sets February opening date for Super Nintendo World

Colorful Super Mario characters gesture to a sign that says Super Nintendo World.
Super Nintendo World will open at Universal Studios Hollywood on Feb. 17.
(Universal Studios Hollywood)
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The transformation of the American theme park as a palace for thrills and passive rides to locations centered around active play will continue on Feb. 17 when Universal Studios Hollywood opens its Super Nintendo World.

The land, anchored around the look and feel of Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” family of games, will boast a showcase ride inspired by the “Mario Kart” racing titles. More important, it’s designed as a place to inspire guest participation, with light games and interactions stationed throughout.

The land will be situated on Universal Studios’ lower lot, home already to rides themed to the “Jurassic Park” and “Transformers” franchises. Super Nintendo World is a different beast, however, as the entire surrounding area will be designed to place guests inside a Nintendo game.

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It follows a theme park trend Universal itself set more than a decade ago with its first Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, which was followed by Disney with whole-scale lands inspired by the cinematic universes of “Cars,” “Avatar” and “Star Wars,” among others, at its North American theme parks.

The centerpiece attraction — the only proper ride in the land — is Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. It will be the first major implementation of augmented reality technology in a theme park attraction in the United States, as guests will don visors that will allow them to interact with virtual items throughout the ride, all of it designed to give the feel and illusion of altering the experience.

A version of the ride exists at Universal Studios Japan, where physical effects are merged with digital creations. Guests will race alongside Nintendo characters, collecting shells to aim at enemies.

Sit back and enjoy the ride? No more. From Disney’s new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to Japan’s upcoming “living video game” Super Nintendo World, theme-park audiences must participate to get the full experience.

Guests will be seated four to a vehicle. Universal, in a press release, notes riders will be playing alongside Mario and his pals, and will be taken through underwater courses as well as those among the clouds. Though it’s not mentioned in Universal’s press materials, don’t be surprised if you encounter the infamous “Rainbow Road” from the games at some point in the attraction.

“Mario Kart” remains one of Nintendo’s top-selling franchises. “Mario Kart 8,” for instance, is the bestselling Nintendo Switch title, having sold more than 48 million copies worldwide. The ride will be housed inside Bowser’s Castle, home to Mario’s longtime arch-nemesis. Guests will enter the land through Mario’s trademark green pipes that lead to the castle of Princess Peach.

It’s expected that Hollywood’s Super Nintendo World will closely follow a slightly larger edition of the land that lives at its Japan park. There, guests can purchase wristbands — dubbed Power-Up Bands — that interact with the Mario Kart ride as well as various installations and golden blocks throughout the land. The idea is to have the land itself feel like something of a live-in video game.

The wristbands, according to Universal, will work in tandem with a smartphone app, which will allow guests to keep score and collect coins, among other interactions. The land itself, however, promises to be fully interactive, with or without a Power-Up Band, as guests will be able to punch gold blocks and view the world through augmented reality binoculars. There’s also a land-wide game with four key challenges that will culminate in a battle with Bowser Jr., according to press materials.

Even Super Nintendo World’s dining area, the Toadstool Cafe, promises interactions with Nintendo characters.

Taken as a whole, it’s a theme park trend that began most notably in 2014, when Universal introduced interactive wands for Wizarding World. Of late, many modern theme park attractions have featured some form of interactivity.

Disney, for instance, this year introduced a wristband-led game at its Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands, already home to the arcade-inspired Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and the immersive-theater-leaning Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

Super Nintendo World, with its video game roots, should be the most prominent shift away from decorative lands to persistent ones — a land that serves as living theater and place guests in the center of an ongoing, game-inspired narrative. A third Super Nintendo World is under construction in Florida, and is expected to be the largest version of the land.

Super Nintendo World also represents the latest in an ongoing transformation of Universal Studios Hollywood.

Last year, the park introduced a ride inspired by “The Secret Life of Pets,” housed in a version of New York inspired by the animated films. The ride, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash!, contains 64 robotic animal figurines and relies on old-school theme park philosophies — that is, animation-worthy vignettes rather than a strict beginning, middle and end to the ride

I love this ride. ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is a celebration of old-fashioned theme park storytelling, where atmosphere trumps the desire to re-enact a movie.

Bob Chapek, the recently ousted Disney chief, can’t take all the blame — but Disneyland in 2022 is a lesser experience than it was in 2019.


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