I Visited Super Nintendo World in Japan. Here’s What To Expect When It Opens in the U.S.
Lines! But also—WOWEE, what fun!
When I go to a theme park, I’m typically a thrill ride kind of gal. Give me all your roller coasters, all of the time. This is decidedly not the vibe of Super Nintendo World, the long-awaited addition to Universal Studios theme parks. Announced way back in 2015, Super Nintendo World debuted in March 2021 at Universal Studios Japan, which is in Osaka. A Stateside version is set to open at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2023, with Orlando to follow at some unknown date. With the U.S. opening (hopefully) close at hand, the question of the hour is: What can you expect?
I was lucky enough to travel to Osaka and head to Universal Studios Japan. I got there at a damn good time, too: They were closing out their summer season, which meant I got to see a 90-minute One Piece stunt show and check out the new Jujustsu Kaisen attraction. Super Nintendo World thrives not on rides, but on vibes. In doing so, it’s quite possibly the most singular, incredible experience I’ve ever had at a theme park. I say that as diehard, since-childhood Disney Parks person, too.
Your journey begins by walking through a giant version of one of the Mario series’ trademark green pipes. The pipes dumps you out in the lobby of Peach’s castle. And it looks straight—and I’m mean straight—out of Super Mario 64. They’re even playing that music as you enter. 22 seconds into my Super Nintendo World excursion, and I was already incredibly emotional.
Once you step out of the castle, you’re confronted with a positively astounding sight: the park itself. I think I audibly gasped in awe. You’re suddenly in one of the games. Everything is moving: the coins are spinning, the Piranha Plants wiggling about, the Paratroopas are flying up and down. It’s very easy for me to imagine some people finding Super Mario World to be too much sensory overload. On the other hand, that overload keeps you deeply immersed.
Even when overcrowded with people, there is always something that catches your eye. And unless Chris Pratt somehow manages to entirely erase everyone’s love for Mario in all its forms, it will be overcrowded with people. I don’t think Chris Pratt has that kind of power, thank god. So, be prepared for lines for everything: Coin Blocks, Key Challenges, restaurants, bathrooms, character meet and greets. You will be spending a lot of time in line. Fortunately, like I said, Super Nintendo World is a freaking treat to look at endlessly.
Here’s what you’re not at Super Nintendo World for: the rides. Yoshi’s Adventure is a cute children’s ride. You can hop on your very own adorable Yoshi and look at some of those many moving figures up close while you hunt for Yoshi Eggs. Captain Toad will even say hi at the end. As long as you expect a chill time, it’s a delight.
For Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge, I would urge you to keep your expectations very low. Mine were much too high. Fiddling with the VR visor alone was kind of a hassle. Also—silly me!—I expected a Mario Kart ride to be fast. This is a 50cc race, make no mistake. Knowing I was steering my (by my standards) slow kart along a set iron track with three other people also dictating movement did not feel like the uncontrolled chaos we love about Mario Kart at all. The closing section, which is (of course) Rainbow Road, gave me the only “Hee hee yay!” moments of the ride. They were precious, though.
This is a classic case where the line is actually better than the ride. Because the line is stunning. You’re greeted by a giant, epic-as-hell statue of Bowser in the foyer of his castle, and then wind your way through studies and trophy rooms. Which, honestly, just tells us what Super Mario World is best at and reminds you of the reason you’re here: atmosphere. Hell, even the restaurant has atmosphere to spare. I ate pizza fillings out of Toad’s head (delicious) as I watched a bunch of Toads in the kitchen through the “window,” happily humming to themselves and frolicking to and fro with pots and pans in hand.
To fully immerse yourself in that atmosphere, you’re going to need to play along with capitalism and buy a Power-Up Band. But I promise you—promise you!—that it’s worth it. Which character’s Power-Up Band you chose will be your team. I went with Team Kinopio, a.k.a. Toad. Toad all day, every day. You earn coins by taking on challenges and punching the many Item Blocks in the park, which make the classic da-ding! sound you want them to make. And they even make the wamp sound when you’ve tapped them out.
Any coins you earn in the park contribute to both personal and team totals, which adds a nice competitive element for those who want a competitive element. I did see one lady rather joylessly entering and reentering the same line for the same Coin Block, which she punched mechanically while reading articles on her phone. Do not become this lady.
The best part about both the Power-Up Band and, arguably, Super Nintendo World as a whole is the Key Challenges. These are three interactive puzzles that involve a mixture of physical objects—like spinning Koopa shells—and touch screens, depending on the challenge. They’re immersive and incredibly fun. You have to get all three keys before you can take on before you can face Super Mario World’s ultimate baddie, Bowser Jr. And success is far from assured! I saw people fail! Which gives it stakes! I, myself, felt like I got by just by the skin of my teeth every time! On my last key challenge, I even came up from behind a child and pressed a button he was not pressing directly, thereby solidifying our mutual win! He will thank me one day!
I won’t spoil the Bowser Jr. fight, but I left that space grinning ear to ear.
I thought Super Nintendo World would have no more surprises for me, but I saw a character meet and greet with my girl Peach on the way out, so I thought I would get a pic. “Oh, hello! It’s sure nice to meet another princess!” Peach told me, in English, through her moving mouth, even though I was in Japan. I was so freaking gobsmacked, I forgot that replying to Peach was an option. She politely asked if I would take a picture after an interval of silence.
I think Mario and Luigi can talk, too. I didn’t check, because line. Toad is, alas, cute and silent.
All in all, I spent five hours in this relatively tiny section of the park. And I even felt a bit like I had to drag myself out, too. It’s that immersive. Excitement is warranted. Again, not for the Mario Kart ride. But for everything else.
(featured image: Kirsten Carey)
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