Universal Studios’ Super Nintendo World Review: Truly A Video Game Brought To Life

From the moment that Universal Parks & Resorts and Nintendo announced a partnership, fans of video games have been waiting to see just what would happen when Nintendo’s classic characters like Mario and Luigi came to life in a theme park environment. The first Super Nintendo World opened in Japan two years ago, but now the U.S. finally gets to experience the Mushroom Kingdom, and it’s just about everything a Nintendo fan, or a theme park fan, could want.

As somebody who played Super Mario Bros. on his Nintendo as a kid in 1986, but doesn’t have quite the time for games as much as an adult, I didn’t really know what to expect. But having now experienced Super Nintendo World, it’s a land for anybody who has ever played a Mario game, as well as anybody who wants to have a unique theme park experience. 

Super Nintendo World pirahana plant goomba and pow block

(Image credit: Universal Studios Hollywood)

Super Nintendo World Feels Alive Like No Other Theme Park Land

Super Nintendo World is essentially hidden from view when entering the land from ground level, only the iconic green warp pipe is visible. Walking through it transports you to the land and when you come out the other side you are truly in another world. The grey concrete that makes up the primary color scheme of Universal Studios Hollywood’s lower lot becomes bright green, so bright as to be unreal, and the land reaches high into the sky. There's a verticality to the entire land that you seldom see in theme parks.

But it might be easy to overlook the land itself because there is so much moving to catch your eye. Off to one side is a massive piranha plant that is big enough to eat you. A koopa is wandering back and forth on one platform above you, a power up mushroom is bouncing back and forth between a pair of blocks on another. The entire land is constantly in motion in a way that we simply haven’t seen in other recent new theme park lands.

It's at this point that it struck me that, if you could see the entirety of a level of a classic Super Mario Bros. game, at once, this is what it would like like. Multiple platforms in every direction, covered by the various enemies, all in motion at once.

MarioKart: Bowser's Challenge

(Image credit: Universal Studios Hollywood)

MarioKart: Bowser’s Challenge Is As Competitive As The Video Game

The main focus of Super Mario World for nearly everybody is going to be the land’s marquee attraction, MarioKart: Bowser’s Challenge. Entering it through another warp pipe takes you into a queue that travels through a variety of different environments, ones very much like the various places that house MarioKart tracks. Eventually you find your way into Bowser’s Castle.

The attraction is an incredible combination of some of the oldest theme park technology with some of the newest. At its core, MarioKart is a standard dark ride. It’s a ride vehicle following a track through a variety of environments and set pieces. The catch is that much of the ride can only be experienced via AR glasses.

The ride pits you, as Team Mario, Against Team Bowser. By viewing the ride through the glasses you can see the other drivers, Mario, Luigi, Koopa Kids and Bowser, and after driving through question blocks and picking up shells, you can fire them at the opposing team, by looking where you want the shell to go, and then pushing buttons on your steering wheel.

The ultimate goal is to collect as many coins as possible. Turning the steering wheel in front of you at the right time gives you coins, as does hitting enemies. Hitting friendly characters subtracts them from your total.

This one brings back memories of playing the various versions of MarioKart on Nintendo consoles over the years. I still fondly remember the years of of very competitive MarioKart matches with college roommates, and this felt a lot like that. Fans of other theme park attractions that keep score, and there are a lot of people who take their top scores very seriously, will love this one. 

Having said that, the ride may not be for quite everybody. There’s a lot going on and it might be a little much for theme park fans who are used to simply getting in a vehicle and being carried through a story. While the instructions given to you in one of the pre-show rooms are simple, there are a lot of them. The attraction requires you to pick up a visor, that then needs to be connected to the actual glasses in the ride vehicle itself. Finally, the visuals in the glasses are frenetic. There’s a lot going on to the point that on a first ride especially it might be a little too much stimuli as you try and figure out just what to do and how it all works. But like any video game, you can get better with practice.

Pirahna Plant activity at Super Nintendo World

(Image credit: Universal Studios Hollywood)

Super Nintendo World Has One Ride, But Several Attractions

Technically, MarioKart: Bowser’s Challenge is the only ride in Super Nintendo World, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to do in the land once you’ve done the ride. There are several smaller interactive experiences, that are basically little games, that lead to a second attraction behind a door you need to unlock. 

Throughout the Mushroom Kingdom you’ll see three spinning key icons, and attached to each of them is an activity. By using the special Super Nintendo World Power Up Band you can access the challenge, that will have you racing to shut off alarm clocks before a massive Pirahna Plant wakes up, or timing the actoivation of a POW block to use a turtle shell to grab the key.

Once you obtain all three keys, you can then unlock the path to where Bowser Jr. is hiding with the Golden Mushroom, and you, and other players team up to fight him. Now you can truly feel like Mario, jumping to activate a block, obtaining a Fire Flower, and blasting Bowser Jr. with fireballs. 

The degree of interactivity in Super Nintendo World, in the parts of the land that anywhere else would be little more than decoration, is simply incredible. Even just hitting a Question Block from underneath just to hear that familiar coin sound, is incredibly satisfying.

Kids hitting question blocks with power up bands

(Image credit: Universal Studios Hollywood)

The Power Up Band Is Necessary To Get The Most Out Of Super Nintendo World

Of course, as mentioned, to do any of that extra stuff, you need the use of a Power Up Band. You can buy one associated with different characters, including Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad, and that associates you with different teams. The band, associated with the Universal Studios Hollywood app keeps track of how many coins you collect, and what else you do on the attraction and in the land. There are all sorts of little secrets to uncover all over the world, including inside the MarioKart attraction. 

However, without a Power Up Band, you can’t do any of this extra stuff. This does have the effect of limiting Super Nintendo World’s attractiveness for those not looking to spend $40 per person for the band. It’s money well spent for the regular guest or the committed fan, but for the more casual Universal Studios guest it means either spending extra cash that might otherwise get spent elsewhere, or missing out on a lot of what the new land has to offer.

Toadstool Cafe

(Image credit: Universal Studios Hollywood)

Delicious Food And Cool Merch

The Toadstool Cafe is the newest addition to the Universal Studios food options and it is absolutely one of the most welcome. The menu is creative both when it comes to the food itself and the way it looks, as each item certainly looks like it came from the Mushroom Kingdom.

While I didn’t get to taste literally everything on the menu, I was able to check out a nice selection. Toad’s Short Rib Special isn’t simply the highlight of the Toadstool Cafe, but it’s a highlight of the park in its entirety. The Question Block Tiramisu was a standout dessert. And the cafe is just a nice place to hang out. Outside three sets of “windows” in the dining area you can see Toads going about their Mushroom Kingdom lives. The fourth wall looks into the kitchen as any restaurant might have, and it’s a great way to continue to tell the story of the world while sitting down to eat.

The 1-Up Shop also includes some exclusive Nintendo gear you won't find anywhere else. The highlight has to be ever popular popcorn bucket shaped like Mario on his go-kart. 

Universal Trophy in MarioKart: Bowser's Challenge

(Image credit: Universal Studios Hollywood)

Super Nintendo World Is A Must See For All Fans Of Nintendo And Theme Parks

It’s easy to say that Super Nintendo World feels small. It’s built up instead of out so you can see its limits in a way that you usually don't with theme park lands. It’s easy to wish there was more to it, but I feel like that’s something you’re likely to feel regardless of how big it was. Of course you want more, because everything that you do have is so great. 

Since Universal Parks and Resorts sort of invented the idea of building a theme park land around a single IP, with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. trying to make you feel like you were part of a different world, we’ve seen it done a few different ways. Super Nintendo World isn’t better or worse than any of them, what it is, is unique.

Nobody else is even doing what Super Nintendo World does. There’s no experience like it. Super Nintendo World lets you be the character inside the game. The level of interactivity is unparalleled. Other theme park lands and attractions let you see, and feel, but none let you “do” quite like Super Nintendo World. 

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.