When I first heard the rumors about a brand new, Nintendo-themed area getting built in Universal Studios Japan, I took the news with a mix of excitement and pessimism. On the one hand, it was just plain cool that Nintendo was now mainstream enough to be featured in the most major theme park aside from Disney World: Universal Studios. On the other, it was supposedly going to be built in Universal Studios Japan, a world away from my home in the US. I was glad it was being built, but I doubted that I’d ever actually have the chance to visit it for myself. That was a few years ago now, and things changed dramatically in the time since those first rumors began to surface. Now, not only am I actually living and working in Japan, but things are finally open enough here that I could realize the dream and see the Mushroom Kingdom for myself! Put simply, it was awesome!
video from YouTube channel: IGN
They say first impressions are paramount for just about everything from new people to new places. Those first few seconds are crucial, and it seems both Nintendo and Universal Studios took that to heart when designing Super Nintendo World. You enter the area just like Mario would: through a warp pipe! After a brief jaunt through the pipe, you exit into Peach’s Castle, and from there you emerge into Nintendo World proper. With a swell of the castle theme from Super Mario 64 and a fade into the main Mario theme, you are greeted with a sight that looks like something right out of Super Mario 3D World! Really those opening moments are some of the best I’ve had in any theme park. It just felt so…right!
Super Nintendo World isn’t actually all that big. In fact, it might be the smallest out of all the areas in Universal Studios Japan. Even so, it never feels small. There’s plenty of open space in just the right spots and the sense of scale on structures like Bowser’s Castle, Peach’s Castle, and the hilly, Donut Hills-style terrain surrounding the rest does an excellent job of fooling you into thinking that the place is bigger than it is. The overall large scale of the brick, coin, and mystery blocks as well as enemies like Goombas and Pirahna plants also enhance this effect. In a phrase, Super Nintendo World absolutely feels larger than life!
Super Nintendo World is absolutely stuffed with activities, rides and secrets too. Visitors can get themselves a “power-up” band, and use it to interact with all sorts of things throughout the area. The can use it to play any of several real mini-games or challenges in order to earn points. There are also secret spots scattered throughout for visitors to find. Finding one and pressing the band against it yields even more points. These points contribute to one’s overall score and help them rise through the ranks on the area’s leaderboard. I’m not sure if they can be used for anything else, but it still seems fun nonetheless. Minigames include things like hitting a POW block to knock a Koopa Shell into a Key Coin, Simon Says with Note Blocks, the Slot Machine minigame from Mario Party and several others. It’s a blast!
There are two rides in Super Nintendo World: Mario Kart and Yoshi’s Adventure. Yoshi’s Adventure is absolutely meant to be a family ride aimed at young children. It leans hard into the cute and cuddly aesthetic established by Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Story especially. From the line area to the ride itself, it’s Yoshi overload. The music is a medley of themes from the games mentioned earlier, and the ride itself is basically a slow cruise through the daily, carefree life of a Yoshi. As a lifelong Yoshi fan, I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would, but I don’t think I’d recommend it for those who aren’t Yoshi fans and who don’t have young children with them. On the other hand, Mario Kart is totally worth doing.
First off, no it’s not actual Mario Kart brought to life. You won’t be competing against other riders. Instead, it’s an on-rails experience where you and your team are trying to prevent Bowser and his team of Koopalings from winning the Mushroom Cup. You do this by collecting shell power-ups and shooting them at just about everything. Here’s the interesting part though: it’s an Augmented Reality (AR) ride!
You put on some special visor that’s linked up to the ride, and it super-imposes everything from characters to visual effects to your shell projectiles onto the physical ride! You even aim your shells by looking in the direction of your target! The more zeroed-in you are with your line of sight, the more accurate you’ll be with your shells. Hit the most enemies and bonuses, and you are the “champion” of your kart. Yeah, it wasn’t what I was expecting/hoping for, but it was a blast nonetheless.
Aside from all this there’s a rest area under some tall mushrooms, AR-enabled viewfinders to look around with, photo-ops with Mario and the gang, and even a restaurant with special, Mario-themed dishes! Oh, and a gift shop of course. You can’t leave Super Nintendo World without getting at least something right? (I certainly didn’t; got me a t-shirt!) So yeah, while Super Nintendo World wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, it came darn close! Even if you only like Nintendo a little bit, you can have fun here, and it’s absolutely a must-visit for fans of the big N. Supposedly they’ll be building one in the US eventually, so make sure to get down to it if you can!
Think you’ll visit Super Nintendo World one day? Which part sounds the most exciting to you?
All photos taken on location by Hatmonster