The world’s first Super Nintendo World opened at Universal Studios Japan in February 2021. It cost $580 million to build. Was it worth it? I hopped on the shinkansen to Osaka to find out for myself.
Just walking from the main part of Universal Studios Japan towards the entrance of Super Nintendo World is palpably exciting. There’s great attention to detail, from warp-pipe utility hole covers to dates on the ground in old-school 8-bit score format. It’s an entirely immersive experience.
You enter the park proper through a green warp tunnel that takes you through Peach’s castle. Listen out for the castle music from Super Mario 64. As you exit the tunnel, you’ll be overwhelmed. Spinning gold coins, piranha plants, question mark boxes. It’s a Mario fever dream come to life, but better — you’re not just playing the game; you’re in the game.
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Playing the Game to the Max
Entering the game world also means playing the game. Although not compulsory, to fully enjoy the park, you need to purchase a Power Up Band (¥3,200) at the carts just before the main entrance. There are six character designs to choose from: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Toad and Yoshi. There’s a QR code on the back, which you scan to sync your band to the Universal Studios Japan smartphone app.
The wristbands are embedded with RFID tags allowing you to collect coins, acquire stamps and get power-ups around Super Nintendo World. All that is logged on the official app so that you can compete with your friends.
Bonus: gaming fans can use their Power Up Band with their Nintendo Switch as a substitute Amiibo.
Mario Kart AR Experience
“Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge AR” ride is inside Bowser’s Castle. After you enter, you head up a staircase and come face-to-face with a monstrous statue of Bowser. There is so much detail to absorb as you line up. One highlight is the portrait of Bowser signed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario’s creator. Look out for some unique books in the library too. Dental Hygiene for Chain Chomps, anyone read it?
The ride itself is no pedestrian affair. You’re representing Team Mario vs Team Bowser, sporting a Mario Cap and AR headset. You get into your four-seat Kart (based on the design from Mario Kart 8), and you’re off! You’ll be slinging Koopa shells and collecting power-ups in a fully immersive mixed-reality experience. You won’t know what hit you – literally.
Mario Kart AR is typically the attraction with the longest waiting time at Super Nintendo World, so we recommend getting in as early as you can and hitting it up first. If you can, try to ride it twice. Your first time might be pretty disorientating.
For a change of pace head to Yoshi’s Adventure, just next door. On the five-minute ride, you take part in a treasure hunt, searching for colored eggs while riding high above Super Nintendo World.
Yoshi’s Adventure is a much slower, very family-friendly ride. Think “It’s a Small World,” but there are lots of hidden easter eggs (pun intended) for die-hard Mario fans.
Key Challenge Minigames
Mario Kart AR and Yoshi’s Adventure are the two main rides at Super Nintendo World, but there’s plenty more to keep you busy.
There are Key Challenge minigames to enjoy: Koopa Troopa Power Punch, Goomba Crazy Crank, Bob-omb Kaboom Room, Thwomp Panel Panic and Piranha Plant Nap Mishap.
Winning three of these games gets you the three keys you need to get access to Bowser Jr’s lair. Once you’re in, you’re on a quest to retrieve a stolen golden mushroom. The lair is a treasure trove of interactive Mario fun and the final challenge is utter insanity and quite physically demanding, as you duck Bullets Bills and jump for Power-Ups to defeat Boswer Jr.
Super Mario Food and Merchandize
Kinopio’s Cafe (Kinopio is the Japanese name for Toad) is the largest restaurant at Universal Studios Japan. It serves main courses, desserts and drinks made by Chef Toad. The attention to detail that characterizes Super Nintendo World is here throughout your culinary experience, both in the food and the restaurant itself. As you’re eating, digital video screens offer a window into Chef Toad’s world and his hard-working team preparing your meals.
The food is actually pretty good, certainly when judged against other theme park food.
Don’t need a full meal, or want to avoid the line for the restaurant? You can grab a Cheese Calzone and Green Shell Yakisoba from Yoshi’s Snack Island instead.
It’s a theme park, so crazy popcorn flavors are the order of the day. Take your pick from Mushroom Cream or Caramel Peach.
There are a number of opportunities to get souvenirs too. The largest outlet is the 1 Up Factory. It would be futile to list what you can buy here — if you can think of it, they’ve almost certainly stuck a Mario character on it. There is plenty of exclusive Super Nintendo World merchandise available.
Meet the Characters
It wouldn’t be a theme park without a chance to hang out with your favorite characters. There are opportunities to meet and greet Mario and Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad. The first three will chat with you. Toad waves adorably.
Official photographers take photos of you with Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach. Your friends too can take snapshots of you while this is happening. The professional shots are available for purchase, both physical and digital copies.
So, the verdict is in: Super Nintendo World is a fantastic day out and worth visiting. And next, we’re looking forward to the park’s Donkey Kong expansion zone.
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