For more than 40 years, a pixelated plumber has captivated novice gamers and competitive players alike. Appearing in more than 200 video games, Mario and his pals Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad, among others, have served as avatars for everything from racing simulators to tennis matches, golf games, and even typing lessons. But while players have delighted in wielding control of these characters on their at-home and mobile gaming systems, the experience has always been one that offered a distinct separation between the physical world and virtual reality—until now.
In February, Universal Studios Hollywood debuted a new land that brings the gaming world to life in a vibrant, immersive way. The park’s Super Nintendo World builds on the success of a similarly-themed land at Universal Studios Japan and offers a first-ever chance for eager gamers to battle Bowser stateside.
As a child of the 80s, I grew up playing the original Super Mario game on the NES and worked my way through a variety of Mario-inspired titles that launched on assorted consoles in the decades that followed. This love of the game was passed along to my son, who’s been routinely leaving me in the dust in Mario Kart battles since he picked up his first Wii Wheel as a toddler.
It’s this enduring legacy of the Super Mario franchise that makes a land like Super Nintendo World so enticing, as Gen Xers, Generation Alpha, and everyone in between can geek out together in this pop culture paradise as they join forces in the common goal to battle bad guys. And with a new Mario movie starring Chris Pratt hitting theaters now, the already broad-reaching appeal of this mega-brand is bound to convert even more audiences.
Offering highly detailed theming, interactive gaming components, an augmented reality Mario Kart ride, Instagram-worthy dining options, and more, Super Nintendo World is a delight for the senses that grownups and kids alike can enjoy together.
Bringing the Mushroom Kingdom to life
Fans looking to experience Super Nintendo World for themselves enter through an iconic green warp pipe, before journeying past Peach’s Castle, and emerging into a large-scale replica of the Mushroom Kingdom, complete with enormous “?” blocks, animatronic Yoshi and Goomba figures, spinning coins and hovering clouds, and so much more. It’s visual overload, but just like the virtual Mario games, there are also a lot of secret features to uncover, with tucked-back nooks and crannies revealing Easter eggs hidden in plain sight.
At every turn, you’re compelled to punch giant blocks to hear that familiar coin “cha-ching” sound, snap a selfie during a meet-and-greet with the Mario brothers and Princess Peach, and ponder gaming strategies while marveling at the ominous Bowser’s Castle.
Themed merchandise is also prevalent throughout the land, featuring everything from t-shirts to home décor. But if there’s one must-have purchase that all gamers are bound to make it’s the interactive Power-Up Bands. These wearable, state-of-the-art wristbands sync with the official Universal Studios Hollywood app to level up your experience within Super Nintendo World and track your score as you collect digital coins and stamps.
The character-themed bands are essential for engaging in Key Challenges throughout the land, which allow you to participate in mini-games such as (literally) beating the clock to put a Piranha Plant to sleep, battling a Thwomp, knocking over a Koopa Troopa, and more. Collect three keys on your Power-Up Band and you can face down the final boss battle against Bowser Jr.
Mario Kart and Toadstool Café
Power-Up Bands also track your score on the land’s major attraction, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. But it’s the ride’s Mario-inspired AR headset that truly brings video game racing to life. Here, augmented reality and projection mapping technology seamlessly blend with actual set pieces along a moving ride track to create an experience where you’re navigating familiar courses from the Mario Kart video game series while hurling turtle shells at foes in an interactive competition for the Golden Cup.
The Mario Kart ride is no doubt the biggest lure in Super Nintendo World, often drawing long wait times. And much like the console games played in my living room back home, my son annihilated my score every time we rode.
When it comes time to refuel, L.A.’s hottest restaurant just might be Toadstool Café. The land’s signature restaurant is so popular that it operates on a same-day reservation-only basis, and time slots book up early each morning.
Step inside the giant toadstool-shaped eatery and you’ll discover even more theming, with screens showcasing an animated Chef Toad as he prepares themed menu items that include burgers adorned with mustaches and Mario Bros. hats, spicy spaghetti topped with Fire Flower parmesan crisps, a Mount Beanpole-inspired cake, and other picture-perfect entrees that taste as good as they look.
Powering up the popularity
The land is a relatively small one, and with so many interactive and universally appealing delights to explore, Super Nintendo World often reaches capacity. Visitors should plan to arrive early in the day to secure their spot in the virtual queue or be prepared to pay extra for access via a variety of upcharge ticket options.
While you wait, you can explore Universal Studios’ other themed lands that transport you into equally recognizable and long-lasting franchises, such as The Simpsons, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter.
For my family, the Super Mario immersion was well worth tackling the cross-country road trip and enthusiastic crowds as it’s rare to find an experience that evokes both a sense of nostalgia and current relevance for jaded parents and their picky tween. And I’m not alone in feeling this way: Hollywood’s Super Nintendo World has proved successful enough for Universal to announce that a larger version of the land is coming to its new Epic Universe theme park in Orlando, which is scheduled to debut in 2025—and you can bet every last floating golden coin that my son and I will be there when it opens.