You can’t see in or out of Universal’s new Nintendo land, which sucks you into a video game world

It didn’t take long after entering the colorful and kinetic Super Nintendo World to find a non-gamer like me jumping around with my fist in the air like Mario while playing a series of video game-like challenges through the new themed country at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Super Nintendo World had me punching through mysterious blocks and competing to solve timed puzzles despite my complete lack of knowledge of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser and the host of other characters from the land of the hit video game universe. which has become one of the biggest franchises in the world and has earned Nintendo billions.

Super Nintendo World officially debuts February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood with the video game-themed land set to begin “tech rehearsals” in January. Previews of the new terrain for Universal Pass holders will take place on select dates from January 29 through February 11.

Tech rehearsals will allow lucky visitors to Universal to explore the grounds and maybe even race Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge at times when the park wants to put Super Nintendo World through its paces before the official opening.

I visited Super Nintendo World a few weeks ago, when the country was still a maze of construction crews and materials. I climbed ladders, jumped over extension cords, and slipped under scaffolding during an hour-long tour that included every corner of the land except Mario’s augmented reality dark ride Cart.

Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

What struck me was that you can’t see Super Nintendo World from the outside, and you can’t see almost anything of the outside world once you’re inside the completely immersive land that gives Feels like you’ve been sucked into a video game.

There’s only one way into Super Nintendo World and only one way out – and the two paths don’t cross. Visitors enter through a green warp tube with a nifty bend in the middle that slowly reveals the saturated colors and chaotic frenzy of the video game universe recreated inside the grounds.

Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

Super Nintendo World has a relatively small footprint once you get inside – which should present Universal with some logistical challenges when the initial crowds descend on the new land.

The land is wedged between two castles – owned by the villainous Bowser and the perpetually perilous Princess Peach – and surrounded by towering recreations of Nintendo video game worlds. Animatronic prizes dance and trot along the castle parapets like a tantalizing video game bounty.

Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

Sheer walls dominate the edges of the compact terrain carved into what was once a studio backdrop. A construction crane that won’t be around forever was the only thing I could see as I stood in the middle of the Mushroom Kingdom lands, surrounded by mushroom-shaped seats and umbrellas. Mario Kart’s outdoor queues offer a few fleeting glimpses of backlot building rooftops – but otherwise you’re locked in a theme park version of a life-size video game environment.

If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping into a real-world recreation of a Super Mario video game – and let me just say, it’s something that’s never crossed my mind in my entire life – then Super Nintendo World is your chance to eat, drink, jump, drive, breathe and live like the mustachioed hero of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

Like many new theme park lands, Super Nintendo World seems devoid of trees – which should make for hot and muggy summer days in the bathtub-like environment.

For better or worse, most visitors will likely find themselves inside 12 separate, interconnected queuing areas waiting to board the new Mario Kart AR racing car attraction.

Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

The vast queue meanders through themed areas dedicated to preparing for the race ahead – from a library full of driving tips and tricks to an arsenal overflowing with video game weapons and ammunition.

A menacing statue of Bowser awaits visitors in the middle of the queue.

Bowser's Castle - SUPER NINTENDO WORLD at Universal Studios Hollywood, opening February 17, 2023
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

I couldn’t ride Mario Kart – or even see the attraction vehicles – suggesting Bowser’s challenge could remain a work in progress for much of the tech rehearsal time as Universal dials in the reality components augmented by the complex driving system.

Universal Studios Hollywood has the advantage of being able to learn from the experience and expertise of Universal Studios Japan where a larger version of the Nintendo-themed land debuted in 2021.

Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

The technically advanced Mario Kart augmented reality race car lets racers navigate through familiar race courses and Mushroom Kingdom worlds while lobbing shells at opponents or objects along the way.

AR headsets with visor shields attached to Mario’s distinctive cap allow riders to see video game-style action play out against physical backdrops and projection screens while slaloming, drifting, and spinning through the ride .

The Golden Cup was featured in Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge in Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
The Golden Cup was featured in Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge in Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

My favorite part of the new Super Nintendo World was the actual versions of the video game experiences scattered across the country. The challenge is to complete them while racking up digital loot along the way before moving on to the final challenge. The games were easy to understand even for a non-gamer like me and incredibly infectious. It didn’t take long for my competitive nature and teamwork instinct to show through in matches played solo, in pairs, or in teams.

Universal will sell $40 Power-Up Bands that will enhance your gameplay but aren’t necessary to enjoy the games or the terrain.

What concerns me about Super Nintendo World is the relatively small size of the land with game queues meandering around the edges. It won’t take much for the round nature of the space to quickly feel cluttered and cluttered.

Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  (Universal)
Super Nintendo World opens February 17 at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal)

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