Universal Studios shook up the entire theme park landscape with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when it opened in 2007. Now, they’re looking to do it again with another franchise beloved by people of all ages and from all around the world.
2021 will see the arrival of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Featuring rides and attractions based on Mario, Yoshi, and other beloved characters, the theme park expansion looks to immerse visitors in the colorful and exciting world of a video game. After all, it’ll be the only place on the planet where you can actually race through a Mario Kart grand prix or ride a Yoshi across the Mushroom Kingdom.
New details about the new themed land (which will also, at some point make its way to Universal’s parks in Orlando, Florida and Los Angeles, California) were revealed today during a Nintendo Direct presentation. Here’s what you need to know.
The presentation was a walking tour through the land led by Mario creator, game director, and charming company figurehead Shigeru Miyamoto, who seemed to be having the time of his life seeing his creations come to life in a physical space. The details on the actual attractions were slim (the land will open with the high-speed, high-tech Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge and the slow-moving family attraction Yoshi’s Adventure), but the footage of the architecture, shops, restaurants, and interactive areas was truly charming…especially for those who already love the Nintendo characters.
The entrance to Super Nintendo World is a big green pipe (a common sight in Mario games), filled with familiar video game sounds and lighting effects. It’s bit low-key, but it leads directly to something that will hit you right in the nostalgia button: the lobby of Princess Peach’s castle from Super Mario 64. Video game fans will immediately recognize the layout, the art design, and even the music being pumped in through the speakers. Naturally, the portraits lining the walls change, because those aren’t ordinary portraits.
From there, Miyamoto shows off the actual exterior of the park and it’s pretty wild stuff. There is movement and color in every direction – it looks alive. Animatronic Mario foes march about on hill tops, Piranha plants slumber, and familiar video game visuals are realized in front of you. It’s honestly pretty surreal. (And naturally, exiting Peach’s castle lobby reveals an actual recreation of the exterior of the castle).
It’s here that the video showed off its main feature: the “Power Up Bands” that will allow visitors to interact with the world around them in surprising ways. There are seemingly countless interactive elements scattered across the entire land, and Miyamoto played coy about the details, suggesting that part of the fun is finding them. However, wearing a Power Up Band and punching a block will create a familiar coin sound effect and deposit a coin in the park’s companion app on your phone. Hitting a POW block in another area can trigger a shell to hit a Koopa animatronic and give you a key. And apparently, if you collect three keys from around the land, you can take on Bowser Jr. in a boss battle. What does that mean, exactly? It’s not clear yet, but I imagine we’ll find out soon enough.
Miyamoto also walked us through an interactive area: a recreation of the underground levels from the Mario games. It’s dark and maze-like, full of familiar music, charming art design, and lighting effects. Naturally, there are plenty of blocks that will interact with your Power Up Band. But more importantly, there are plenty of Bob-omb animatronics scattered around, including a giant version in a room that creates a shrinking effect using forced perspective.
And since this is a theme park video, there is a gift shop loaded with toys, t-shifts, and plush. However, the key souvenir looks to be the Tokotoko Mario, a doll that stands upright and walks as you push him.
Miyamoto teased popcorn snacks in two flavors – Caramel Peach and Mushroom – and also a restaurant called Kinopio’s Cafe. Like the rest of the park, the restaurant is interactive, with faux windows (actually screens) showcasing a staff of Toad chefs hard a work. The restaurant interior is large and covered with art showcasing the games’ power-up items (because you’re powering up by eating, you see). Some food was shown off, including the Mario Burger and the Super Mushroom Pizza Bowl.
The grand finale offered a look at the heavily-themed queue line for Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge, which Miyamoto says took six years to develop and involved Universal Creative working closely with Nintendo. The setting of the ride is Bowser’s castle, with is gloomy, dungeon-like, and lit by flickering candlelight. And yes, there is a giant Bowser statue to greet you shortly after you walk in. The line will take you past a trophy case willed with familiar prizes from Mario Kart games, but also something new: a Universal Studios trophy that can only be “won” here.
Miyamoto also revealed the storyline for the ride: you are on Mario’s racing team and you’re here to win the Universal trophy. However, this is Bowser’s special course, which he personally designed to defeat Mario. So how do you defeat a racer who knows every detail of the track? Presumably with great speed and exciting drama.
We didn’t get to see the ride in action, but we did get to see the ride vehicles and the loading station. We know that the ride will combine an actual track and practical effects with augmented reality to bring the Mario characters to life.
Super Nintendo World is currently set to open at Universal Studios Japan on February 4, 2021. You can watch the complete video of the tour in the plater below.
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