Super Nintendo World is the newest land at Universal Studios Hollywood, debuting in February of 2023. This is the first iteration of the land stateside but there is a version that came to Universal Studios Japan in 2021. The land takes guests into the iconic Mario universe, featuring an attraction, restaurant and much more! In this post, we’ll give a broad review of Super Nintendo World and its design.
In the era of IP-specific theme park lands, what works and what doesn’t has been the most interesting question to ponder anytime a new example comes around. Of the many universes adapted – Cars, Harry Potter, Toy Story, Avatar and Star Wars just to name a few – what is the common thread for the ones that work? My incredibly professional (not sure what I’m professional in though) opinion is that the world has to be expansive.
The easiest example to pull is actually of the universe not working – Toy Story Land. If you don’t like at least one Toy Story movie then I can’t imagine you’d enjoy going to theme parks or that you have a soul. But why do those movies, and that universe, work? Because of the characters. So when Toy Story Land is implemented and guests are shrunk down to the size of your favorite Hot Wheels Car (not a sponsor) the results are… bland? I’ve explored backyards and bedrooms before, me being a smaller size does not make them that much more interesting.
Now take Harry Potter, Avatar or Star Wars. The sights are astounding! You could get rid of our favorite wizard or Darth Vader or whatever you call the blue people and the worlds are worthy of exploration. This even stretches to Cars Land, as small stops on Route 66 feel so heavily entrenched in Americana that exploring the neon and distant waterfall is romantic.
That leads us to our favorite Italian in overalls, his merry and/or angry band of characters and one of the most expansive worlds to ever come to a theme park. Video games are meant for exploration so the fit seems natural when it comes to Super Nintendo World. On the other hand, those characters are so vital to the games that it’s hard to imagine the world without them. Yes, some are walking around in Super Nintendo World just like in Galaxy’s Edge and Cars Land but you are entering the land as yourself. Maybe the Nintendo version of yourself (are those still call Mii’s?), but I’m not in this world as Mario or any other character, even if one of my nephew’s lovingly(?) calls me Uncle Donkey Kong. How Universal navigates the exploration of the vast land that is so reliant on it’s characters is a large part of what makes Super Nintendo World so successful.
Guests enter Universal’s newest area through a familiar green tube that lights up and eventually turns into the inside of Peach’s Castle. It’s a nice trick and one of the clearest theme park transitions into a new world. Everything after that tube is sensory overload. The colors are somehow brighter than Rainbow Road, the never ending sounds of coin collecting is in stereo and the movement throughout the land is enough to even keep a teenager without a cell phone entertained.
Universal Studios Hollywood does not have a lot of room to work with. It’s a small park with very few expansion pads. Super Nintendo World is compact and that plays into the sensory overload. From any number of spots throughout the land, guests could do a 360-degree spin and take almost all of it in. Yes, there are a few spots to explore and a shop, restaurant and ride to go in but there are no roads in this land. You’re in the Mushroom Kingdom and it enveloping.
Due to the lack of roads or streets to walk down, the facades look like different levels in a game. On one side is Bowser’s Castle surrounded by an icy section and grassy hills to summit. Opposite of that is Peach’s Castle with nearby Dry Dry Ruins and a number of other recognizable backdrops from the Mario universe. Everything in the land is noticeably vertical as we, the players, are trying to ascend to the next level.
What is at eye level is most of the interactivity that Super Nintendo World offers. Guests can buy Power-Up Bands that will then keep track of your score throughout the land. Unlike other interactivity in theme parks, there’s a good amount to use these bands for. There are so many places to collect coins by tapping the famed question mark boxes. There’s a number of mini games throughout the land where you can defeat Piranha Plants, Goombas and more to collect more coins. Even the main attraction, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge will add to the Power-Up Band score. The interactivity in Super Nintendo World is the best I’ve ever seen in a theme park.
Speaking of the attraction, I’m going to wait for another ride through before writing a full review on it. My general thought of the Mario Kart attraction is that it’s ambitious and will reward repeat riders. While I would have preferred it to be a little more of a race, the gameplay aspect of it is fun and the chaotic feel of the ride hits the mark of the source material. I don’t think it’s going to be an all-time favorite attraction for me but, at worst, it’s interesting and a solid addition to a park that needs more rides.
Toadstool Café is the other piece of the puzzle in the land. I will have a review of the restaurant in the coming days. In short, we came away very impressed with both the atmosphere and the food that Chef Toad dreamed up for us.
There are a few minor faults in Super Nintendo World. The sightlines aren’t perfect, if you care about that sort of thing. A few buildings (I believe its that darn Mummy Coaster) peak over the skyline of this otherwise fully immersive land. That’s not much to bicker about though.
I’m also not sure how well this place will hold crowds. There isn’t a ton of room for everyone to go, outside of a very long and impressive queue at Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. Toadstool Café has a nice capacity, as well. But everything else is kind of out in the open and there won’t be much space for quiet exploration.
I don’t think anyone’s going to confuse Super Nintendo World with that though. The land is just as likely to give you a headache as a six year old’s birthday party. Thankfully, it’s just as joyous as that occasion too. There’s not a lot of subtlety but that wasn’t the goal. We don’t need the back alleys of Hogsmeade here, just conquer whatever coin boxes and Piranha Plants are in sight then advance to the next façade and do the same thing. While the source material is expansive, I don’t think I’d call it subtle so why should the land be?
Not to confuse subtlety with being detailed because Super Nintendo World is certainly that. It’s a theme park land made for shorter attention spans, as you’ll be doing one thing, look up and get distracted by Yoshi walking and six other things before forgetting what you were doing in the first place. While the land’s footprint is compact, there is so much going on.
I’ve never seen so much movement in a theme park section. Characters are constantly walking, swaying or bouncing overhead. “If I could just beat this Goomba in front of me, then I could get up there to walk with Koopa Troopa!” That’s if you weave your way through several other obstacles first. Universal will need to be on the ball with maintenance. I’m curious what Super Nintendo World will look like five years down the road. For now, it’s a masterpiece in creating kinetic energy by using characters that are so integral to the world we’ve entered.
Overall, I think Super Nintendo World is a fantastic addition to Universal Studios Hollywood. The land is abrasive, colorful and loud to a fault. But those characteristics make it all the more immersive and a step into childhood fantasy. As we waited for hours in line at Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge we started talking to the person next to us. He talked about wanting to explore this world physically for his whole life, after exploring it in so many games. Through the movement, integration of characters and expansive design, now we all can.
What do you think of Super Nintendo World? If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a comment down below. Planning a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood? Check out our guide here! If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!
Categories: Attraction Reviews