Nintendo fans, your prayers have been answered. No, the sequel to Breath of The Wild hasn’t been released early, nor has a new Star Fox game dropped overnight. But, we’ve found something even better: a real-life Mushroom Kingdom you can step into, right now.
The all-new Super Nintendo World has launched at the original Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood – and it really is the stuff of Fire Flower-fever dreams. The first Super Nintendo World to open outside of Japan (after the first ever Nintendo theme park land opened at Universal Studios in Osaka), and comes complete with real-life Mario Kart racing, Bowser’s castle, and, of course, appearances from Mario and co.
The entirely new land has just opened its castle doors for the first time with a star-studded opening ceremony, and naturally, NME was in attendance to take our rightful place in the Mushroom Kingdom IRL and bring you everything you need to know. But first, a warning: you’re going to want to book a trip here. Like, immediately.
So, double-jump into the warp pipe with NME and join us for a real-life Nintendo walkthrough. Here’s what you need to know…
This is your chance to step inside an actual video game
Stroll through the starlit tunnel of Princess Peach’s castle, and you’ll be transported from Universal Studios theme park right into the Mushroom Kingdom. From the moment you pass the castle’s moving, rippling Bob-Omb portraits, which you’ll recognise from Super Mario 64, you’ll realise this is more than just a themed ride – you’ll find yourself in a fully interactive, moving, real-life Super Mario Bros. game.
Just like being inside a Mario level, everywhere you look is a colourful, totally psychedelic feast for the eyes: rolling Nintendo hills are covered in shimmering gold coins, goombas patrol the platforms around you, and Thwomps, well, thwomp. Oh, and you’ll have the best-known Mario theme tunes well and truly lodged in your brain after your visit, too.
Minigames make for constant play
In true Super Mario style, as you explore the land, you’ll get to play three different minigames – and they vary in difficulty, with the toughest being a real challenge, even for seasoned Mario players. These range from a madcap running whack-a-mole-style minigame, where you’ll have to race to put out flashing alarm clocks and put a frantic piranha plant to sleep, to skill-based games which require making split-second judgements.
Successfully completing a minigame will earn you a key, which is logged in your Power-Up band (we’ll explain them below), and winning all three unlocks a final boss battle inside Bowser Jr.’s castle – which is undoubtedly our favourite challenge. You’ll compete against a room of other champs at an interactive wrap-around screen to pop the most balloons and dodge on-screen Bullet Bills by waving your hands, jumping and ducking. It’s frantic, physical and a whole lot of fun.
You can compete against your pals… or everyone in the park
What’s a game without a leaderboard? Dedicated Power-Up bands connect to the free Universal Studios Hollywood app on your phone, and then interact with elements of Super Nintendo World to record your high score and compare it to your friends in your group with Power-Up bands, as well as with everyone who’s been in the park that day. You’ll have to buy these at an extra cost, but they certainly add to the gamified experience. You’ll get a choice of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Princess Daisy, Yoshi and Toad designs. Naturally, we went for Yoshi because he is the GOAT.
With them, you’ll be able to punch question mark, ‘Pow’ and brick blocks around the park, as well as your performance on the other attractions, and the linked app will record the coins you get from them, boosting your score and making your level-up dreams a reality.
Finally, you can race in real-life Mario Kart
Amongst the Fire Flowers, piranha plants and hidden castle corridors, there’s one superstar attraction in Super Nintendo World, and that is Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. This cutting-edge ride sees you race around a Mario Kart track in a four-seater vehicle, racking up points by collecting digital coins and flinging Koopa Shells at your opponents while you do it, all in the name of defeating Team Bowser (and bagging more coins than your pals).
The futuristic ride uses a combination of augmented reality, projection-mapping tech and physical set pieces to create a ride like no other. You’ll don an AR visor in the form of a nifty Mario hat, which will allow you to see other racers, special items and more on the course – as well as serving as the way you aim, with you literally having to look around to fling your red shells accurately. Abbye Finnan, show producer at Universal Studios Hollywood, reveals, “It’s the most technologically advanced attraction we’ve ever built.”
This isn’t just any roller coaster – it’s a full-on video game, years in the making. “I learned a lot about gaming engines, which I never thought I’d need to learn,” explains Finnan, “We also had to make sure the scenery didn’t interfere with AR – I’ve worked with the scenic elements before, but I’ve never done anything with AR, so it meant learning a lot about gaming.”
It all means that not only is every ride different, but you’ll definitely want to ride it over and over again to beat your score. And to experience the ultra-trippy treat which is the Rainbow Road track again, of course, too.
You can dine at Toad’s Cafe
Super Nintendo World has its own restaurant – and it has employed, without a doubt, the cutest kitchen crew we’ve ever seen. Toad’s Cafe serves up Mushroom Kingdom-themed food from the fair hand of Chef Toad himself – in fact, you can even see him and his mushroomy sous chefs hard at work through the animated virtual windows which decorate the restaurant.
Executive Chef Julia Thrash, Chef Toad’s right-hand woman and vice president of culinary at the park, tells us of the menu, “Everything either looks like a mushroom, tastes like a mushroom or is themed as something out there in the Mushroom Kingdom.”
Each carefully-crafted dish will delight Nintendo fans – with highlights including the Piranha Plant Caprese salad, the Chef Toad short rib special, and the Luigi burger, a pesto chicken sandwich topped with Swiss cheese, with Luigi’s moustache printed on each bun. “Chef Toad’s team is actually back there printing all the moustaches to order with edible ink,” says Thrash.
Oh, and you can’t leave without a dessert: the ? Block Tiramisu is picture-perfect, while we can confirm that the Princess Peach Cupcake (which is filled with raspberry jam as opposed to peach – “Chef Toad was going for the colour of Princess Peach, rather than a peach flavour,” Thrash explains) is literally as sweet as it look.
Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto himself have been heavily involved
Nintendo, naturally, has been enmeshed in the project from its inception. Of the Japanese Nintendo team and Mario creator Miyamoto himself, Finnan tells us, “They’ve spent more time here for the last couple of months than they’ve been in Japan. We’ve worked really closely with them… they love what they do and have such passion for it.”
“That makes it easier and harder because you want it to be perfect. It’s their baby,” she adds.
Miyamoto was also in attendance in Hollywood to officially open the land. Speaking at the lavish opening ceremony, he said, “With the introduction of this land in Universal Studios Hollywood, I believe that even more people will be able to experience the world of Mario in a truly interactive and very immersive way,” Miyamoto added, “you’ll have the opportunity to really experience what it is to be in the world of Mario at this park.”
You’ll meet Mario, Luigi and Peach
Perfect your best Super Mario pose*, as Mario and Luigi will be waiting to meet you for the most colourful photo opp ever in front of Bowser’s Castle, while you’ll find Princess Peach in her own dedicated pavilion.
*We recommend a hands-on-hips to mimic the world’s most famous plumbing duo, or your most regal, dainty hands under chin action to pose like Peach. In either case, a flying Tanooki pose might be a slight step too difficult.
There’s exclusive merch to bring home
The 1-UP Factory Store inside Super Nintendo World is the place to stock up on gaming goodies, with the retail store offering everything from plushies, to collectible merch and themed tees and hoodies, some of which have been created exclusively for the Grand Opening and feature limited-edition Grand Opening artwork – once it’s gone, it’s gone.
There are tiny Nintendo details everywhere
The attention to detail in this land is quite spectacular (then again, we’d expect nothing less from a literal movie studio and the place which brought to life the epic Wizarding World). It was ten years in the making, Finnan tells us, and it’s not hard to see why: the meticulous design is everywhere.
Fans are loving the queueing decor, for example, as much as anything else in the land. As you navigate the route to Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, you’ll wander through Bowser’s Castle, see Yoshi, and experience a trippy blacklight room.
“The number of grown adults who walk through the black light queue and just say ‘Wow,’” says Finnan, “That’s what makes you feel in your heart that yes, all of these years of work were worth it.” There’s also what Finnan describes as an “Ode to Yoshi,” in there, which frankly, all queues should have.
You should keep your eyes peeled for Nintendo Easter Eggs
The world is officially all about Super Mario characters, but eagle-eyed fans will be able to spot a few extra little visitors, too. Pro-tip: head into Bowser’s castle, to the left as you face it. From the rooftop viewpoint, you’ll be able to see a little group of Pikmin gathered on the roof. These are currently the only non-Mario characters in the area. Easter Egg, or hint of more Nintendo to be added in the future? The possibilities really are endless. We’ll keep our eyes peeled…
You can stay right by the land – and travel in style
It’s the stuff Nintendo fans’ bucket-list dreams are made of. So, to do it in style, Virgin Atlantic provides a direct route and holiday packages to Los Angeles (the next best thing to a warp pipe). Many people don’t realise it, but even though this is in the heart of LA, you can actually stay at Universal Studios Hollywood, too, by retreating to the recently renovated four-star Sheraton Universal. It lies within walking distance of the theme park, but also offers a free regular shuttle, too – all the better for spending more time in the Nintendo nirvana.
Super Nintendo World Hollywood opened on February 17, and is available to visit now.