A day inside Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood

Prior to its grand opening, I had a chance to experience the nostalgic bliss that was Super Nintendo World in Hollywood, CA.


Nintendo is coming off a big week, in which the publisher recorded another successful quarter and also came off a strong Nintendo Direct presentation. It's just the beginning for what should be a positive year for the company. There are some big games coming out, led by the sequel to one of its biggest adventures ever made. There's a movie coming based on its most recognizable mascot. Plus, there's a new section opening up at one of the world's largest theme parks.

Opening day for Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood is almost here. For years, Nintendo and Universal have been promising Nintendo magic would be around every corner. To see how true this claim is, I recently had a chance to visit Super Nintendo World as part of an early access window granted to annual passholders. Yes, I invested in an annual pass just for Super Nintendo World. Shocking, no?

After a few hours at the newest section of Universal's Hollywood theme park, I can say that I walked away having discovered a new happy place. Super Nintendo World does not disappoint, even if some of the neater features are behind somewhat of a paywall.

The Mario magic

An overview of Super Nintendo World
Super Nintendo World, viewed from the warp pipe entrance
Source: Shacknews

From the moment one steps onto the lower lot of Universal Studios Hollywood and finds the green warp pipe leading into Super Nintendo World, it feels like being transported into the Mushroom Kingdom. Prior to walking into the pipe, there's an original jingle, a mixture of chiptune and orchestra, playing overhead that sounds like it comes straight out of the end credits of a Mario game. Walking through the pipe, visitors can hear the warp pipe sound effects, followed by a transition to some recognizable Mario tunes.

After emerging on the other side, it's hard not to be taken in by the sights. Let's get the downside out of the way early: Super Nintendo World is a small block of land, one that can be seen almost in its entirety from the entrance. With that said, the faithfulness to the Nintendo source material is off the charts. The exterior of Princess Peach's Castle looks just as it does in Mario's games. The music is pulled right out of the Mario soundtracks. The rest of the land looks like a scene out of the Mushroom Kingdom. There are bricks and Question Blocks everywhere. Platforms can be seen throughout the park, laid out like a 3D Mario stage. There are moving animatronics all over the place. Piranha Plants are popping in and out of pipes. There are Thwhomps falling up and down. There's a Pokey that can be seen on a nearby roof swaying about. It's laid out in such a way that one wants to just run around and try their luck, like it's an obstacle course.

Princess Peach's Castle in Super Nintendo World
Princess Peach's Castle's exterior is a faithful re-creation.
Source: Shacknews

Mario characters also come around for frequent meet-and-greets and photo opportunities. They come with speakers that play their signature lines, so the Mario mascot will say "It's-a me!" while Luigi exclaims "Luigi time!" and so on. One issue is that this part of the park can get crowded, especially as folks line up for these photo ops and for the lone ride in the park.

One other thing to note is that, for the moment, this does feel more like Super Mario World more than it does Super Nintendo World. Just about 95 percent of this section of the park is designed with the plumber's motif in mind, though we did spot some Pikmin laid out underneath a gold coin. There's room for expansion and we're hopeful that Universal will explore the rest of Nintendo's many exciting worlds.

Strapping in for a Mario Kart race

Super Nintendo World's sole ride at this time is Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge. It was roughly a 70-minute wait to board this attraction. It should be noted that, indeed, huskier folks don't appear to fit the four-seated karts. In fact, the ride hit a snag in a few instances, leading to quick maintenance and some delays.

The extra time waiting in line offered additional time to admire the view and the attention to detail throughout the ride's waiting area. First, people are escorted through a faithful re-creation of Yoshi's Island. Walls are drawn to resemble the many familiar sights of both the 1995 original Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island and the Nintendo 64 follow-up, Yoshi's Story. One room is drawn out to look like the overworld, complete with Question Clouds, Egg Blocks, the classic Flower Garden theme, and the pastel-like color scheme utilized by those stages. The next room has the lights dimmed to set the stage for a room designed like the Yoshi's Island underground stages, which are adorned with rocky terrain, glowy crystals, and key doors (including boarded-up key doors to indicate "Staff Only" areas, in a clever touch). Upon reaching the end of that specific waiting area, visitors can look around and see the denizens of Yoshi's Island wandering around a few LED displays.

The upstairs area leads into Bowser's Castle. More interesting than anything else, it offers a bird's eye view of Super Nintendo World, allowing people to glance at the whole thing in a single shot. To prepare everyone for what's up ahead, the Bowser's Castle theme from Super Mario 3D World can be heard playing overhead. Upon entering the castle proper, crowds are greeted with Bowser statues and the sounds of a slightly remixed castle theme from the original New Super Mario Bros.

Super Nintendo World from overhead
Super Nintendo World, as seen from the Mario Kart line atop Bowser's Castle.
Source: Shacknews

After passing by a Bowser painting, it was time to get into the ride itself. Bowser's Castle is full of decorations that set up the attraction's premise. Bowser and his Koopalings have challenged Team Mario to a race. As the line concludes, folks can look around and spot Bowser's blueprints for his various mechanical minions and some of the plans that he's drawn up for this race.

Finally, it's time to start the ride, which is a fun mixture of a practical car ride and mixed reality. First, players don a visor that wraps around their heads. After receiving the introduction from the Super Nintendo World employees, it's time to grab some goggles, which slide across the visor magnetically. The idea is to maneuver with the kart's steering wheel while collecting shells from Question Blocks. The idea is to hit Team Bowser and standard Mario enemies while avoiding hitting members of Team Mario. The goggles allow players to see the images of the racers and enemies, while the visor allows them to aim with their direct line of sight. A separate button on the steering wheel fires the shells. The goal is to earn at least 100 coins.

It's an increadibly fun journey across various corners of the Mushroom Kingdom. The action often gets fast and furious, enough that it's almost hard to acknowledge the craftsmanship of the ride itself since ther's so much going on inside the goggles. Question Blocks come frequently, refilling the player's shell count. The ride intensifies further at the end after picking up a Super Star and blazing through Rainbow Road to the finish line. The ride ends with a recap of the individual's coin count, as well as a look at the high records for the month. My 131 coins were high, but not enough to topple the current leader, who somehow amassed 241.

One thing I was not able to experience was the Power-Up Band, a peripheral that sells for $40 USD. The Power-Up Band is ideal for kids, who can hit Question Blocks throughout the park and earn coins for their team, which is the character the Power-Up Band is decorated after. For the purposes of the Mario Kart ride, the Power-Up Band will save a user's coin count and add it to their current total. The Power-Up Band is on my list for next time I visit, even if $40 is a steep asking price.

The meal

Source: Universal

After riding through the Mushroom Kingdom, it was time for a bite at Toadstool Cafe. This is Super Nintendo World's higher-end eatery, as evidenced by the long line, the long wait to sit down, and the high-end prices. After paying for our meal, we were directed to a separate line to wait for an attendant to seat us. That second line quickly grew too big and started to intersect with the main line, so I'm hopeful that the park will find a way to better organize this in the future.

The actual dining experience is sublime. Like the rest of Super Nintendo World, Toadstool Cafe is filled with references and Easter eggs. Diners can watch Chef Toad in his kitchen, along with his helpers, through an entire LED video wall. LED panels are also placed along the other three walls, showing off different corners of the Mushroom Kingdom. As the Toads go about their day outside and a bunch of kitchen Toads prepare meals inside the kitchen, visitors can enjoy classic Mario tracks, such as the end credits track from Super Mario World and Delfino Plaza from Super Mario Sunshine. Dinner quickly becomes a show, as every so often, Bowser's airship will menacingly hover overhead to the sounds of the classic orchestral track from Super Mario Galaxy. The Toads will all scatter and some of the Bullet Bills will even find their way into Chef Toad's kitchen and send all the helpers running. Sometimes, Chef Toad will try to power through and continue prepping meals as chaos unfolds around him. Eventually, Mario and Luigi will save the day and send Bowser away, at which point the lights come back up and the Mushroom Kingdom's daily routine continues.

The Mario Burger at Toadstool Cafe
The Mario Burger served with truffle fries at Toadstool Cafe.
Source: Shacknews

As for the food itself, Toadstool Cafe tries to have things both ways with standard sit-down restaurant fare blended with higher-end cuisine. The Mario Burger is your usual Big Mac-style burger with a beef patty, lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and Thousand Island dressing, but also adds three crispy strips of bacon and mushrooms. The mushrooms add a nice kick to what's otherwise a pretty decent burger. The burger meals come with truffle fries, so if you aren't a fan of that garlicky aftertaste, maybe search for a different restaurant.

Dessert came in the form of a Princess Peach Cupcake, which was a tasty Funfetti cupcake with raspberry filling. Granted, it's not what Japanese visitors are getting at their Super Nintendo World, but it was a sweet confection nonetheless. The main criticism here is that it went heavy on the pink buttercream frosting, as the whole thing wound up being more frosting than cupcake. At least the white chocolate crown garnish was nice.

The Princess Peach Cupcake at Toadstool Cafe
The Princess Peach Cupcake at Toadstool Cafe.
Source: Shacknews

With our bill ballooning up to more than $60 USD (albeit $20 went to a souvenir 1-Up Mushroom sipper), it's hard to recommend repeat visits to the Toadstool Cafe. Those who really want that premium Mario dining experience might enjoy the Luigi Burger with pesto or the Piranha Plant Caprese, but those looking for simpler cuisine should venture elsewhere. Still, the ambiance is worth experiencing at least once.

Playing with 'Super' power

It can't be stated enough how much Super Nintendo World seems to grasp what it means to be in the Mushroom Kingdom. This is a wonderful slice of Nintendo heaven and should absolutely be experienced by any diehard Mario fan. Those who want to experience other Nintendo licenses will have to wait a while. Other than the Pikmin that I spotted, there was no other reference to different Nintendo properties. Having said that, Universal Studios Hollywood is a massive property with ample room for expansion. There's good reason to be optimistic for more Nintendo representation in the future.

Super Nintendo World is an absolute pleasure. Located just adjacent to Transformers: The Ride 3D and a small stroll from Jurassic World, there's a lot to love and a lot to strike that nostalgic place in every Nintendo fan's soul. Super Nintendo World will open to all Universal Studios Hollywood visitors on Friday, February 17.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 13, 2023 8:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, A day inside Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood

    • reply
      February 13, 2023 9:59 AM

      40 dollars for a power up band

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        February 13, 2023 10:09 AM

        And yet they know every parent who wants to pass down their nostalgic love will get one for their kid. It’s quite sinister and genius.

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      February 13, 2023 10:46 AM

      I want to take my kids here so bad, they’d love it

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      February 13, 2023 10:52 AM

      Is there enough there to do to warrant going multiple days or can you pretty much knock it all out in a day?

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        February 13, 2023 11:41 AM

        We had a two-hour appointment for Super Nintendo World and we knocked it all out easily. But there's enough to do at Universal Studios Hollywood that you could make a day of it: Simpsons and Hogwarts are pretty sizable.

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          February 13, 2023 11:44 AM

          Is it time limited like that normally or was that just for this preview thing you did ?

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            February 13, 2023 11:45 AM

            That was just for the passholder preview. Super Nintendo World opens proper on Friday.

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      February 13, 2023 10:52 AM

      Looks fun! And the food seems a lot better than I would have expected (for theme park food, of course).

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      February 13, 2023 11:13 AM

      Kinda tempted to head out to L.A. this summer to check it out, thanks for the write-up!

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