Super Nintendo World: A Photo Tour of Universal Studios Japan’s Mario-Themed Amusement Park
We recently traveled to Osaka, Japan for our Street Fighter 6 coverage. While in town, game informant video editor Alex Van Aken and I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of our proximity to Universal Studios Japan to visit Super Nintendo World. Like you, we saw the tour offered by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, but needed to see it for ourselves. And to be honest, we’re glad we did.
There’s no telling how cool most of our time at Super Nintendo World has been. From the moment we left the giant warp pipe at the entrance, we felt transported into a real Mario game. Check out the photos from our time at Super Nintendo World to get an idea of the incredible experience.
First, we had to set aside a time to enter this particular area of the park. I couldn’t do it until the day we arrived, but was able to take an hour in the early afternoon which gave us time to walk around the rest of the park. After hopping on the Spider-Man ride and grabbing a bite to eat in the Jaws area of the park, our time to enter Super Nintendo World has finally arrived.
After scanning the Universal Studios Japan app to get in, we were able to purchase the wristbands you’ve no doubt seen on past promotional materials. These bracelets allow you to participate in various games around the park. If you’re about to catch one like me, I highly recommend picking it up, as many of the park’s activities are locked behind these.
I chose the Mario group, while Alex chose the Luigi group. After slapping them, we recorded them on the Universal Studios Japan app, which tracks our progress as we enjoy different games and activities. Everything from the blocks you hit in the zone to the mini-games you participate in (more on that later) is added to your profile.
After everything was settled, it was time to enter the park. After a brief photo op with the pipes outside the main entrance, Alex and I went inside through the massive warp pipe. Peach’s Castle was the literal light at the end of the tunnel. As you imagine, the Super Mario 64 castle theme plays. On one side you have the painting of Bob-omb Battlefield, while the other features an image of Tiny-Huge Island. However, when you look at them from different angles, an image of Bowser Jr. flashes in the frame, hinting at what will happen later in the park.
Getting out of Peach’s Castle in Super Nintendo World is a magical experience, as you immediately experience sensory overload in the best way. Immediately, I felt like I was in a Mario video game. To the left is Bowser’s Castle, an underground area, and some minigames. There’s Yoshi’s Snack Island and the main area store on the right. Right in the center you have Mount Beanpole’s Yoshi ride, then down the bottom you have a photo area where I found Mario, Luigi, and Toad, and Kinopio’s Cafe (Toad’s name in Japan is Kinopio ).
I decided to explore a bit before embarking on anything. The park is a relatively small corner of the larger Universal Studios Japan, but it is dense and detailed. I walk around with my eyes scanning every detail. As good as it all looks in stills, it’s even more remarkable in motion. Parts spin, animatronic characters move realistically, and speakers blast out universally delightful versions of recognizable songs.
After reaching all the blocks I can and saving the coins in the Universal Studios Japan Super Nintendo World app, I finally decide to take a ride. There are plenty of things to line up for at Super Nintendo World, but only two actual rides. The ride with the shortest line was Yoshi’s Adventure. After meandering through a Yoshi’s Island themed queue, I finally make it to the front. I board the Yoshi in slow motion, showing me around the highest parts of the park.
Yoshi’s Adventure is anything but a thrill ride. In fact, it’s barely a step above a mover. But with fun interactive elements and awesome animatronic scenes featuring Kamek, Baby Mario, Thwomp and, yes, a myriad of Yoshis, I was glad I made the rounds. Still, it was probably my least favorite attraction of the Super Nintendo World experience.
After getting out of the merry-go-round, I start to get hungry. The wait time for Kinnopio’s Cafe was three hours when I entered the Yoshi ride, but I checked with the attendant, and she gave me an estimate of 40 minutes. Immediately we lined up to taste the best food the Mushroom Kingdom has to offer. While we waited in line, we could play the Toad’s Small and Big Box mini-game with our wristbands and watch Chef Toad greet us. The menu is full of Mario games-inspired items, including food shaped like Super Mushrooms, Super Stars, Bowser’s Shell, and more.
We order a good portion of food from Toad, get our drinks and take a seat in the dining room. As we sit down, mini action sequences play out in the “windows” of the dining room. We see Luigi running around aimlessly, Toads jostling each other, and other familiar faces going about their days, all tuned to the deep well of Mario music. However, the action “outside” soon darkens and Bowser’s airship arrives, scaring everyone as the storm approaches.
The food arrived soon after and we dug in after a brief photo op. We ordered three mains and two desserts – we tried to order a third dessert, but the cafe was full of Peach’s Cake. We ordered the Super Mushroom Pizza Bowl with Mushroom Tomato Sauce, the Teriyaki Chicken with Super Star Rice, and the King Bowser Ground Steak with Bread. We completed our meal with the Block Tiramisu and the Goal Pole Cake. The main courses were above average for theme park food, but the desserts were excellent.
We decided that we finally had to brave the longest queue of the day with Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge. We headed to Bowser’s Castle and saw that the “single rider” queue was only 45 minutes long. We jumped down that line, climbed a flight of stairs to a massive statue of Bowser himself, then started descending into the depths of King Koopa’s Dungeon.
Once we got downstairs we were given Mario hats. Before boarding the ride, they gave us a visor to snap into Mario’s hat. We boarded our “karts” with three other park visitors and were taken to the start line of a Mario Kart race. The “race” is more of an exciting mini-game, as the visors activate and augmented reality characters appear before your eyes. The kart shoots you around, spins, fishtails, and propels you in different directions and through multiple biomes, but the AR visor lets you use the built-in steering wheel and triggers to blast shells at passing characters . Finding myself in the middle of a Mario Kart lap was fun, thrilling and almost emotional. It stands out as a highlight of the trip to Super Nintendo World.
After leaving the Mario Kart carousel, the sun was starting to set and we realized we had one important thing to do before it was time to leave: beat the final boss. Bowser Jr. serves as a boss fight that you can participate in, but first you need to collect three of the five keys with your bracelet. You can do this by completing mini-games in Super Nintendo World. These mini-games range from a timing activity where you have to hit a POW block at the right time for a shell to come out of a pipe and grab the part, to another where you have to spin a crank fast enough to rotate a platform and make a Goomba fall to reveal the key.
The two minigames that stood out the most were turning off alarm clocks before a giant piranha plant wakes up and a puzzle game where you flip tiles to earn a key. However, the most incredible experience of this stretch came from entering the underground area. When we entered everything was well proportioned, but by the time we walked through the winding hallways we had become mini. Blocks, enemies, and even symbols on the wall were huge compared to how they looked on the outside. Not only that, but it was done in such a way that it happened so gradually that you almost felt like you were shrinking with every step you took. It is an impressive effect that cannot be accurately conveyed by videos or photos.
Keys in hand, we headed to Bowser Jr’s fortress. After a stroll through his workshop, we finally came face to face with the big brat himself. The battle plays out almost like an EyeToy or Kinect game, with our silhouettes appearing on a screen in front of us. The cameras behind each of the eight players in the session have their shadows cast onto the screen and must react to various objects and enemies that appear. For example, when a Bullet Bill zooms in, you have to dodge. If you don’t and get hit, you can go mini. If a power-up appears above you, you can jump to grab it. Bowser Jr. will pass, and if the team of players can deflect enough fireballs and other projectiles in his path, his reign of terror is over.
After finishing Bowser Jr., all we had to do was go to the slot machine on our way out. Super Nintendo World doesn’t have all the parts you’d expect of a great theme park, but it’s more than the sum of its parts. The immersion, the Easter eggs, the atmosphere, all combine to create a magical experience. I strongly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit Super Nintendo World to do so.
Super Nintendo World is now open at Universal Studios Japan, but a different version is set to open in early 2023 at Universal Studios Hollywood. So far, the only confirmed ride in Universal Studios Hollywood’s release is Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. Universal Orlando’s version opens in 2025 as part of its upcoming Epic Universe park. It’s said to include Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, Yoshi’s Adventure, and a new Donkey Kong mine cart roller coaster.
For more on Brian and Alex’s journey through Super Nintendo World, you can listen to them talk about it on a recent episode of the All Things Nintendo podcast. Listen here or on the podcast platform of your choice!