COVID has made a lot of popular attractions in Japan even harder to gain access to, and theme parks have it arguably the roughest. Between reducing the number of guests permitted and limited ticket availability windows, either you get lucky or don’t plan on going at all even as the country continues to get vaccinations and COVID-19 under control. This year, Universal Studios Japan opened up a new section of the park, partnered with Nintendo all themed around Super Mario, with many more franchises to come. As luck would have it, we finally got tickets to Universal Studios Japan and entry permits to Super Nintendo World this holiday season, and I’m excited to report that it was well worth the wait.
For starters, due to crowd control, we weren’t allowed entry until our registered time, which was at 6:30pm. This meant we’d only have two and a half hours before the park closed. However, it’s a relief to report that this was enough time to cover the entire area.
Unlike other areas of the park, Super Nintendo World is completely hidden due to the way it’s constructed. You can’t see it between other attractions, nor even from high points on the taller roller coasters of the park. The entrance is a bit of a walk from the Harry Potter World with the path lined with Mario coins. The gate features a small space to take photos in Mario’s iconic green warp pipe. Before entering, there is a small merchandise stand selling character watches for 3,000 yen, which serve as a big contribution to enjoying the full facility, especially when partnered with the Super Nintendo World smartphone app.
The entrance pipe leads into Princess Peach’s Castle and exits into the top level of the park. By the castle exit/entrance point is a gazebo where guests can take pictures with Mario, Peach, and Toad during greeting hours. Around the area, you’ll find a number of mini-games you can play so long as you have the collectible watch we mentioned earlier. If you succeed you’ll be granted Mario coins that can be used for discounts in shops as well as special keys for an exclusive attraction where guests can fight Bowser Jr. With free Wi-fi covering the area, you’ll be able to keep track of your score in the app, no problem.
Time for the main attraction. The Mario Kart ride inside Bower’s Castle! It’s amazing to see how new technology is being integrated for new experiences such as this. The basis of Bowser’s Castle is still a dark ride, but with a Mario hat and a hologram vizor attachment, you’ll be playing the ride, as well as riding it. Enjoy shooting shells at the Bowser and King Boo while collecting coins. On the downside, the ride does move according to teamwork, which means if the people you ride with are confused about what to do, or the car in front of you makes slow progress it can hamper the experience.
Next Stop: Yoshi’s Adventure… which was unfortunately closed for maintenance. Nevermind.
The restaurant on the lower level of the park was easily my favorite part. It’s a personal biased but I’m someone who values the effort and care for visual detail above all else. Super Nintendo World doesn’t disappoint. The main hub was colorful and vibrant, with Mario characters and game visuals, but the restaurant was where they really put thought into everything, right down to the colorfully decorated receipt paper.
Every chair, every doorway, every table, every window is all elaborately designed as though it were made out of tree bark and mushrooms. Larger tables are circle-shaped and trimmed to look like warp pipes. The windows…well, there are very few. The location of the restraint isn’t good if you value a view while you eat. Instead, the restaurant walls have large screens that display a view of the Mushroom Kingdom the entire time and play event sequences of Bowser’s kidnapping attempts. You’ll see something different on every screen, but it’ll all relate to what happens throughout the entire restaurant so that every location experiences the same view, but with a unique perspective.
To keep it simple, it’s good. But just like everything else, there’s a level of detail that can’t be beaten! Sure, there are a few basic items like burgers and ice cream, but then you have Mushroom Kingdom pizza, served in a red mushroom dish with a bread cap. Princess Peach’s Cake from Super Mario 64 is on the dessert menu and it comes with her letter to Mario on a shortbread cookie.
Currently, Super Nintendo World only pays homage to the Mario franchise, but additional zones have already been promised. Right by the 1Up Gift Shop is a large door in the shape of the sun with jungle palm trees peeking over the walls — most likely the intended entrance to the already-confirmed Donkey Kong zone, set to open in 2024. In addition, there were a few little easter eggs that could be spotted on some of the Mario blocks. Although no other future installments have yet been confirmed, it’s quite possible that Nintendo’s loveable astronaut could arrive with his own attraction in the future. And if not, well, his little buddies blend in just fine in the park.
Super Nintendo World is a bit small. With only one zone constructed, we managed to do everything (that wasn’t under maintenance) in only 90 minutes. However, it is impressively charming, inclusive, and engaging for fans of all ages. It’s colorful, spirited, and amazing to see what they’ve done in such a short time. It’ll be very interesting and exciting to see what they have in store going forward, and how Super Nintendo World will differentiate between the US location and Japan’s. It’s a lot of fun.