By Amanda Schwalbach
Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Growing up, I was invested in the Nintendo Universe, often playing Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros nonstop in my free time. These games had become a nostalgic part of my childhood, so I was more than thrilled to have the chance to visit Universal Studios Hollywood’s newest addition: Super Nintendo World! I was even more fortunate to have the opportunity to see the park before it publicly opens on February 17th this year, with some special connections who work with NBC.
After initially walking through the park, I was stunned. Universal Studios did an exceptional job at transforming the Nintendo Universe into reality. The attention to detail was exceptional; every aspect you would expect to see in Super Smash Bros was included across the park, from the gold rotating coins, green tunnels, and Bowsers’ castle. The visual designs were truly remarkable.
However, the functionality of the activities and experience of Super Nintendo World were overrated. As marketed on social media and television, visitors are given the chance to play real-life Super Mario Bros by wearing a wristband to hit with blocks or play virtual games. It also serves as a way to collect coins and ultimately aim for a high score or win against fellow visitors. Universal Studios marketing included an explanation that visitors can play different characters like Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Princess Daisy, Yoshi, or Toad, to add to the experience of the game coming to life. But Universal Studios didn’t include that each wristband cost $40. Not only is this an outrageous price for what is essentially a piece of plastic, but it cheapens the quality of the overall experience for those who won’t or can’t pay for the wristbands. The price is about the same price as two meals from the park’s restaurants. About 80% of the activities in the Super Nintendo World revolves around using the wristband, which makes it underwhelming if you visit without paying for one.
It should be noted that there is one activity that is free and accessible to everyone: the Super Mario Kart ride. Guests are seated in a four-seater ride designed like the cars in the game itself. Riders are then driven around on a windy path with virtual reality headsets. This allows visitors to use their heads to aim at “power-ups” or other players in order to collect coins and throw defense mechanisms, like shells, at opponents. All players are automatically a part of Team Mario and are given the mission to defeat Team Bowser by winning the Golden Cup, which is the first place trophy from Mario Kart. Guests are also encouraged to compete with those in the same Kart to win a high score of coins. However, if someone has a wristband, they are guaranteed an automatic boost, gaining an advantage. Personally, it made me feel that this was just a way for Universal to encourage guests to spend more money at the park. I did not have a wristband, so I can’t determine the effect of the experience with it. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to be worth the steep price.
The Super Mario Kart ride was very disappointing. The required headset are uncomfortable and often slips off your head due to its heavy weight and the frantic head movements required for an immersive ride experience. Also, the ride is extremely slow, and the resulting mismatch between the speed of the virtual reality race and the actual speed of the ride is disorienting. By the end of the ride, I had a headache from the heavy, tightly strapped headset, chaotic bright lights, and the loud booming noises. While the theme was a fun design and provided nostalgia, if I returned to Universal Studios in the future, the ride would be last on my list of attractions.
My final complaint about the park is the difficulty to access food options. Toad’s Cafe is the only restaurant in Super Nintendo World, and you have to make a reservation. As I discovered, there is a waitlist for a table that you aren’t even guaranteed for. As a result, my group had to leave the park hungry because the park closed before a table became available. This was frustrating because we put in a reservation hours earlier, which should have been enough time for a spot to open up in the restaurant. I would guess this may be due to the disorganization of the management and their tolerance for overcrowding. In fact, Universal Studios doesn’t mention or suggest visitors make a reservation beforehand at all. No one could buy a snack or drink without waiting a couple hours, and there weren’t any vending machines close by. One could leave to eat and then return to the park, but due to the way Universal Studios manages Super Nintendo World, once one leaves, one can’t go back in.
It is unfortunate that you’re guaranteed to experience only 10% of Super Nintendo Park without the wristbands. This wristband scam is one example of the many ways in which large corporations succeed in tricking consumers to pay for useless items. This demonstrates the power of marketing. In conclusion, my assessment of Super Nintendo World is that while I would recommend going for the sake of a couple Instagram pictures and checking out the visuals, but I wouldn’t spend more than an hour there.