When Super Nintendo World opens at Universal Studios Japan on February 4, it will be the largest themed area at the Osaka park to date. But more than that, the new Nintendo area promises a level of interaction that draws from the video game antics of Mario and friends in meaningful ways, developed with input from Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and the creative team at Nintendo.
With a ton of new information dropping today at an exclusive media briefing attended by IGN Japan, read on for eight ways that Super Nintendo World will gamify the theme park experience.
Both Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge and Yoshi’s Adventure showcase a level of interaction that really set them apart from other theme park rides.
Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge is an on-rails experience with four riders per kart, and a blend of AR and projection mapping to bring the ride to life. Better yet, each rider in Mario’s team has their own steering wheel, which they must turn in time with arrows that appear on their adorable Mario hat-shaped AR headset; timing each turn just right nets a coin. Similarly, riders will pick up Green Shells from item boxes along the course, which they can aim at enemies in the AR headset by turning their head towards them – a direct hit will also earn a coin. Each team of riders will have to collect a set number of coins during the five-minute ride to beat Bowser’s team – and the game comes with good and bad endings depending on whether your team wins or loses.
We saw a video showing a mock-up of the AR visuals that will appear in the headset display: as familiar characters like Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad zigzag around you in their karts, enemies such as Bullet Bill and Boo will get right up in your face, while at one point a set of windshield wipers struggled to keep CG raindrops from obscuring the view of the course. All of this is set against a projection-mapped real-world background for what looks like a chaotic drive through the Mushroom Kingdom.
Yoshi’s Adventure is a lot more relaxed, but still includes interactive elements. As explained to us by a spokesperson from USJ, this five-minute ride is aimed at families with young children, and focuses on discovery – in a similar vein to Disneyland’s It’s A Small World attraction. Each carriage on the gentle ride is shaped like Yoshi, with two guests sitting on the loveable dino’s back, taking a cute and peaceful tour above the park. But there’s a twist: riders must search for Captain Toad’s coloured eggs that have been hidden around the course, and report their findings using the corresponding coloured buttons inside the Yoshi carriage.
2. Power Up Bands
You might already have seen that visitors at Super Nintendo World will have the option of buying a Power Up Band in one of six designs (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Yoshi and Daisy), priced at 3,200 yen each (about $31 USD/£23). Yes, that’s a lot on top of a park ticket, but these bands bring a ton of functionality that will appeal to gamers visiting USJ. Each band has a QR code on the back, which can be used to connect with the USJ smartphone app – which will track a number of neat things, from the virtual coins you collect to your place on leaderboards to various unlockable achievements. Of course, you can keep the Power Up Band for your next visit and keep building up your scores.
Super Nintendo World Power Up Bands, Area Map, Merchandise, and Cafe Items
Oh, by the way: If you meet a life-size Mario or Luigi mascot at photo spots in the park, you’ll notice that they can speak, uttering pre-recorded phrases. But if you are wearing a Power Up Band, the conversation might take a different course – with each different coloured band unlocking different phrases. (Peach and Toad mascots will also be on hand for photos, but sadly they remain mute.)
Once you have your Power Up band, you can collect coins as you venture around the park – just like Mario. The most obvious way is to punch a Question Block or Brick Block. (Yes, we winced when we saw Shigeru Miyamoto smacking his fist into these blocks in his tour video last month, and we dread to think how many people will bloody their knuckles collecting coins.) Just like in the games, one punch gets you one coin – and while there is nothing to stop you repeatedly hammering the same block over and over, the USJ spokesman explained that each block will stop dispensing coins after a certain number of hits from the same guest – just like in the games.
Coins can also be won from activities and Key Challenges around the park (more on that below), on the rides as mentioned above, and by visiting during seasonal coin bonus campaigns throughout the year. Your coins are stored in the Power Up Band, and can be viewed on the app.
4. Key Challenges
Key Challenges add an extra layer of complexity to the Power Up Band interaction. There are five challenges in the park, and successfully beating them will win you virtual keys that are required to face the boss battle with Bowser Jr (see below). You may have seen Miyamoto trying his hand at the Koopa Troopa POWer Punch challenge in his USJ tour video: A Koopa Shell scrolls left and right through a T-shaped pipe, and hitting an adjacent POW Block at just the right time will redirect the shell up through the top of the pipe to collect a key.
A more difficult challenge awaits in the Piranha Plant Nap Mishap: As explained to us by the USJ spokesperson, here players must silence 12 oversized alarm clocks by hitting them all within a strict time limit, before they awaken a massive Piranha Plant – a mission that looks harder than it sounds. Other Key Challenges are the Bob-omb Kaboom Room, Thwomp Panel Panic and Goomba Crazy Crank, pitting players against familiar foes from the Mario universe. It’s pretty cool to see large physical props merge with digital interaction in this imaginative way.
5. Boss stage
It wouldn’t be Mario without a boss stage. We were shown a video of the newly revealed Bowser Jr. Shadow Showdown activity, in which players who have collected enough keys from Key Challenges can face off against Bowser Jr on a life-size 2D scrolling Mario stage, which is projection-mapped onto a wall. The players’ silhouettes appear on the screen too, thanks to some well-placed back lights, and their shadows can interact with the game: collect powerups such as a Fire Flowers to shoot flames in real-time by flinging your arms towards the screen, progressing through the stage to attack Bowser Jr as he floats around in his Junior Clown Car. It remains to be seen how well this will work in a crowded theme park, but it definitely looks like fun.
So, you’ve been busy collecting virtual coins during your trip to Super Nintendo World. Now what? Well, the first cool thing that happens is that everything is fed into a series of leaderboards, which can be checked at any time on the USJ app. So long as you bought a Power Up Band and linked it to the app, your coins will be fed into a daily ranking that shows how you are competing with other visitors that day. Also, depending on which of the six character bands you bought, your score will also contribute to a team ranking based on visitors to the park that day. There are separate leaderboards for the Bowser Jr boss battle and Mario Kart ride too, while your personal coin total will show up in the all-time leaderboard. If you really want to chase your ultimate high score, we’d suggest moving to Osaka and getting an annual USJ pass.
Super Nintendo World in Universal Studios Japan – Sneak Peek
This is where things get next-level, hardcore gamified. Yes, Super Nintendo World has achievements.
Again tracking your interactions via the Power Up Band and the app, you will be able to unlock digital stamps of Mario-related characters, with each stamp unlocking under specific conditions. For example, reaching the Top 10 in each of the leaderboards will unlock the corresponding stamps, as will finding a Blue Egg in the queue for Yoshi’s Adventure, or hitting Bowser with a Green Shell during the Mario Kart ride, or scoring a Super Mushroom from a Brick Block, and so on. Other achievements will require you to visit between certain date ranges.
You can see the silhouettes of stamps that you haven’t got yet, and tapping on these will give you a hint on how to earn it, so that you can plan your next goal – last time you made Top 10 on the leaderboard for Mario Kart, so maybe on the next trip you’ll aim to do the same for the Bowser Jr boss battle, and so on.
Every stamp you get gives you a stack of coins, boosting your standing in the leaderboards, while the stamps themselves are endlessly collectible. Well, almost endlessly – there will be a whopping 174 stamps available when Super Nintendo World opens, with more to be added later. It goes without saying, this is a Nintendo completionist’s fever dream.
8. A 360-degree Mario world
Of course, visiting Super Nintendo World will be rewarding in its own right. The fully enclosed area of the theme park offers a 360-degree view plucked straight out of the Mario universe, from the moment you step through the Warp Pipe at the entrance and emerge from a replica of Princess Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64.
By now you’ve already seen the huge statue of Bowser inside his atmospheric castle and drooled over exclusive merchandise and food items available at the gift shops, cafe and food stalls. So here’s a new one for you. At the media briefing this week, we learned that there is even an underground area loosely based on World 1-2 from Super Mario Bros, with hidden 8-bit character sprites that can be revealed by touching a Power Up Band on M panels on the wall. Bob-ombs are dotted around the corridors, and as you approach the end of the first room, you will get caught in an explosion, triggering the familiar sound effect of Mario getting smaller. Now, in the next room, all of the wall blocks and Question Blocks appear oversized, offering a new perspective on how Mario must feel when he’s little. That’s just one neat touch in a theme park that truly strives to transport gamers old and young to the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond.
Super Nintendo World Direct Screenshots
Super Nintendo World is scheduled to open at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka on 4 February. For more on Super Nintendo World, check out some more details we learned when the park’s official website went live today, our report from the Mario Cafe & Store in the main area of the park and IGN Japan’s video showing the inside of Bowser’s Castle.
Daniel Robson is Chief Editor at IGN Japan. Follow him on Twitter to find out which Power Up Band he ends up getting.