Nearly eight years after Universal and Nintendo first announced their partnership, there’s a Super Nintendo World in America.
A lot of hype has built up over that time — and the land lives up to all of it. Well, except the food, but more on that later.
The Universal Studios Hollywood edition of this Mario-centric land is smaller than its counterparts in Japan (which soft-opened in 2020) or Florida (set to open in 2025). What it does offer in its limited space is exactly the kind of theme park experience even a casual Nintendo would have wanted: to feel transported into the radiant, interactive world that’s been stuck inside a cartridge since our childhoods.
Welcome to the Mushroom Kingdom
Immersive theme park design is what you expect these days from the likes of Disney and Universal. Considering that modern philosophy is heavily influenced by video games, you’d expect an actual video game-themed land to deliver on immersion.
And boy, did it ever.
Even a casual Nintendo fan is going to get gleefully overstimulated walking through the Super Nintendo World warp pipe, hearing the familiar sounds of the “Super Mario 64” Peach’s Castle theme and stepping out into the vibrant, kinetic Mushroom Kingdom.
Let me put an extra emphasis on the kinetic part of that description. Nearly everywhere you look around the land, something is moving, something is happening, drawing you further in — just like any good open world in a video game. That energy has worked since the days of Walt Disney to entice theme park guests and Super Nintendo World proves that it still works.
The Hollywood version of Super Nintendo World has only one true ride, Mario Kart’s Bowser’s Challenge. You can read my full review of that here.
But don’t mistake a lack of rides for a lack of things to do. In true video game fashion, the land has its own version of minigames leading up to a boss battle.
Those experiences do come behind a $40 paywall called a Power-Up Band. Sort of a cross-breeding experiment between Disney’s MagicBand and a slap bracelet, Power-Up Bands can be scanned at various points within the land to collect digital “coins.” It’s also needed for one of four minigames where you collect “keys.”
Collecting “coins” is mostly a meaningless diversion, but by collecting three “keys,” you get an extra experience: a boss battle against Bowser Jr.
I won’t spoil what happens with the boss battle, but I will say it was worth the effort of collecting three “keys” — if you can get them relatively quickly in the morning. Not all of the minigames are guaranteed wins, but Universal team members would generally explain how to beat all of them just to assure you didn’t have to wait in line again.
Inside the land, the only merchandise location is the 1-Up Factory, which also doubles as the obligatory exit gift shop for Mario Kart.
Nintendo merchandise isn’t hard to find outside of a theme park, so I was concerned that Universal would take the easy way out and stock shelves with items you could easily grab elsewhere.
That’s not quite the case, but the selection doesn’t feel unique either. There are costume hoodies for Luigi and Mario, Mario Kart shirts, all kinds of character plushies, which are higher-quality than you may find in your local mall, but nothing that felt truly special. At least not on the same level as you may expect from similarly immersive lands like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
The lone quick-service dining location is Toadstool Cafe. While the restaurant deserves accolades for its theming, the actual food was my biggest disappointment in the entire land.
I visited with a friend, splitting an appetizer, an entree, two desserts, and the restaurant’s only unique drink.
That Super Star Lemon Squash — a honey lemon with tropical-flavored bobas — is an interesting flavor combination, but if you don’t like chewing your drink, just get a regular soda instead.
Our appetizer was Toadstool Cheesy Garlic Knots. Overpriced at $6 for four knots, these were lukewarm and a bit too hard, sort of tasting as if they had been sitting out for too long, and didn’t have much cheese, despite its name. I’ve had much worse, but there’s no reason to seek this out — you’d get a better side order at a Little Caesars offering the same flavors.
The Mario Burger, which comes with bacon, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and American cheese, was the worst of the meal. Even though this was my friend’s order, I could tell how stale the Brioche bun had become just from its cracking texture. As for taste, my friend called it “borderline inedible.” Not high praise for $17. The truffle fries, however, were a quality side dish. Too bad there’s no way to order them separately.
For dessert, I got the Princess Peach Cupcake, a Raspberry-filled Funfetti cupcake topped with a mountain of buttercream frosting. This was serviceable at best; like most theme park cupcakes, it had clearly been sitting in a fridge or freezer for a few days and it was made more for Instagram than actual consumption.
We also ordered the Question Block Tiramisu. This had the same “days-in-a-fridge” taste and was a tad smaller than the cupcake at the same price.
Toadstool Cafe, for now, is not worth your time or money and is easily the land’s worst feature. Unless you have a hankering for waiting a long time for mediocre, Instagrammable food, there are much better options within the park or just outside the gates in CityWalk.
The size problem
It’s high praise that one of my biggest complaint about Super Nintendo World is there just isn’t enough of it.
Even with the use of a virtual queue to manage demand, the land felt like a L.A. traffic jam at rush hour within 90 minutes of the official park opening. If by that time, you’ve managed to get a ride on Mario Kart, tried all the key minigames, bested Bowser Jr, and even tried some mediocre food, chances are the suffocating crowds will drive you out of the land.
Space is understandably at a premium at Universal Studios Hollywood. Expecting Universal to take out other attractions (or more soundstages that are being actively used) would have been unreasonable.
What is reasonable is wondering why the Panda Express located just outside the land wasn’t leveled to create more breathing space for Nintendo crowds.
Even a simple improvement like providing a more visible entrance to the land would have been an improvement here. Instead, Universal decided a chain restaurant that you can find at any mall food court was worth saving? I don’t get that.
Maybe that error will be corrected down the line. For now, I’m missing the extra elbow room.
Universal Hollywood has an obvious hit on their hands with Super Nintendo World. With Mario arguably as iconic as Harry Potter or Mickey Mouse (at least if you’re under the age of 45), it’s no wonder that the park has been drawing near sell out crowds since the land opened.
Even if the most casual Nintendo fan can appreciate this kinetic, vivacious land, with its dazzling colors and interactivity. In short, the crowds aren’t just coming for the characters; they’re coming because the land is just that good.
Lackluster food and merchandise and missed opportunities for maximizing its space are all that is keeping Super Nintendo World from theme park perfection — but hey, there’s no reason Mario and co. can’t level up in the future, right?
DISCLOSURE: This review is based on my own opinion and perspective. I paid for my own park ticket to Universal Studios Hollywood. The park gave me no special or privileged access in order to conduct this review.