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Let’s-a go to Super Nintendo World, Hollywood’s new interactive theme park

Watch out, if <em>SMB3</em> is any guide, he breathes lasers...
Enlarge / Watch out, if SMB3 is any guide, he breathes lasers…

Nintendo is often referred to as “the Disney of video games.” But while Nintendo has long matched Disney’s reputation for family-friendly home entertainment, it had nothing that could compare to Disney’s domination in the physical world of theme parks.

That started to change in 2021, when Super Nintendo World finally opened in Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan. Now, a very similar experience is coming to America with the opening of the Super Nintendo World section of Universal Studios Hollywood.

Ars got a sneak peek at the new section of the park just ahead of its Friday opening and came away utterly enchanted by the charming interactivity and Disney-esque attention to detail apparent throughout the park’s newest themed area.

Mario Kart: The Ride

The centerpiece of Super Nintendo World is “Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge,” the section’s only full-fledged “motion attraction.” I was skeptical that the combination ride and augmented-reality game would come together in a satisfying way, but I came away from each of my three rides eager to go again.

The “Bowser’s Challenge” AR headset comes in two parts. First, you are handed a visor that resembles a red Mario hat; it fits around your forehead and is tightened with a rear crank (which will be familiar to anyone who has used a PSVR headset). The second part, which includes the actual AR display, stays tethered to the kart itself and attaches to the visor with a simple magnetic click. The lightweight, transparent display hovers comfortably in front of your eyes.

You view the bulk of the ride’s highly scripted interactive Mario Kart race through the ghostly images on this AR display. Everything from opposing karts to item boxes to flying enemies only exist in this view and don’t come through well in photos or ride-through videos.

The AR images—which only show up in a relatively wide strip of your vision—are decidedly low resolution, especially for objects viewed at a distance. That general fuzziness is all the more noticeable because you can compare them side-by-side with some impressive practical effects and high-resolution screens throughout the ride.

That said, the apparent position of the AR items stays remarkably stable as your viewpoint changes throughout the ride, making it easier to fool your brain into thinking these items are actually “real.”

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