I’m a Universal Studios Hollywood regular, and Bowser’s Challenge is its best ride yet

Super Nintendo World
(Image credit: Future / Michelle Rae Uy)

“I kinda want to get there at 9am,” my friend (and Super Mario fan) declared, to which I responded with an eye roll. Not that I don’t enjoy getting ready at 8am on a Saturday and hightailing it out of my cozy, quiet apartment to visit a crowded theme park that I’ve been to more times than I can count (I really don’t), but I just didn’t think it was necessary.

After all, we were really just going to Universal Studios Hollywood to check out its latest area, the Super Nintendo World, which opened its doors to the general public on February 17. How much time could we possibly need?

It turns out that it was a good move to get there early, and not just because, as it always happens when a theme park opens a new area, you’re contending with you’ll-die-of-old-age lines and hordes of super fans and ruthless theme park adults. No, in this case, it’s because Universal Studios Hollywood has simply outdone – nay, transcended – itself.

When the Los Angeles-based theme park said in its press release that Super Nintendo World is “a journey filled with exploration, discovery and play awaits that is unlike anything they’ve ever experienced,” it’s not exaggerating. 

Super Nintendo World

(Image credit: Future / Michelle Rae Uy)

The moment you walk through the iconic green pipe feels like a wormhole sending you into another dimension

The moment you walk through the iconic green pipe feels like a wormhole sending you into another dimension, transporting you to a more magical land than even the neighboring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The painstaking attention to detail its creators have put into building the Mushroom Kingdom is evident. Super Nintendo World is a visual treat for fans, complete with goombas and koopas running around; Piranha Plants and pokeys lying in wait; and coins, koopa shells, and Super Mushrooms scattered about. 

But more importantly, Super Nintendo World is doing something that no other area in the park has done: be incredibly interactive, with Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, the area’s main ride, being the most interactive of all.

 Worth the (loooong) wait?

Super Nintendo World

(Image credit: Future / Michelle Rae Uy)

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge isn’t without its challenges, including technical difficulties. That’s not unusual; I remember Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando having similar issues and delays in their infancy, but it sometimes makes the already long lines almost unbearable.

The first time we got in line, we were there for TWO WHOLE HOURS and only managed to get halfway through. That was mostly because the ride kept breaking. We were starving at that point and didn’t know when the ride would be fixed, so we decided to leave the line to refuel.

As soon as we got there, the ride broke again, and we were given one-time express passes and told to come back later

It also doesn’t help that Universal Hollywood Studios usually doesn’t have an Express Pass line for newly-launched attractions. Thankfully, being there for a media visit, a publicist managed to smuggle us to the beginning of the line – though as soon as we got there, the ride broke again, and we were given one-time express passes and told to come back later.

So, I’m setting your expectations here. No matter what day of the week you’re visiting, you will spend most of your visit waiting in line due to the sheer number of visitors and some growing pains. And that’s not just for Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, but also for the “key” attractions and mini-challenges (more on that later). 

When we eventually got on the ride, though, it was well worth the wait. In fact, it’s probably the only theme park ride I’ll be willing to get in two-hour lines over and over for.

 More than just a ride 

Super Nintendo World: Bowser's Challenge

(Image credit: Universal Studios)

I’ve squealed and hysterically laughed through Revenge of the Mummy, had disgusting heavily-chlorinated water splashed all over my person at Jurassic World: The Ride, and sat through the park’s world-famous Studio Tour more times than I can remember, and I can say with certainty that this Super Nintendo World ride blows them all out of the water.

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge isn’t just a passive ride, it combines lighting, sound, and practical effects with augmented reality (AR) technology to bring the crowd-favorite Mario Kart games to life. Essentially, you’re playing Mario Kart, but in a stadium-style, four-seater vehicle with actual steering yokes instead of on your couch with a controller. 

Instead of experiencing the game on your 65-inch TV, thanks to the AR projections and goggles that magnetically snap onto your helmet, you feel like you’re in the game. Because it is still technically a ride, you’re also actually moving through a physical track, adding to the realism and immersion. 

And, instead of just sitting there, as you would in any other theme park ride, you’re doing everything you’d do when playing Mario Kart. You’re collecting coins, hitting Bowser’s gang with items like bananas and shells while being mindful of friendly fire as that will deduct points, and trying to get to the finish line before them. 

There are limitations here, as it is still primarily a ride. There were times, for example, when my throws were slightly delayed or weren’t hitting the intended target. Plus, the frenzy of it all made things a little confusing – sometimes, it was hard to know if it was an enemy in front of me or someone from my team. 

Still, it is so well designed that I felt just as competitive in it as when I play Mario Kart. I found throwing shells at unsuspecting enemies particularly enjoyable and satisfying, even more than in the actual game. After one run, I was ready to ride off into the sunset (or get back in line). 

The only thing I hated about it was that it lasted no more than five minutes, which wasn’t enough with all the fun I had.

It’s one big game

If you don’t want to get back in line for another round of Mario Kart, you can still easily spend an entire day here, as Super Nintendo World is just one big game disguised as a themed land. That also makes it unique and, dare I say, better than all the other areas of the park.

The Universal Studios app turns the whole area of the park into an interactive world. You can collect digital coins from the “punchable” blocks scattered around the park, collect keys from mini challenges, like Thwomp Panel Panic and Piranha Plant Nap Mishap, and even take on Bowser Jr in a boss battle.

There are a couple of caveats to this game, however: you’ll be standing in line a lot since the mini-challenges and meet-ups with your favorite characters have an average wait time of 30 minutes, and you will need to purchase a Power-Up Band separately to participate, and it is, unfortunately, $40 apiece. That may seem steep, but it is, at least, reusable, so if you visit the park often, that $40 will go a long way. 

Of course, you can always pop in, take some photos, play Bowser’s Challenge once, maybe have a Nintendo-themed dessert, and then skedaddle. But, if that’s the case, you might as well stay home and play Mario Kart on your Nintendo Switch.

Michelle Rae Uy

Michelle Rae Uy is the former Computing Reviews and Buying Guides Editor at TechRadar. She's a Los Angeles-based tech, travel and lifestyle writer covering a wide range of topics, from computing to the latest in green commutes to the best hiking trails. She's an ambivert who enjoys communing with nature and traveling for months at a time just as much as watching movies and playing sim games at home. That also means that she has a lot more avenues to explore in terms of understanding how tech can improve the different aspects of our lives.