Strategy Guide for Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood

Our strategy guide to Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood explains accessing the land, Mario Kart tips & tricks, Power-Up Band info, how to avoid crowds, and other recommendations to make the most of your visit and save time at what’s sure to be an incredibly popular addition to the Southern California theme park lineup!

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Super Nintendo World is located inside Universal Studios Hollywood. Contrary to certain mainstream media characterizations, it’s a single land–and a small one at that–and not a standalone theme park. The Los Angeles location is the second of three confirmed Super Nintendo Worlds, with the first having debuted at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka and the final one slated to open in Epic Universe at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.

Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood is the smallest of the three versions. The Los Angeles incarnation features a Mario Kart ride, Toadstool Cafe restaurant, character meet & greets, interactive mini-games, and shopping. As compared to the existing version in Japan, it’s missing the Yoshi’s Adventure slow-moving dark ride and some snack stands; there are also layout differences and the land is designed with different levels. (In elevation terms, not in the video game sense.)

Although this is a strategy guide rather than a review (for that, see our Super Nintendo World Review: Good, Bad & Ugly), we’ll nevertheless start with what makes this land so special. In a nutshell, Super Nintendo World excels at wish fulfillment. Seeing the Mushroom Kingdom come into view for the first time after exiting the Warp Pipe was like a childhood dream come true.

It’s impossible to articulate the overwhelming rush of nostalgia and excitement felt upon entering Super Nintendo World. It’s all so familiar and instantly recognizable, yet utterly unexpected. Running around the land as an adult feels shockingly similar to being in a basement back in 1998 playing the Nintendo 64.

Although the land is small, it packs a powerful punch. It’s a sensory overload, oozing with charm, kineticism, interactivity, and immersiveness. Although the land is obviously a different medium, it very much captures the frenetic energy of Nintendo video games. There’s that same sense of communal joy and fun, and you feel like a kid again Super Nintendo World.

That’s the good. Since this is a strategy guide aimed at helping you maximize your enjoyment and time spent in this jam-packed land, we’ll save our constructive criticism of Super Nintendo World for the end, where it’s easier to skip if you’d prefer to go in with a sense of childlike wonder…

Download the Universal Studios Hollywood App in Advance – Within the Universal Studios Hollywood app, there’s a Super Nintendo World section. (That’s not even really the right term–it’s essentially an app within an app.) We highly recommend downloading the USH app prior to your visit and linking your tickets as a general matter, as it’s needed for seeing wait times and more. Your day at Universal Studios Hollywood is much easier with the app.

Most notably, the USH app is needed to make Virtual Line reservations, and Super Nintendo World will use a timed entry system on busier days. Reservations are not always required to enter the land, but it’s important you check on the day of your visit so you don’t miss out. (Super Nintendo World is small, so we anticipate timed entry being used often while the land is still new or on busier days.)

As for the Super Nintendo World sup-app, it shows how many coins you’ve collected, keys you’ve earned, and where you rank as compared to other players. It’s also where you can see your stamp collection. I’m not a gamer who is trophy-obsessed, but I still think this is fun and addictive.

On top of that, browsing through the stamps you have not acquired gives you ideas of things to do. For example, clicking on the unearned Mario Kart stamps might reveal where secret blocks are located in sections of the ride or what to look for when using the binoculars on the observation deck. Those are just two of many actual examples, making the app a good way to expand your enjoyment of Super Nintendo World!

Early Access Tickets – Universal Studios Hollywood is selling Super Nintendo World Early Access. This ticket is valid for early admission to Super Nintendo World one hour prior to scheduled park opening and one-time express access to the Studio Tour (valid until 11 a.m.).

For $20 to $30, you can add this on to your theme park admission, which must be purchased separately for the same date. Availability is limited, and some dates are already sold out for Early Access to Super Nintendo World. To purchase this add-on, go to the “Buy Tickets and Passes” page on Universal Studios Hollywood’s website.

Without question, this will be the best way to beat the crowds at the minigames and Mario Kart, and is a great option if you want to knock out Super Nintendo World quickly in order to experience the entirety of Universal Studios Hollywood in a single day.

A.M. Arrival – Californians are notorious for never being on time. Blame it on the traffic. Call it fashionably late. Whatever the reason, it’s true (see SNL’s serial documentary, The Californians, for further insight). That includes arriving to theme parks like Universal Studios Hollywood.

Even if you opt against buying Early Access to Super Nintendo World, you’re going to be ahead of the curve by showing up at official park opening. You probably won’t have to hassle with the Virtual Line at this point, and you’ll encounter shorter wait times than during the midday rush. Sure, you’ll be behind however many guests opt for Early Access, but you’ll be in front of the many thousands of people who will mosey up at noon and expect to enter Super Nintendo World without issue.

In all seriousness, traffic is an actual issue and a major impediment to arriving at Universal Studios Hollywood at park opening. Traffic on I-5 and the Hollywood Freeway can be brutal coming from Disneyland (or anywhere in Orange County). To that end, we typically advise doing an overnight stay at a hotel in the area. (See our List of the Best Hotels Near Universal Studios Hollywood for recommendations.)

Buy Power-Up Bands – The heart and soul of Super Nintendo World is its interactivity. This means the best parts of the land are behind the paywall of the Power-Up Bands. This is essentially a slap band with a big puck inside that costs $40 and tracks your “progress” in Super Nintendo World, and opens up minigames and other playable elements of the land.

Power-Up Bands are available for purchase at special vending machine kiosks located near the Piranha Plant Nap Mishap game. At these vending machines, you can pay with credit card or Apple Pay. Power-Up Bands are also sold at the 1-UP Factory Store and other shops inside Universal Studios Hollywood. (I don’t recall whether they’re in the Nintendo shop in CityWalk.)

On the back of the Power-Up Band is a unique QR code that you can scan into the Universal Studios Hollywood app to link your band. The same Power-Up Bands can be used in Japan and Hollywood, so it’s safe to assume that Power-Up Bands purchased at USH will also work at Epic Universe when that opens.

Power-Up Bands are necessary for tracking your progress and rankings in Super Nintendo World, allowing you to collect coins from blocks, stamps from around the land, and also complete Key Challenges. This last one is the most significant and substantial component of the Power-Up Bands.

Simply put, you must buy the Power-Up Band to get the full Super Nintendo World experience. If you only purchase one souvenir, make it the Power-Up Band. Buy at least one for your party–do NOT skip it to save money. Ideally, you should purchase one Power-Up Band for every child in your party so they can simultaneously play the minigames.

Play the Key Challenges – There are four Key Challenges in Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood that can be played with the aforementioned Power-Up Bands. You need to beat three of these to enter the boss fight with Bowser Jr. Here are the Key Challenge options:

Piranha Plant Nap Mishap – This easy to moderate level challenge puts you and a team together to run around and turn off ringing alarm clocks to prevent a gigantic Piranha Plant from waking up.

Goomba Crazy Crank – In this easier challenge, you turn a crank as fast as possible to knock a running Goomba down from a spinning wheel.

Koopa Troopa POWer Punch – This moderately difficult challenge involves a single guest timing their POW Block punch at the right moment so a spinning shell exits a tunnel and hits the POW Block.

Thwomp Power Panel Panic – This moderate or extremely difficult challenges has one or multiple guests flipping switches to a uniform color scheme before time is up and the Thwomp strikes down.

Play Minigames Multiple Times – These games have multiple difficulties, with the higher levels being unlocked by playing once and beating it. So be mindful of that because, for example, you might develop a poor sense of timing if you’re watching someone else play Koopa Troopa POWer Punch on the higher difficulty level and you start on the lower level.

Or, you might play the Thwomp Power Panel Panic on easy mode with multiple people, beat it with ease, become overconfident in your abilities as a result, and get absolutely thwomped when you play the harder mode by yourself. Not that I speak from experience or anything. (Speaking of which, it is possible to lose at any of these games!)

Don’t Skip Shadow Showdown – Once you collect three Keys, you can battle Bowser Jr. in the Shadow Showdown. This boss fight uses motion capture technology to allow groups of guests to take on Bowser Jr. and recover the Golden Mushroom. Shadow Showdown is a ton of fun and totally chaotic!

Bowser Jr. Shadow Showdown has longer lines later in the day, as that’s when an increasing number of people are eligible for the boss fight. This is one big reason why it’s advantageous to knock out three Key Challenges early–then do Shadow Showdown with little (if any) wait!

Scope Out Toadstool Cafe Early – It’s also a good idea to check out the dining scene before the lunch rush. We don’t recommend eating here too early, but we do recommend figuring out whether it’s open access or if you need to go on the waitlist.

We’ve found that return time estimates for Toadstool Cafe to be highly inaccurate. On two different occasions, our quoted return time was off by an hour, and we were called back way early. If this happens while you’re in line for Mario Kart or something else, you should be able to text back and let Chef Toad’s team know that you’ll be late. See our Toadstool Cafe Review for menu recommendations & food photos.

Try the Test Kart – There has been a lot of rage-bait surrounding sightlines and size issues with Super Nintendo World. The former is beyond the scope of this post (but a total non-issue); the latter is within the scope of this scope, and an actual issue but a highly exaggerated one.

Like all modern Universal attractions, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge has a complete containment policy, meaning that it’s a slow-moving dark ride with a relatively restrictive restraint system. The attraction’s guidelines state that the ride may not accommodate guests whose waistlines are larger than 40 inches. This, unsurprisingly, resulted in widespread online outrage.

In that sentence, may not is really doing the heavy lifting. Unlike the Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, which we consider one of the best dark rides of all time, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is quite accommodating–the guidelines are unquestionably on the conservative side. Nevertheless, you should try out the test seat if you’re a larger-sized guest to avoid embarrassment (and waiting in a long line for nothing). It’s off to the right, in a somewhat-secluded spot inside the attraction entrance.

Use Single Rider at Mario Kart – Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is one of the most envelope-pushing and ambitious attractions I’ve ever experienced in any theme park. Like the best Mario Kart courses, it’s the perfect mixture of frustrating, fun, and addictive.

You want to keep coming back, seeing what you missed before, and improving your results. To that end, we’d encourage you to take advantage of the Single Rider line, located inside the main entrance of the attraction and up the stairs to the right, to allow you to replay the ride repeatedly with significantly shorter wait times. I have many, many more thoughts about this attraction, and you can read them–and see more–in our spoiler-free Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge Ride Review.

Be Mindful of Meet & Greet Times – Mario and Luigi meet together in the middle of Super Nintendo World, with Princess Peach meeting near the entrance to the land by her castle. All of these characters are articulated and will say prerecorded dialogue. It’s a cute effect, although one that results in hilarious mid-blink photos of “drunk Mario” on occasion.

If meet & greets are important, we highly recommend lining up for these characters shortly before their appearances start. On several occasions, we’ve seen their lines cut shortly before or after the characters themselves appear. (Hopefully character appearances become more frequent–we found them to be way too staggered to keep up with guest demand.)

Stay Late – Just as Californians are fashionably late to everything, guests to Universal Studios Hollywood tend to leave early. This one may not be the locals so much as it is the tourists, and is especially common when the sun goes down and that crisp California air sends people towards the exits.

This dynamic has continued thus far with Super Nintendo World, but it remains to be seen whether it continues when the Virtual Line and timed entry to access the land is in widespread use. It could be the case that those will be used to redistribute crowds throughout the day, with guests who purchase regular tickets having no option but to wait for their turn to see Super Nintendo World. We’ll be watching this one, but for now, our tentative advice is to outlast the crowd, as evening is when Universal Studios Hollywood tends to be the least busy. (You’ll want to leave late to wait out the Los Angeles traffic, anyway!)

Ultimately, there’s a lot to love about Super Nintendo World and it exceeded my expectations as a whole. The land isn’t perfect, and although I don’t have any issue with the sightlines and other assorted controversies, elements of the land at Universal Studios Hollywood do feel rushed and sloppy–even after a lot was fixed during the technical rehearsals.

The good news is that there’s a fantastic foundation with Super Nintendo World, and everything else can and will evolve over time, becoming better as technology catches up to ambitions and Universal learns what does and doesn’t work. Expansion would also greatly benefit the area, preventing the crowds from overwhelming. Here’s hoping we see that down the road, and Universal finds a way to fit Donkey Kong Mine Cart Madness–or something else–into an adjacent area.

Despite its small size, Super Nintendo World packs a powerful punch and delivers an immense amount of satisfaction and fun. It also left me wanting more. This is a good feeling–and that’s mostly the case with Super Nintendo World, too. It’s better to crave more after a lengthy experience than to leave early, underwhelmed and disappointed. The only downside is that the drive to Universal Studios Hollywood is a brutal one, and we’ve already visited the park more in 2023 than in the previous two years combined!

If you’re preparing for a Southern California vacation, check out our other planning posts, including our exhaustive Guide to Universal Studios HollywoodNeed advice for LA? Read our Ultimate Los Angeles, California Planning GuideVisiting other SoCal theme parks? Consult our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide and Knott’s Berry Farm Planning Guide.

YOUR THOUGHTS

If you’ve experienced Super Nintendo World, do you have any tips & tricks of your own to add? Strategy for making the most of a visit to the Mario-themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood while minimizing time spent waiting in lines? What do you think of Super Nintendo World? Excited to experience Mario Kart in real life? Thoughts on Power-Up Bands, Timed Entry, or anything else covered here? Eager to step foot into this video game universe? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

11 Responses to “Strategy Guide for Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood”
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