Super Nintendo World officially opened its warp tunnel to the general public on March 18, 2021. The new attraction in Universal Studios Japan, which sits alongside Hogwarts, Jurassic Park, and (for some reason) Waterworld, is a meticulous replica of the Mushroom Kingdom, complete with humorous, amusing, and delightful allusions to old and new Mario titles.
Bowser’s Castle, the attraction’s centerpiece, is also the only portion of Super Nintendo World that isn’t awash in color. The largest ride in Super Nintendo World, Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge, is located within the archvillain’s abode.
Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge is an ambitious augmented reality experience that seeks to bring the frenzied action of a Mario Kart race to live in a regulated manner, offering riders the excitement of hurling koopa shells and grinding flawlessly sharp bends in the real world. But before you can even board the ride, you must first pass through Bowser’s opulent castle.
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As soon as you get close to the castle, you realize how massive it is. The laborious brickwork and cast iron Bowser head entryway loom over the majority of Super Nintendo World’s small square footage. The azure grey walls are adorned with delicious reds and luxurious golds as soon as you pass through the gates. Mario and his companions’ vibrant, sugary sweet color palettes vanish. We’ve arrived at Bowser’s residence. Bowser, on the other hand, is boujie.
Every nook and crevice is covered with Mario Kart Easter eggs as you pass the gigantic Bowser pictures and drift along the tapestry-filled halls on your way to the ride. These range from obvious showpieces like the brilliantly re-created Mario Kart trophy, exhibited and lighted in all their grandeur, too few elements like a book titled Surviving Rainbow Road, which could be easily overlooked.
Every aspect contributes to the lore and mystique of Bowser’s Castle, which is a brilliant way to pass the time in line. During the busiest times of the day, the wait might easily exceed 60 minutes. Given that COVID procedures limit daily admittance numbers to roughly 10,000 individuals, wait times are expected to treble if visitors are allowed back into Japan and the world returns to normal. Fortunately, you’ll be too engaged in the castle’s finer aspects to be bored while waiting.
The Kart Pro event is on in #MarioKartTour, challenging you to get a streak of three 1st-place wins in Standard or Gold Races. It comes with a challenge card that rewards players with rubies for multiplayer achievements, and a badge only for Kart Pros! pic.twitter.com/CE47ZFVIYB
— Mario Kart Tour (@mariokarttourEN) June 3, 2022
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These elements become increasingly elaborate as you move through the castle. Paintings that were once still beginning to move depending on your viewpoint. Paintings come to life farther in, such as an endearingly timid Boo in the castle’s library.
After passing through the maze of corridors and rooms, you eventually arrive at the ride’s beginning location and are offered your first peripheral: a Mario visor. This device is a basic headband meant to hold the AR goggles that you are given right before the trip begins. It’s not the most pleasant thing to wear, but it’s micro-adjustable and light enough to sit on your crown without causing too much discomfort.
Throughout this part, the castle’s decor begins to vary considerably. The ornate crystal chandeliers and statues have vanished, and we can now see what a Mario Kart race might look like if it were run more like a Formula 1 race. Multiple feeds of different tracks, all pulled from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, are displayed on screens as racing feedback. Once again, the attention to detail enhances the ride’s mystique, making it far more than a simple thrill ride.
It’s finally time for the ride. The goal is straightforward: you are a member of Team Mario, racing against the evil Koopa clan. You must turn your steering wheel in the direction indicated by an arrow on your AR visor. When you turn your head, a variety of friendly and hostile characters appear in front of you.
Two buttons on your steering wheel work as triggers for the succession of Koopa shells you’ll collect throughout the race. The more opponents you kill while aiming with your vision, the more gold coins you receive. All of your gold coins and digital stickers are transferred to your total high score at the end of the adventure via the optional (but not really optional) Power-Up Bands that can be purchased both within and outside of Super Nintendo World.
Meeeow! Cat Mario is finally here in #MarioKartTour! The Cream Cat Cruiser and the Cream Toe-Bean Balloons glider debut, along with the Goo-Goo Buggy, a kart perfect for Baby Mario (Koala)! It’s time for the Cat Tour! pic.twitter.com/QOIHFj6tzx
— Mario Kart Tour (@mariokarttourEN) June 1, 2022
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Making the trip so participatory has a certain allure – the thrill of being a part of the race’s real-time action is palpable. However, once you’ve completed the instructional films and are set to board your kart, you’ll notice the first snag: you’ll be sharing a kart with three other individuals.
It makes perfect sense from a logistical standpoint to have four people per kart. Because the entire time racing is roughly five minutes, the queue time would be tremendous if there were fewer individuals racing at the same time. The issue is that you’re battling other people for possession of the kart. This wouldn’t be a problem if the kart was only a two-seater, but with four people, things can get a little messy. Even if you’re rotating the wheel with perfect accuracy, if the person next to you isn’t, the kart will slow down, resulting in a juddery ride.
In addition, each rider receives a color-coded Koopa shell to help them keep track of where they’re firing. The issue is that your augmented reality display is broadcast to everyone on the same kart at the same time. So there are four fast-moving Koopa shells pinging around your vision at any given time. It’s a bit like spinning plates on your head while doing the can-can: tracking your shells and everyone else’s while rotating your head to aim and then steering with the wheel when asked.
From the conventional track to deserts and aquatic levels, the ride takes you through a variety of Mario Kart-level designs. The hectic nature of keeping track of everything, on the other hand, means that any well-designed physical settings hidden behind the AR screen are frequently overlooked. Even the soundtrack, which is a feature of Mario Kart and is normally a magnificent cacophony of big band foolishness, fades into the background as you concentrate on the task at hand. It’s primarily simply incredibly tense for four out of the five minutes of the ride. Until you reach Rainbow Road, that is.
Rainbow Road’s daring melody and sparkling visuals hit you like a spade after toiling through perplexing, bland stages. It’s wild and bold, and it perfectly conveys the pure anxiety and thrill of attempting to avoid falling off this infamous course. This is when Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge comes into its own. Every aspect of the game seems sleek and exhilarating, from the AR enemies to the kinetic experience of turning and shooting. It’s fantastic; it’s just too bad it’s only for the last few minutes of the voyage.
After everything has been said and done, and your score has been computed (I earned 129 gold coins, which I was pleased with until I saw the all-time high score of 445 flash up shortly after), you can exit Bowser’s Castle through one of Super Nintendo World’s two gift shops: Mario Motors.
Mario Motors is chock-full of Mario Kart-themed plushies, sweets, and a racing jacket that was nearly too tempting to pass up (the asking price of £14,000/£92 put an end to that). There’s something for everyone who wants to take home a souvenir from their time at Bowser’s Castle and beyond.
Overall, Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge is an entertaining ride that falls short of its ambitious objectives, which is a shame given how impressive the attraction’s enclosure within Bowser’s Castle and the rest of the attraction are.