First Ride: Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is a technical marvel that will thrill fans of the game

Today, Mario Kart officially arrives in Hollywood with the opening of the highly anticipated Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios.

It’s the first time Nintendo have opened an interactive park in the United States, and comes two years (almost to the day) after Universal debuted their collaborative themed land at their Osaka, Japan location.

While the Japan location has two rides, Yoshi’s Adventure and Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge, and another to come in the form of a Donkey Kong themed roller coaster, the Hollywood location just has the one, Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. And yes, name change aside, it’s an almost identical experience to the one in Osaka.

While the ride is accompanied by an impressive land with additional interactive (and culinary) experiences, which I talk about over in this article, let’s talk about the Kart experience.

I had the chance to ride it at the Grand Opening on Wednesday, as the father of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, helped launch the park alongside Hollywood celebrities, including Chris Pratt, who’s voicing Mario in the upcoming Super Mario Bros. animated film – which is part of Universal and Nintendo’s continued collaboration.

The experience starts in a wide spanning queuing area. There’s nothing interactive in the queue – which is somewhat disappointing given how interactive the rest of the land is – but Mario Kart fans will enjoy the rooms filled with Easter Eggs and features from the games all the same.

I particularly enjoyed the book shelves…

Once you’ve made your way through the lengthy queue, you go through two holding rooms in the leadup to the ride. This is typical of modern ride experiences, as they give you the instructions for the experience, provide context as to the “story” behind it all, and give you all something to do while you’re technically still just standing in the queue.

Props here to the cast members who do a great job at staying in character as you make your way through this part of the experience.

After those rooms, you are given a Mario hat, to which you’ll attach the AR visor to once you sit down on the ride.

You’ll have the option to take the right lane or the left lane. The idea is that you’ll be “racing” against people on the other side, and each side of the track brings with it some minute differences. I preferred the right side (for no discernable reason), though you do have a bit more walking to do to exit the attraction if you do end up on that side.

When you sit down, if you have a Power-Up Band, make sure to tap on to the ride to add all the coins to your collection!

Before you start collecting those coins, you’re given an opportunity to test out your aim, and get a handle on the controls, with unlimited shells. But once the ride officially starts (which you’ll know by way of the same Mario Kart race countdown as you’ll find in the games), you’ll only get the shells that the item cubes give you – which may not be clear at first.

To see how many shells you have, you need to look down at your steering wheel. You’ll also see your coin count represented here. While it doesn’t seem like you have any actual control of the vehicle, turning at the right times (you’re given arrows to follow to know when to do so), will also give you coins – so be sure to follow those instructions.

Since you control where you shoot by where you look, this is the main design flaw in the experience – having to look down to see your available shells may ensure you miss a shot. But other than this, it’s an incredible technological achievement. The way you interact with the physical space around you is seamless, and you’ll get some visceral experiences from it along the way – from feeling like you’re underwater, to the heat of fire that surrounds you.

This is a ride designed for fans of the game, with the design of Mario Kart 8 on the Nintendo Switch seeming to lead the way.

But the sounds and designs will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a Mario Kart game – from the SNES generation (1992) onwards.

You’ll see levels like Twisted Mansion, Cloudtop Cruise and of course Rainbow Road represented. Features of the game like Bob-ombs and that blasted squid ink guy also make appearances. But beyond that I’ll let you experience it for yourself.

I wrote some more tips about the ride, and the decisions behind it, HERE.

Final Verdict

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is a technical marvel that has been built to please fans of the game, filled with all the sights and sounds that make you feel like you’re really IN it.

Those who haven’t played it before will still find plenty to love, and expect a bit of a learning curve for even the most seasoned of Mario Kart veterans. You’ve never played the game like this, after all.

In that respect, you’re all on a bit of an even playing field the first time you jump on the experience. And ironically, I scored better on my first try than I did on my later ones. Call it beginner’s luck!

While the AR technology may need some fine tuning over time, and as mentioned it was disappointing not to see more interactive elements in the queue, it’s an incredible t achievement, both through the visor and in the way they integrate it into the physical space.

And to temper some expectations: Speed is mostly an illusion here. Without the AR gamification, the ride may feel fairly slow moving. But with it, it makes for an unforgettable experience that fans of the game are going to eat up with glee. I was lucky enough to ride it a number of times, and already can’t wait to get back and try it again. Maybe I’ll finally beat the score of my first go!


Super Nintendo World opens today at Universal Studios Hollywood. For tickets and more details head HERE.

The author visited Super Nintendo World as a guest of Universal Studios Hollywood. Photos by the author, Larry Heath, except for the headline photo, supplied by Universal Studios Hollywood. 

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.