Super Nintendo World in Universal Studios Japan may not have had its grand opening just yet, but thanks to previews and technical rehearsals guests have already gotten a chance to experience its rides, including Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge.
Since it’s hard to tell without seeing it in person, many are wondering what this new ride is actually like. Let’s go over how the ride system, Augmented Reality technology, and game mechanics work together, to let you play a video game in real life on the Mario Kart ride.
Super Nintendo World in Universal Studios Japan first opened to guests this past December through special previews. While the official opening has been delayed until the after the current “state of emergency” precautions are lifted in Osaka, the park is still open with a very limited capacity.
The new land features interactive activities and walk-throughs, a couple gift shops, quick service location, and two rides—a family ride named Yoshi’s Adventure, and the land’s main attraction, Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge. (See the video below for a firsthand account and overview of the entire land.)
The Mario Kart ride is around 5 minutes long and has a height requirement of at least 42 inches tall. You enter the attraction through Bowser’s Castle. After ascending the grand staircase you’ll encounter a massive statue of Bowser himself. The queue passes through several locations within his castle, including a workshop where he’s producing bad guys and other obstacles he’ll be using against you on the ride.
The premise for this attraction is that Bowser has challenged Mario to a race that he designed. As a part of Team Mario, you’ll be helping to defeat Bowser at his own race. The name of this course is the Universal Cup, which is fitting for the venue.
At the end of the queue, riders are given a visor that looks like a Mario hat—and since we’re now a part of Team Mario, the hat is appropriate. This ready room allows everyone time to adjust the hat to fit their head, while also watching a short presentation featuring Miis that teaches you how the ride’s game mechanics work.
Next, you move on to the ride’s load area, and take your seat in the ride vehicle, which is modeled after Mario’s kart. There are 4 seats per car, in two rows of two. The back row is set a bit higher than the first row. This stadium seating arrangement makes it easier for those in the back to see the action over the heads of the riders in the front row.
Once seated, you’re instructed to snap the main part of the Augmented Reality headset into the hat visor you’re already wearing. This main part, which is attached to the car, holds the projection unit necessary to make the AR work. Keeping it attached to the car not only keeps guests from stealing it, but helps keep it lighter since the weight of a battery pack or external processing unit isn’t needed to sit on your head.
There are two sets of cars that travel through the ride at the same time along two parallel tracks. The ride vehicles have the ability to spin, using a controlled spin mechanism, similar to the way the ride vehicles rotate on Men in Black: Alien Attack in Universal Studios Florida. This is used at various points throughout the ride as the story calls for it.
The ride itself uses several different technologies and tricks, combined together, to create an entirely new type of theme park attraction. The first layer are the physical sets. Much like a classic-style dark ride, many of the scenes for Mario Kart feature real, tangible set pieces. We drive around and through these set pieces to create a sense of space.
Another layer on this attraction is provided by both integrated screens and projection mapping. Similar to experiences like Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway in Walt Disney World, the projections for Mario Kart are not limited to screen surfaces, but can also be found on 3-dimensional objects. This can add some dynamic life to otherwise non-moving scenery. It can also be used to create a moving road surface when projected directly towards the ground in front of you.
The final layer for this attraction is provided by the Augmented Reality visor itself. This technology adds 3-dimensional imagery on top of your view, which blends into the reality around you. This is different from Virtual Reality, which replaces everything you see with a completely new visual image. Augmented Reality instead adds extra stuff onto what you’re really seeing. And for the Mario Kart ride, it’s the main way we get to interact with the ride, and play along.
Throughout our journey around the course, we pass through settings taken directly from the games. Some of the scenes include Dolphin Shoals, Twisted Mansion, Grumble Volcano, and Rainbow Road. Different parts of the ride see us facing off against different characters from Team Bowser including Bowser and the Koopalings.
To win the race we’re going to need to earn as many points as possible, by defeating enemies and collecting coins. One of the ways you earn coins is by paying attention to arrows displayed in AR. These arrows tell us to turn the steering wheel either to the left or right at various points throughout the ride. If all 4 riders in the car are playing along and follow the arrows as directed, they will earn more points and increase the chance of Team Mario winning the match. The steering wheel will not change where your ride vehicle goes, as they do run along a predetermined path along a track.
The steering wheel also has trigger buttons on both sides. These are used for firing Koopa Shells. At multiple points throughout the ride you will be able to collect special blocks. They will earn you 10 or more shells each time. This ammo of shells are what you use to fire at the enemies during the race. They work the same as green shells from the video games, but will be a different color for each seat in the car. You’ll be able to see the shells you’re firing, as well as the shells of the others riding with you.
To aim your shells you just need to turn your head. Wherever you are physically looking is where your shells will be fired when you press one of the trigger buttons. Both buttons fire the same way so it doesn’t matter which trigger you’re pressing. Since you aim by looking around, you’ll need to physically turn your head to face your target, and not just your eyes.
Every time you hit a member of Team Bowser, you earn more coins. So direct hits are very important for Team Mario to be able to win. Combine those hits with coins earned by turning when the arrows direct you, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to see Mario cross the finish line at Victory Lane. If your team’s cars don’t earn enough coins during the race, you’ll end up getting the alternate ending where Bowser is on the first place pedestal instead.
Before returning to load you can compare your car’s score to that of other cars, as well as the highest scores for the day. And if you’re wearing a Power-Up Band, which is a wristband you can purchase to interact with the land, your Mario Kart score can be added to the app’s High Score listings as well! Just tap your band to the “M” logo in the center of your steering wheel to record your score. You’ll also earn stamps in the app for achievements like hitting Bowser and all the Koopalings in a single race, or having the highest score in yours and the other car.
While Super Nintendo World was announced to officially open this week, they have postponed the grand opening at this time. They say a new grand opening date will be announced after the “state of emergency” has been lifted in Osaka. Guests of Universal Studios Japan may have a chance to experience a technical rehearsal during this time, but it is not guaranteed that all attractions will be open.
That’s all for now, but stay tuned to the site for more theme park news and updates, including more details on Super Nintendo World in Japan, as well as future locations like Hollywood and Orlando.
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