The Game Landscape of Super Nintendo World

Mario, the iconic mustachioed plumber and protagonist of the game Super Mario Bros, has become the centerpiece of a new interactive theme park: Super Nintendo World, which is scheduled to open as soon as it is safe to at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. A life-sized video game landscape that cost upwards of $575 million and took more than five years to plan, design, and build, Super Nintendo World creates an immersive universe that uses video projections and augmented reality to blur the lines between game life and the real world.

In his discussion of what landscape architects can learn from Hollywood, Chip Sullivan, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, explained how powerful films engage in the act of “world building, creating an entire logic.” One world building colossus — the Harry Potter collection — was recently transformed into the theme park The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, also at Universal Studios. According to Sullivan, the Wizarding World “puts drama everywhere, creates illusion and hide-and-seek moments, and features a mosaic of facades that have larger foregrounds.”

In the same vein, Super Nintendo World offers a complex, layered universe that seeks to amplify the experience of being totally immersed in defeating Bowser (King Koopa in Japan) in the Mario games. There are obstacles to overcome, points to win, friends to play with, and even a “secret” underground level to unlock. The game narrative — which is about discovering, honing problem-solving skills, and always moving up to the next level — takes landscape form.

Map of Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

Just as in the game, when Mario moves through a green warp pipe to ascend to the next level, visitors will enter the theme park through a real green tube, where they arrive in the lobby of Princess Peach’s Castle and can look up at Bowser’s Fortress and Mount Beanpole and see a mushroom landscape.

Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

Within Bowser’s fortress, visitors play a real-life version of Mario Kart, a popular driving game. Riders will be given augmented-reality googles that synch with elaborate video projections mapped to areas of the course.

Mario Kart: King Koopa / Super Nintendo World, Universal Studios Japan

Players can purchase a “Power Up Band” that enables them to collect points as they hit or kick objects and obtain “virtual character stamps” as they race through the course. The wristbands are also connected to an app, accessible via QR code, and all members of a party can join together, allowing them to play as a team. Points will determine scores, turning the entire Super Nintendo World into a real-time game.

Power Up Bands / Universal Studios Japan

Players will need the band to collect virtual keys spread throughout the park in order to access other game levels, including Shadow Showdow, which includes a fight with King Koopa’s son, Junior. According to the Orlando Informer, “in order to beat the dastardly villain, ‘players’ will need to join together and ‘jump, punch, and use your entire body and all your instincts.'”

Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

An underground level is also only accessible if a player earns enough points. According to the Informer, “it mimics one of the subterranean courses found in the Super Mario Bros. games.” There is a “section that changes its scale as you make your way through it, eventually making you feel as if you’ve been hit by a baddie and shrunk down to Mini-Mario size.”

For those passionate about Nintendo, watch a 15-minute video tour of the new theme park with Shigeru Miyamoto, legendary video game designer and creator of Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. Also, take a virtual tour.

The project was designed in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of theme park planners, designers, and engineers at Universal Creative. Additional Super Nintendo Worlds are planned for other Universal Studios in the U.S.

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