It’s fair to say since that day it was announced first Three and a half years ago, Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge (probably referred to here in America as the Bowser’s Challenge) was one of the most anticipated new rides that Universal has left in a while – maybe since then Harry Potter and the Forbidden JourneyIndeed, the attraction that helped redefine what kind of intellectual property experience was possible in a theme park. This wasn’t just thanks to the topic itself – who has not Wanted to buckle into one of those crazy carts with Mario and friends and unleash turtle shells and banana peels as you speed through the Mushroom Kingdom? – but it was fueled by Universal’s comments on the new ride, which promised it would be revolutionary and “unlike any other the world has ever seen”.
Now that the media embargo on Super Nintendo World was taken over at Universal Studios Japan (where it’s been in technical rehearsals since December 20, 2020), and now that we’ve had the chance to ride Koopa’s Challenge for ourselves, we can start thinking about how revolutionary – and satisfactory – from an experience it is. And to get that right, just like any attraction, we have to start with the queue.
(Before we dive into the new theme park land’s flagship attraction, we should point out that we’re also taking out some of its other elements for a spin, such as: Yoshi’s adventure and Bowser, Jr. Shadow Showdown.)
Mario Kart: The queue
Mario Kart: The Koopa’s Challenge queue is a short but fine journey through Bowser’s Castle that reaches various key locations as you learn the basic premise for the ride: Bowser, King of the Koopas, and his clan of Koopaling descendants have Mario and challenged its squad of allies to a huge showdown of a race, with the golden Universal Cup going to the winners. (You will, of course, be enlisted to fight the good guys and will do your best to help them win by battling the Koopas and their various dirty tricks.)
The journey begins with a grand staircase and past the majestic statue that Bowser built of himself. From there you enter a type of storage room where various racing accessories such as tires have been stacked. King Koopa’s personal throne room, where he longingly left a picture of Princess Peach on his throne; and his secret armory where he makes a veritable army of bomb ombs, bullet bills and mechacoopas. Everything strikes a good balance between loyalty to the cartoony world of Super mario bros. and the sense of lived reality that a country absolutely requires in a theme park (much like the rest of Super Nintendo World outside); One area has a magazine dedicated to Bowser called Brute Force, while advertisements for various in-world services like Green Shell Taxi and Bowser Oil dot the dungeon landscape. (Our personal favorite, however, has to be the eye-catching Art Deco-style piranha plant lamp that stands prominently in Koopa’s cave.)
Along the way, the guests are introduced to Team Mario (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Toad and Yoshi) and Team Koopa (namely Bowser and all of his various children) in the form of banners that hang prominently on the wall. A nice appeal for longtime video game fans, and a great introduction for anyone new to it Mario kart. Indeed, this double heavy lifting can be applied to the entire experience, from the showcases of the various enemies and traps that drivers face while racing to the MKTV (Mario Kart Television) OB van, to the Koopa handcart hand-operated weapon-making room. (Both veterans and newbies will also want to watch out for the various little visual gags that occasionally pop up in the queue, such as the King Book portrait coming to life, which has a great impact.)
Mario Kart: The driving experience
The heart of the Mario Kart: Koopa Challenge experience is the augmented reality glasses that you received before boarding – which we knew before boarding. What we really noticed, however, was how exactly the ride handles its centerpiece: first you get a Mario-style hat when you enter the preshow room, and then when you step aboard the vehicle you get the AR -Glasses themselves that snap into place on the brim of your super hat using magnets. It’s actually a pretty nifty process that helps streamline the boarding process (which unfortunately wasn’t always the case for attractions added by virtual reality, like SeaWorld’s short-lived ones octopus Revision).
There’s an extra step here, and it’s a small but important one: connect yours Power Up Band to drive to enable score tracking and stat collection. It’s also quick and easy by tapping the big M on the steering wheel in front of you with your wristband.
Speaking of steering, this would be a good time to point out how Mario Kart works. Each of the four seats is equipped with a number of controls so that every driver has the opportunity to drive the kart during the insane race. Each of you are also able to shoot turtle shells at any point during the ride – this is how you fight that nasty Koopa clan – and you’ll be assigned one of four different colors just so you know who is what during the heat of the ride throws action (it’s also an easy way to keep track of everyone’s total score at the end). Shooting is done by pressing the trigger on the top of the steering wheel. However, remember that you also need to aim by looking directly at your target – and of course you need some grenades first, which can be achieved by the driver hitting question mark blocks like in the games. (And for every villain you defeat, you’ll also get a coin as a reward.)
At the start of the race you will be paired with another vehicle filled with four additional guests and the two of you will be randomly assigned the color red or blue to make it easier to keep track of the various members of Team Mario. When fighting against all other passengers in both karts, always think about the best individual ranking. However, always remember that you must also work together to beat Team Koopa, the computer controlled players, together – and yes, you can really win if you don’t follow the best instructions (arrows will appear on your glasses when you sitting at the wheel knowing which direction to turn) or attacking Bowser when he’s at the wheel will appear in AR form all around you.
The circuit itself is made up of several different sections that make a nice selection of all the different circuits from the different ones Mario kart Rates over the past 29 years. Each is brought to life with a combination of physical sets and lighting, augmented reality imagery, and, in at least some memorable sequences, video projections – just like Universal promised a long time ago as. While we don’t want to give away to For much of the entire experience, we’ll say that one of the highlights for us was running through King Boo’s haunted house with its swinging lights and that there’s nothing like dodging real thwomps and piranha plants. (Oh yeah – the legendary Rainbow Road really is an appropriate kind of grand finale, where all the disparate technological media are brought together to the finish line in one fun, insane shot.)
At the end of the race, a winner will be announced and everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom seated in the stands – mostly Koopa Troopas, Shy Guys, and Hammer Bros. – cheered the winning team on, whether it was Mario or Mario Koopa.
Mario Kart: The gift shop
Much like any self-respecting theme park attraction, guests exit (either triumphant or dejected, depending on performance) a gift shop. It’s called Mario Motors and is a store filled with all kinds of goodies, both merchandise and themes – the perfect complement to the entire Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge experience.
The centerpiece is none other than Mario himself, who revs up a kart in a hang-glider configuration (a staple from the source material, in case you’re not familiar). Above him is a vividly painted sky that spans the entire ceiling and through which other members of Team Mario slide. On the lip of the wall, just before the chessboard edge that separates the shop from the sky of the Mushroom Kingdom, is a ring of racetrack-like signs and advertisements that we first saw in line – here, in some of the most notable are Red Shell Strike Equipment, Yoshi’s Egg Market and (the best of the best) BaNaNaBoy, whose slogan encourages you to: “Let one slip!” When you first enter, there is also a pit stop area listing the “karting services” available to your racing driver are, and a mural that dominates the back wall and shows a winding racetrack with lots of toads and “Mario Motors”. Signs populate the street.
The most noticeable items available for purchase – largely because they are arranged around the central Mario-in-Flight statue – are plush versions of the various items Mario kart Items like bananas and the famous (or maligned) blue spiked bowl. Other items include clothing, pens, cookies, puzzles, and key chains, along with many other smaller items (including some repetitions from the 1-Up factory located elsewhere in the country).
What do you think of Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge? Are you ready to drive it here in America? Share your thoughts with 110,000+ other die-hard universal fanatics in ours Orlando Informer Community on Facebook.
(Image credit to @Bee_my_honeyyy.)