The vice president of Universal Creative takes ET behind the scenes of the park's Mushroom Kingdom and real-life Mario Kart.
A place where fans of Mario and Luigi can meet their favorite plumbers? Thanks to Super Nintendo World, it’s no longer a pipe dream.
Universal Studios Hollywood has leveled up, utilizing every theme park trick in the book, plus a few new ones, with an immersive tribute to one of the most enduring pop culture phenomenons. While some park guests won’t be familiar with Koopa Troopa and Bullet Bills, everyone discovers that no sense goes unstimulated in Super Nintendo World.
ET chatted with Jon Corfino, vice president of Universal Creative, who opened up about the park’s joint effort with Nintendo to translate the digital world of the Mushroom Kingdom into real-life gameplay.
“I can’t say enough about the partnership and the value we place in that partnership, because it’s all about authenticity and making sure that we’re doing it right,” Corfino says of the collaboration, which counted two Nintendo legends in their braintrust, Takashi Tezuka and Shigeru Miyamoto, best known for creating the most iconic characters and games across the franchise’s four-decade history. “This is their brand, so they’ve been really engaged in every step along the way, including very rigorous looks at lighting and audio.”
Super Nintendo World is just as much an auditory experience as a visual one, thanks to the land’s symphony of video game sound effects from "?" blocks and interactive games. Corfino recalls walking speakers around the land with his Nintendo collaborators to ensure the distinctive areas maintain unique soundtracks. “The challenge is you’re talking about a very active land with a lot of different zones and locations that kind of have to be separated,” he explains.
Naturally, the signature attraction is based on Mario Kart, debuting first as Koopa's Challenge in 2021 at Universal Studios Japan. Its North American counterpart, Bowser’s Challenge, carries over the same medley of real set pieces and augmented reality projection mapping, with guests donning AR goggles as they race through underwater courses and the fan-favorite Rainbow Road. “I’ve ridden this thing 200 times,” Corfino shares. “I’m still going for my best score. I’ve learned something new every time I ride it.”
Located in Bowser’s Castle, the queue is jam-packed with franchise references. Some are novelty throwbacks, while others, like the library of Mario’s arch-nemesis, might provide riders the advantage they need to win and top the leaderboard.
“It gives you insights into how his mind works a little bit and his sense of humor,” Corfino offers. “There’s a lot of Easter eggs in there if you look at the book titles. And if you look at the open books, you get a little peek of what you might see in the ride.”
This attention to detail doesn’t stop at the elevators, where interior theming ensures the fantasy continues for all guests. Corfino calls inclusivity “a core value” that they refuse to compromise on while building. “We have to be inclusive. Everybody needs to be able to experience our rides and attractions,” he insists.
Of course, the Super Nintendo World experience begins at the iconic green pipe. Once inside, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure style journey from there. “The great part about it, like any game, there are no rules,” Corfino hypes. “We encourage exploration. You can go anywhere you want. There’s no ‘do this first.’ ‘Do this second.’ I could say as many times as you can come here, you can pick a different path and do something different.”
As Brie Larson proved on Wednesday at the land's opening ceremony, Super Nintendo World is also a hive of photo ops. “Everywhere you look there’s an Instagrammable moment,” Corfino figures. “There’s so much activity and kinetic motion all over the place. It’s really just about wherever you go.”
The land’s debut comes two months out from another big moment for Nintendo in 2023, the release of The Super Mario Brothers Movie on April 7. The voice of Mario, Chris Pratt, was also on hand Wednesday to celebrate the opening, and perhaps that Jurassic World actor’s newly minted honor of now having two franchise relationships with attractions in the park (tying with Tyrese Gibson, who has Transformers: The Ride 3-D and Fast & Furious: Supercharged).
While Super Nintendo World’s potential for Halloween Horror Nights writes itself (stilt walker Piranha Plants, etc), Corfino plays coy on any incorporation with the spooky season event, but playfully notes, “One can never tell what the future may hold.” This could also be said of the land’s digital-based features, which inherently suggest the land could see any number of upgrades and story additions moving forward.
“We’re always thinking about hypotheticals in terms of growth,” Corfino teases. “Right now, we’re very pleased with where it is. Also, we’re gonna learn what works. The audiences are coming in and I’m sure we’re gonna learn from reactions.”
He adds, “We have a lot of surprises coming in the future. We have some new things coming down the road in other places. I wouldn’t rule anything out. There’s nothing planned, but we always think about that, especially in this type of gamified experience.”
On that note, let’s-a-go.
Super Nintendo World is now open at Universal Studios Hollywood.