Animatronic Goombas stare at you with those characteristic grimaces, glowing Question Blocks adorn nearby corners, and your eye is instantly drawn to the hundreds of little details packed into the relatively small section of Universal Studios Hollywood. Super Nintendo World is an impeccably built immersive experience, but it still comes with quite a few caveats. The park is absolutely not built to accommodate high amounts of traffic and that, unfortunately, means that many attendees might miss out on one of its very best features entirely: Bowser Jr.’s Shadow Showdown.
It was obvious to me that Super Nintendo World would be busy on its opening weekend, but even I was shocked by how poorly equipped the park itself was to handle the crowds. It’s as if Nintendo World feels intentionally designed to accommodate only small crowd sizes — much smaller than what was there opening weekend. This is essentially a condensed version of Universal Studios Japan’s Super Nintendo World, and it’s tucked into the back corner of Hollywood’s lower lot.
The focal point of the world is the Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride, which sits in the center inside Bowswer’s imposing castle. To the side of that are the Toadstool Cafe and four different “challenges” that each have its own queue. The problem arises then when the queues for each of these activities start to get egregiously long and spill over into the walking area for the rest of Nintendo World. Waiting an hour and a half for the Mario Kart ride or an hour for a challenge is to be expected on busy days and isn’t a problem, but it does become more of a problem when it makes getting around the entire area a headache.
Before we talk about Bowser Jr., we need to talk about the requirements you have to meet in order to play the Shadow Showdown. That’s right, it’s basically a final boss battle for Nintendo World that you’ll need to unlock the prerequisites for.
Challenges are short little activities that you or your group can take on. For example, one had us dashing around a little walkway to turn off alarm clocks in order to stop a Piranha Plant from waking up, while another had us spinning a crank to knock a Goomba off a spinning platform.
While you can line up and play these challenges simply for fun, they’re really used with an add-on item called the Power-Up Band. These bands cost an additional $40 on top of admission and work to “gamify” Super Nintendo World. Completing the aforementioned challenges will grant you a key, and the bands also let you interact with blocks and spots around the park to earn coins, stickers, or simply make cool things happen, like making a little pixel Mario appear on a wall.
Once you’ve collected three keys, either by completing challenges or finding them in blocks, you can finally enter Bowser Jr.’s castle. Sadly, the only way to do this is by buying up a Power-Up Band, although it does seem like the attendants are happy to let your whole party in, even if just one person has a band.
Bowser Jr.’s castle is filled with plenty of delightful details, but the real fun takes place in the main room, where ten players each have a little section of the wall they stand in front of. A light projects your shadow on the wall, which essentially becomes your character. During this timed game you need to wave your arms to hit Bob-ombs that fall, jump to hit Question Blocks and get power-ups, and kneel down to dodge Bullet Bills and flames. If you get a Fire Flower power-up you can even throw fire by doing a throwing motion with your arm.
Shadow Showdown is a brilliant way of integrating Mario mechanics into actual life and feels like the same kind of creativity Nintendo harnessed with its motion controls on the Wii. Everything feels surprisingly intuitive when you get the hang of things, and if you’re with a group, it’s especially fun to flail around together and see who gets the higher score. Outside of the Mario Kart ride, Shadow Showdown was my single favorite part of Nintendo World. It’s just a pity that so many attendees won’t see it, either because they never buy a Power-Up Band or simply don’t get around to getting enough keys, which is admittedly poorly explained.
It also seems like the kind of experience that you really only do once, as the handful of activities and Mario Kart ride are about all there is to do, outside of simply looking at the sights of course. Still, it’s an experience that I’m fully glad I had in person, but for anyone hoping to go, I’d absolutely recommend trying to time things for when the park is less busy, like weekdays or slow periods. Waiting in line for an hour and a half to do a three-minute challenge can be a bit defeating. Of course, if you do go make sure you absolutely don’t miss Bowser Jr.’s showdown, as it’s easily the most fun you’ll have all day.