From Super Nintendo World to Joypolis, the joy of video game theme parks

If you haven’t been to a theme park in a long time because, like me, you feel like you’ve grown up or don’t have your own family as an excuse for such a day, then you might feel tired of their utopian gimmicks, masking their capitalist tendencies to boot. your wallet for all it’s worth.

However, it’s easy to be fooled by gimmicks when it’s done well and also aligns with your own interests. So, despite not visiting a theme park in over 15 years, I’m just as excited about the opening of Super Nintendo World in Hollywood this month. Or rather, I’m excited for all of you planning to go because I already had the pleasure of visiting him at Universal Studios Japan, which is essentially the same experience.

As far as theme parks go, there are a few things to prepare before heading to Super Nintendo World. On the one hand, it is a smaller area located within the Universal Studios park, with that of Japan also containing a Harry Potter Wizarding World, an area dedicated to the Peanuts characters and even, hilariously next to the Mushroom Kingdom, Waterworld.

Because it’s new and popular, buying a ticket to Universal Studios doesn’t guarantee entry to Super Nintendo World either. In Japan, you need to obtain a timed ticket which must be requested on the park app on the day while you are on site. Despite arriving when the park opened, I still had to wait until 11:30 am to be able to enter.

Super Nintendo World in Japan.

It’s not exactly a place you’re visiting for thrilling roller coasters either, featuring just two rides, the AR-based Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge and the kid-friendly Yoshi’s Adventure (the latter not the Hollywood version). Thrill seekers are better off checking out the park’s other attractions – I went on the nearby Jurassic Park rides while waiting for my admission time. Instead, Super Nintendo World is really about you immersing yourself in the world of Mario and his friends, which happens right when you walk through the entrance to the big green warp tube.

The moment you see yourself stepping out into Peach Castle, from the paintings on the wall you feel like you could jump to the stained glass window of the princess herself, it’s hard not to be enchanted. And when you step outside and see the familiar rectangular landmasses seen in so many of the 2D games, populated by recognizable characters like Yoshis, Thwomps and, of course, a flagpole at the top, even the overcast weather at the time couldn’t dispel the magic that I I really was transported into a world I’ve only previously seen in video games.

Not only do the models look exactly like you’d imagine, even all the gold coins are spinning in place like they do in the Mario game. But it’s the playful design, I think, that’s what makes it a proper video game theme park. Of course there are question blocks you can get right to earn coins or music blocks that produce notes. The rides themselves aren’t just passive experiences you go through: in Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, you’re competing with others to get a high score; even Yoshi’s adventure has a simple interactive element of identifying colored eggs.

First Insider Look at Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Getting the most out of that interactivity however comes at an additional cost as you have to shell out for an expensive power-up band which will set you back around £23 (multiply if you’re a family) which keeps track of your score as well as keys earned in interactive mini-challenges scattered across the site, with three keys required to unlock a boss battle with Bowser Jr.

For a one-time visit, it’s a considerable cost, but you can better judge the value if you have plans for repeat visits or another Super Nintendo World site. That certainly seems to be the intention, as the app that the power-up bands are linked to shows all the collectible stamps you can earn that are realistically impossible to unlock in a single visit. There’s definitely an incentive to return with plans to expand the site so there are attractions other than Mario like Donkey Kong, although observant people can currently spot Pikmin in the wild, shamelessly placed in positions that make them difficult to get a good photo of. with a camera.

But while Super Nintendo World was on my itinerary when I planned my first post-Covid trip to Japan, there was another trip that happened as a surprise on the way back to Tokyo.


Nintendo isn’t the first to open a video game theme park. Sega did this in the early 1990s with Joypolis, a chain of indoor theme parks. Since then, however, most of them have closed, except for one in Odaiba. Since I thought of taking a day trip to Tokyo’s pleasure island, also home to the giant Unicorn Gundam statue, I thought I should also visit Joypolis. But compared to the wonder of Super Nintendo World, would this decades-old covered theme park be a pitiful shadow of its former self?

As it turned out, Joypolis was technically more fun than Super Nintendo World, in terms of the rides and games it offered. I arrived after lunch in the afternoon with only a few hours left until the park closed that day, but I still had a passport, which gives access to all rides and games, otherwise you would have to pay individually for each ride on top of the entrance ticket base.

These tours, facilitated by staff dressed in retrofuturistic Joypolis uniforms, ran the gamut. The AS-1 motion simulator starring Michael Jackson was long gone, but other motion pods drew queues, including a 360-degree shooter based on the Transformers movies. Meanwhile, Sonic Athletics lets you choose between Blue Blur and his friends to compete in three events played on a treadmill. For a more traditional gaming experience, there’s a condensed but also tweaked version of the arcade shooter The House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn, where the challenge isn’t so much surviving considering you have infinite ammo, but seeing which player can get it. the highest score in that group and that day overall.

There are a surprising amount of different licensed IPs, including a ghost house-type experience with Sadako from the Ring series, which I must confess I didn’t like. A personal treat, however, was discovering that Joypolis has its own exclusive Ace Attorney game, featuring three different cases of varying complexity within the location.

home of the dead

Home of the dead.

Basically, there is a recreation of Phoenix Wright’s office, where you are given the case, but to find clues and interview witnesses by going to different booths located on the same floor, while you are also given a mini booklet where you can write down clues to use in the trial. , accessed from another special stateroom within a recreation of the courthouse.

The main caveat is that this game can only be played in Japanese, and the staff will warn non-Japanese speaking tourists in advance. Thankfully, thanks to Google Translate on my phone, I was still able to complete the case easier and figure out what was going on, and get past all the delicious objections and twist reactions the series is so well known for.

Plus, Joypolis still somehow manages to squeeze in some thrill rides of its own, which feels even more mind-blowing indoors, even if I remember the Pepsi Max Drop at the old London Trocadero. Half-pipe Tokyo is exactly what it sounds like, simulating skating a half-pipe while tethered and trying to tap your feet on the ‘board’ at just the right moment while J-pop music blasts through. Gekion Live Coaster is perhaps the strangest combination – an indoor roller coaster that is also a rhythm game!

Although I had lowered expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by Joypolis and, in fact, I believe it is a worthy visit for company alongside Super Nintendo World. I suppose part of it is just the old Sega fanboy in me talking. But as the company’s departure from the arcade business in Japan unfortunately saw its once-iconic gaming hubs close or rename their new owners GiGO, it’s also special to see Joypolis still sporting the Sega logo, as it’s owned by another company that still uses the licensing. This means you can also buy Sonic merchandise or even get your picture taken with the pig himself.

To come out of another theme park, these really are magical places on earth, the only thing more magical perhaps is dining at a themed restaurant. But that’s for another article.

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