Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge Review at Universal Studios Japan


Super Nintendo World officially opened on March 18, 2021, after a few delays due to the global pandemic. I was fortunate to ride the highly anticipated Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge at Universal Studios Japan! A ride where you can, for the first time, live out your Mario Kart childhood fantasy legitimately.

Does Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge live up to our expectations? You’re about to find out. There’s a lot to this attraction, so I’ll break it down in detail.

There are spoilers throughout this, so if you only want to know my verdict on the ride, you can skip to the end of the article.

Table of Contents

Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge Overview

Entrance into Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge

Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge is the headline attraction in Super Nintendo World. The best way to describe this is to imagine you’re plopped right into a Mario Kart race with a mixture of AR (augmented reality) and over-the-top physical sets that deliver a unique experience.

Without a doubt in my mind, every person visiting Super Nintendo World wants to experience Mario Kart.

With good reason.

You’ll race other guests through iconic Mario Kart courses, toss shells, spin out of control, and shed a tear, knowing that your childhood has come to life.

Fun Fact: Bowser is known as Koopa in Japan, hence the name “Koopa’s Challenge.” I’d expect when the attraction comes to Universal Studios Hollywood and Florida; it’ll bear the name “Bowser’s Challenge” since that’s how most of the world knows him.

Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge Queue

When you enter Super Nintendo World, it’ll take a minute to get your bearings because, at first, everything is so overwhelming with the bright colours, iconic music and sound effects, and the sheer joy you’ll feel. 

At the back of Super Nintendo World, you’ll see Bowser’s Castle (I know his name is Koopa in Japan, but I’ll refer to him as Bowser). While the facade looks small outside, the inside is an entirely different story.

The queue is massive and so filled with Mario Kart references and fanfare that you can’t help but have a huge smile. As you walk up the stairs, you’ll see an overbearing Bowser statue, followed by the iconic Race Cups and the “Universal Cup” specific to the attraction. 

As you wind through the long queue, there are various rooms with references to all the different Mario Kart games throughout the years, from the Mario Kart TV (MKTV) van to a library full of books with references like “The Art of Ball??n Battle.”

There are tons of books with different Mario references throughout

On top of that, there are fun animated elements sprinkled throughout the queue. You’ll encounter a Boo within the library, who appears briefly and then disappears. You’ll hear the unmistakable sound of it appearing and disappearing.

The long and detailed queue makes much sense with how popular this will undoubtedly be. The library is my favourite portion of the queue, with all the small details sprinkled throughout.

AR Headset

The most significant part of Mario Kart is the AR headset and glasses. Once you’re in the preshow area, you’re given your Mario Cap visor. This visor comes with adjustable straps to secure it to your head.

You’ll notice straight away there are no AR glasses on the headset. The glasses are attached to the steering wheel when you enter your race kart. They’re pretty easy to secure as they slide into place and are secured with magnets onto the headset. 

A cute and fun instructional video in the pre-show shows you how to do this. So don’t worry; you have plenty of time between receiving your headset and going through the preshow and additional queue.

Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge Ride Details

The loading area for Mario Kart is double-sided (think Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts or Big Thunder Mountain), and you’re assigned to a numbered Kart. Each Kart is a different character, which fills my heart with glee.

A total of 4 racers are in each Kart, and the first thing to do once you pull down the lap bar is to tap your Power Up Band on the steering wheel. This will sync your score and achievements to the Universal Studios Japan app. I did not do this the first time and missed out on collecting stamps.

Once you’ve tapped your Power Up Band, slide the AR goggle onto your headset. They’ll snap into place relatively easily. It’s well designed, and even in the hectic environment – it’s Mario Kart, after all – I could quickly attach the goggles to my headset.

After you’ve left the loading station, there’s a quick tutorial showing you how to shoot the shells you’ll collect on the racecourse. These shells shoot in the direction you’re looking. This is key to remember.

The Race

The race begins like every other Mario Kart game you’ve ever played – with the iconic countdown music. The first moment I heard that I got chills down my spine and had the biggest smile on my face.

Once the race begins, your Kart moves along the rails. This isn’t a free-for-all go-kart experience; it’s along a track. How quickly you move through the course determines how in sync everyone can steer when prompted.

At different points during the race, arrows appear on your AR glasses, indicating which way to steer the wheel. If everyone does it roughly simultaneously, you’ll move quickly and potentially get ahead of the other kart you’re “racing.” 

Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge combines AR on your headset and physical sets. The courses you’ll race through have physically moving set pieces with additional elements superimposed through the AR glasses when you’re looking at them.

What do you see on the AR Glasses?

The AR glasses are the screen where you’ll see a variety of gaming elements. When you look at your steering wheel, you see your coins and items first. And since this is a race, you’ll see all the other virtual racers you’ll shoot your shells at, which is satisfying.

Finally, on all the physical sets, you’ll see AR elements on top of them. This makes it challenging for a ride-through video that captures what it feels like.

The overall execution is clever and chaotic. You feel as if you’re right in a game of Mario Kart. You’re being spun around because you were hit by a shell, trying to shoot the other races on-screen (aka on your AR glasses) while attempting to soak in all the fun Mario Kart elements thrown your way.

It’s genuinely Mario Kart that comes to life.

The feeling of Mario Kart captures perfectly that chaotic energy that we all know and love. It’s all here, and you won’t help but have a smile on your face.

Of the different levels you race through, my favourite was Rainbow Road. The bright colours, music, and sheer chaos (I use that word a lot) are hilariously fun.

Once the race is over, you’ll see everyone’s coin score on screens before you pull into the loading station. If you’ve tapped your Power Up Band, your data is recorded for you to check in your app!

Is Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge worth the hype?

Watch our video with my initial reactions to Mario Kart after my first ride!

Does this Mario Kart ride live up to expectations? This is tough because so many things are done right, but some things left me going, “Oh, ok.”

I love that I can experience Mario Kart in the “real world.”

The queue is outstanding, and the immense detail here is the true standout. As for the ride itself, many will be disappointed that it doesn’t move “fast” as you’d expect from Mario Kart. Think of it as a slightly slower-moving version of Men in Black: Alien Attack at Universal Studios Florida.

Why does it move so slowly?

The ride moves slower than expected due to your headset and AR glasses. On one of my ride-throughs, I attempted to adjust my headset, and it fell off my head as we spun.

I’d imagine it’s a safety concern and challenge when wearables are involved. A safety issue is vehicles moving quickly, like Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo DisneySea, Test Track in EPCOT, or Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure.

It’s a ride on rails that moves at a seemingly slow pace through entertaining physical sets that’ll make you cheer in glee. Mixed with the AR, it’s an overwhelming experience.

You need to ride multiple times

The gamification requires multiple ride-throughs to collect all the stamps (achievements). Most visitors won’t collect all the stamps in a single visit, which may be frustrating for some. But that’s how these achievements work in video gaming. They’re designed to have you come back for more.

The first time you “play” Mario Kart, you will suck. Your first ride-through is overwhelming, and it’ll take at least one to get the hang of the mechanics. You’ll come off the ride wondering, “What just happened?”

After riding it multiple times, I found it more enjoyable the second and third times. I had a better idea of how the mechanics worked and figured out where to look with the AR.

Mario Kart is absolute chaos; I love that because it’s true to the game. During your first ride-through, you may come off disappointed. But ride again, and you’ll enjoy it much more.

That’s a tough challenge, mixing an attraction with video game elements. I believe Nintendo and Universal did an excellent job. Would I call this the best high-tech attraction ever? No, I wouldn’t. But my gosh, I had so much fun that I didn’t care. 

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Mario Kart Tips

Here are a few tips for experiencing Mario Kart at Super Nintendo World to make your day easier.

Can I fit inside the ride vehicle for Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge?

If you’re on the larger side, you may have a bit of trouble with being secured into the Kart. It’s a pull-down lap bar. Thankfully, before you get into the queue, there is a seat for you to try at the entrance. It’s to the left as soon as you enter Bowser’s mouth. 

Is there a single rider line for Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge?

Yes, there’s a single rider line along with Express Pass! Whenever you can, use the Single Rider line to make your wait shorter.

Power-Up Bands

Power-Up Band Super Nintendo World

Mario Kart isn’t complete without that trackable gaming element. If you don’t have a Power-Up Band, you’re only getting half the experience, in my opinion. Yes, it’s a gimmick, but I don’t care; I’m here for it. 

When you have your Power-Up Band, you can keep track of your stats each time you ride. There are multiple challenges, achievements (in the form of stickers), and rankings. 

It’s important to note that you need to tap your Power-Up Band on the steering wheel (where the big M is) to begin tracking. I made this mistake the first time I rode, so I didn’t record anything from my first ride-through. Please don’t make the same mistake I did.

I loved, loved, loved the ability to check my stats after the race. It’s a fun way to get you to want to come back to ride to collect all the stamps and bragging rights for having the best score. I think Nintendo and Universal nailed it when integrating gaming elements into an attraction. 

You’ll see all your stats within the official Universal Studios Japan app, available in English on iOS and Android. Make sure you download the app before your visit.

Learn more about Super Nintendo World with our complete guide.

Do you have any questions about Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge? Let us know in the comments!

More on Universal Studios Japan

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Book Your Flight

I use Google Flights & Momodo to find affordable flights. Another great way is to sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get notifications of cheap fares, which happens often in Japan. You’ll sometimes stumble on cheap flights to Kansai International Airport.

Buy Your Shinkansen Tickets (Bullet Train)

Getting around Japan by the world-renowned bullet train, known as the Shinkansen, is incredibly fast, reliable, and affordable for visitors. You can travel from Tokyo to Osaka in just over 2 hours. Get the JR Rail Pass to save a ton of money on the bullet train for your trip.

Book Your Hotel

Universal Studios Japan has affordable accommodations that are steps away from the park and have easy access to Osaka. I recommend checking prices through Booking.com followed by the hotels directly. Sometimes you’re able to score some incredible deals. Here’s a short list of hotels at Universal Studios Japan I recommend.

  • The Park Front Hotel at Universal Studios Japan – You’re directly in front of the Park gates and have instant access to Universal CityWalk Osaka. The rooms are gorgeous, with restaurants and even a Lawson (Japanese convenience store).
  • The Singulari HOTEL & SKYSPA – Attached to the train station is a fantastic hotel for those who want a comfortable, clean, and stylish place to sleep. After a long day at Universal Studios Japan, the rooftop sento (public bath) is excellent for unwinding and relaxing.
  • Hotel Universal Port – This is an excellent hotel for the Minion fan in your family, only a 5-minute walk from Universal Studios Japan. It also boasts the largest breakfast buffet in Japan, a must during your visit.

Buy Your Tickets & Express Pass

In advance, save time and stress by buying your tickets and Express Pass for Universal Studios Japan.

Stay Connected

Universal Studios Japan only offers free Wi-Fi at the entrance to the Park. That’s not enough to stay connected and share your day with everyone back home to give them FOMO on Instagram. Here’s how you can stay connected while travelling in Japan.

  • Pocket Wi-Fi – If you’re travelling with a group or have multiple devices, this is your best and most affordable way to stay connected to the internet. Pick up and drop off at the airport. Easy.
  • Japan SIM Card – If you have an unlocked phone and need a Japanese phone number, this is the best and easiest way.

Get Yourself Travel Insurance

While travelling aboard, having travel insurance protects you against injury, cancellations, illness, and other things you can never predict. Whenever I travel, I always budget for travel insurance to protect myself. I’ve used it, and I’m so glad I had it. My recommended companies are SafteyWing and  World Nomads for travel insurance.

Learn More about Universal Studios Japan

Don’t forget to study our in-depth destination guide on Universal Studios Japan for more information on this beautiful park in Osaka.

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Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Mario Kart: Koopa's Challenge
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