'Super Mario' leaps into real world in Universal Studios park launch
By Sam Nussey
OSAKA, March 18 (Reuters) - Universal Studios Japan (USJ) opens on Thursday its $550 million, pandemic-delayed Mario-themed attraction in a major leap by games maker Nintendo Co Ltd 7974.T beyond the virtual world.
The addition in Osaka bulks up USJ's roster of franchises, which include "Minions" and "Jurassic Park", in its rivalry with Disney DIS.N, with the moustachioed plumber also coming to other Universal parks worldwide.
Entering through a giant warp pipe, visitors to "Super Nintendo World", a real-world version of games creator Shigeru Miyamoto's Mushroom Kingdom, are met with chomping piranha plants, punchable coin blocks and a flag-topped Mount Beanpole.
At the attraction, whose opening was delayed repeatedly from last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors can buy a $30 "power-up band" which syncs with the park's app to rank them as they gather coins and defeat baddies.
"You can become Mario," Ayumu Yamamoto, vice president in USJ's marketing department, told reporters at a press preview. USJ is owned by Comcast Corp CMCSA.O.
The wristband draws on the interactive wands in the Harry Potter attraction and Nintendo's tradition of tactile gaming gadgets and aims to capitalise on Mario's generation-spanning appeal to drive repeat visits to the park.
New draws at "Super Nintendo World" include "Mario Kart: Koopa's Challenge", a ride employing augmented reality headsets, and the more sedate "Yoshi's Adventure" for younger visitors.
The area's opening is a reply to investors frustrated by Nintendo's reluctance to more aggressively commercialize its fan base. The Kyoto-based firm's Switch games console has proved a pandemic winner while a foray into mobile gaming has stalled.
Visitors formed a long queue to join Super Nintendo World's technical rehearsal the day before opening. USJ is currently operating at reduced capacity and guests will need timed tickets to enter the area.
($1 = 109.1200 yen)
(Reporting by Sam Nussey and Irene Wang; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)