(CNN) – Children and adults alike lined up to experience the world’s first Super Nintendo World and its life-size Mushroom Kingdom, which opened Thursday at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
Many wore Mario’s iconic red hat, while others were decked out in head-to-toe Nintendo memorabilia.
A few minutes after participants entered, queues formed to take photos with Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and the toad.
Sisters Mika and Yuko Kobayashi – one of whom wore a Yoshi headband while wearing a Mario doll – said they became emotional when they first entered the new park. They’ve been playing Nintendo games since they were kids, they said. One of them added that “it is no exaggeration to say that Mario raised me”.
Sporting a Princess Peach headband, Sakura Konohana said the park “exceeded my expectations. I feel like I’m in Mario’s world.
While participants are allowed to interact with the characters – who speak in their voices that sound like a video game – they cannot touch them due to coronavirus protocols. So, for now, there is no high-five or hugging. By comparison, Disney Parks currently do not allow photos of characters in the midst of the pandemic.
Covid-19 restrictions at Universal Studios Japan include temperature checks at the entrance, mandatory wearing of a mask, hand sanitizer everywhere, online social distancing and signs in front of the roller coaster asking runners to refrain from shouting.
This latter request is not limited to Super Nintendo World. A group of Japanese theme parks asked visitors to ‘scream in their hearts’ instead of screaming out loud last summer in a story that went viral.
Capacity is limited to 10,000 people per day, or about half of pre-COVID visitors, according to park officials.
Noriko Yoshinaka took the first train from Kyoto Thursday morning to be at the park on opening day.
“I’m scared when I take off my mask to eat food,” Yoshinaka said. “But the park seems to have safety protocols, cleaning the rides and wiping down surfaces every time people touch them, so I feel safe.”
Many fans have said that they are very excited about the Koopa’s Challenge: an actual Mario Kart race through Bowser’s Castle. Runners must wear augmented reality headsets to see projections of other characters and the track as well as to collect coins and throw items.
In addition to the conventional rides, the entire Super Nintendo World is an immersive game where guests can compete against other players in the park.
Just like in the video game, visitors can jump and hit “question blocks” and collect virtual coins. Guests can also purchase Power-up Bands, a bracelet that can be linked to a smartphone app, where they can store these coins and virtual keys.
Super Nintendo World cost around half a billion dollars to build and over six years to develop. The gaming industry – and Nintendo in particular – received a big boost during the pandemic, as stranded people increasingly turned to Nintendo games for their escape.
For Nintendo, this is an important step beyond its core business, video games and consoles. The company capitalizes on its treasures of intellectual property and iconic characters, with Nintendo items in the theme park’s gift shops.
“They are in a decades-long strategy of moving from a video game company to an entertainment company” by expanding into mobile games, films, theme parks and merchandise, said David Gibson, analyst at Astris Advisory, based in Tokyo.
This opening comes as the global theme park industry is struggling. Theme parks are reopening in a patchwork across the world. There are plans to open Super Nintendo Worlds in California, Singapore and Florida. In Orlando, the opening was reportedly delayed until 2025.
Last year, Stephen Burke, director of Comcast, said that Nintendo “is one of the biggest potential traffic drivers you can have of any type of IP. It’s up there with Harry Potter.”
Super Nintendo World was originally scheduled to open last summer before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Both were pushed back by about a year, and with the Olympics, Super Nintendo World was expected to attract an influx of tourists and boost economic activity. .
Japan’s borders are still closed, so international travelers cannot come to the park yet. Osaka’s state of emergency was only lifted earlier this month and Tokyo is still under declaration.
During the opening ceremony, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto said he hopes the whole world can visit the park once the pandemic is over.
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