(CNN) — Children and adults alike waited in line for their turn to experience the world’s first Super Nintendo World and its life-sized Mushroom Kingdom, which opened Thursday at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
Many wore the iconic red Mario hat, while others were decked head-to-toe in Nintendo memorabilia.
Minutes after the attendees were let in, lines formed to get pictures with Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad.
Sisters Mika and Yuko Kobayashi — one wearing a Yoshi headband while carrying a Mario doll — said they became emotional when they first walked into the new park. They’ve been playing Nintendo Games since they were kids, they said. One added that “it’s not an exaggeration to say that Mario raised me.”
Sporting a Princess Peach headband, Sakura Konohana said the park “is beyond my expectations. I feel like I’m in the Mario world.”
While attendees are allowed to interact with the characters — who speak in their video game-sounding voices — they can’t touch them due to coronavirus protocols. So, for now, there’s no high-fiving or hugging. In comparison, Disney parks currently are not allowing character photos amid the pandemic.
Covid-19 restrictions at Universal Studios Japan include temperature checks at the entrance, mandatory mask-wearing, hand sanitizer everywhere, social distancing in line, and signs in front of roller coasters asking riders to refrain from screaming.
This last request isn’t limited to Super Nintendo World. A group of Japanese theme parks asked visitors to “scream in their hearts” instead of 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 in order 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 take safety protocols, cleaning the rides and wiping surfaces every time people touch them, so I feel safe.”
Many fans said they are most excited about Koopa’s Challenge: a real-life Mario Kart race through Bowser’s Castle. Riders have to wear augmented-reality headsets to see the projections of other characters and the track as well as to collect coins and to throw items.
In addition to conventional rides, the entire Super Nintendo World is an immersive game in which guests can compete against other gamers in the park.
Just in like in the video game, visitors can jump up and punch “question blocks” and collect virtual coins. Guests can also purchase Power-up Bands, a wristband that can be linked to a smartphone app, where they can store these virtual coins and keys.
Super Nintendo World cost about half a billion dollars to construct and more than six years to develop. The gaming industry — and Nintendo especially — got a big boost during the pandemic, as people in lockdown increasing turned to Nintendo games for escapism.
For Nintendo, this is an important step beyond its core business of video games and consoles. The company is cashing in on its trove of intellectual property and iconic characters, with Nintendo items in gift shops across the theme park.
“They are in a decades-long strategy of going from being a video game company to an entertainment company” by expanding into mobile games, movies, theme parks and merchandise, said David Gibson, analyst at Tokyo-based Astris Advisory.
This opening comes as the global theme park industry is struggling. Theme parks are re-opening in a patchwork around the world. There are plans to open Super Nintendo Worlds in California, Singapore and Florida. In Orlando, the opening has reportedly been delayed until 2025.
Last year, Comcast executive Stephen Burke said Nintendo “is one of the biggest potential drivers of attendance that you could have of any kind of IP. It’s up there with Harry Potter.”
Super Nintendo World was originally set to open last summer ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games. Both have been pushed back by about a year and along with the Olympics, Super Nintendo World was expected to attract an influx of tourists and boost economic activity.
At the opening ceremony, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto said he hopes the whole world can visit the park when the pandemic is over.
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