Nintendo’s Power-Up Band—a physical key to Japan’s upcoming Super Nintendo World
January 5, 2021
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After years of rumors and teases, Super Nintendo World, the world’s first major theme park dedicated to a video game series, is set to open in exactly one month. We already received a comprehensive walkthrough last month, courtesy of Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, and now, ahead of SNW’s public opening on February 4, we’ve gotten another tantalizing look at how the park will work—all by playing with one of its exclusive, Mario-branded wristbands.

That’s right: we’re in possession of an official Power-Up Band, the RFID-fueled system used to do practically everything at Universal Studios’ most gamified theme park zone yet. Even better, its theme park interface is already translated to English, so we were able to sync the system with an official app and see detailed hints about the park’s inner workings.

This merch came to Ars thanks to a well-placed reader, who was invited to a limited December preview of the park and graciously offered to send us the Power-Up Band when he was done with it. If you’ve seen other footage of the park trickling onto social media since late December, that’s all largely due to other patrons attending around the same time window, but nobody seems to have gone one further and shown exactly how this plastic slap bracelet (yes, it’s a slap bracelet) interfaces with the park’s rides and puzzles.

The above gallery includes Power-Up Band instructions, as spelled out with a charming comic strip drawn in the style of classic series animator Yoichi Kotabe. Long story short: Park attendees are encouraged to rack up various virtual currencies (stamps, coins, and keys) by engaging with Super Nintendo World’s variety of activities. Keys are the biggies, as you’ll need to interact with enough park attractions to earn two of its three keys before you can enter the Bowser Jr. Shadow Showdown, a group activity that pits multiple players against Bowser Jr. and various Super Mario minions. (Assumably, Universal Studios Japan doesn’t make you get all three keys to complete this portion, lest crazy-long lines or crowds prohibit you from doing so.)

Your primary interaction comes from collecting stamps, and some of these are as simple as tapping your Power-Up Band to physical objects at the park like Question Mark Blocks and touch panels. With some of these, a picture lights up and your work is done. Other touch panels activate mini-games such as slot machines, “note blocks” (which were introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 and, at the park, play fan-favorite songs), and a hide-and-seek challenge where you look for particular characters through a pair of binoculars. (Apparently, you can find hidden Pikmin sprout characters at the park, which appears to be the first, uh, canon reference to Pikmin being part of the Super Mario universe. Interesting…)

Some stamps can only be earned once, while others can repeat, and every newly claimed stamp doles out coins. From the look of the app, these coins only factor into a series of leaderboards (some daily, some all-time), as opposed to unlocking features within the app or at the park. In great news, nothing about the app hints at microtransactions tied to these coins—though by the time you’re done at Universal Studios Japan, your wallet will probably become much lighter thanks to a merch shop, a Toad-themed café, and plenty of other common theme park money traps. (If you’re a compulsive completist, be warned: the app includes stamps that can only be claimed during certain months of the year, practically demanding repeat visits to become a Super Nintendo World “champion.”)

Other mini-games listed in the app include “Koopa Troopa POWer [sic] Punch,” “Piranha Plant Nap,” “Bob-Omb Kaboom Room,” “Thwomp Panel Panic,” and “Goomba Crazy Crank,” which each have multiple difficulty levels and award the aforementioned Bowser Jr. keys. And since you’re here to geek out, according to the app, the songs available in the park’s “Note Block Rock” attraction include: “Ground Theme,” “Water World,” “Bob-Omb Battlefield,” “Main Theme,” “Athletic,” “Underground,” “Slider,” “Airship,” and “Ending Theme.”

Super Nintendo Land is far from the first theme park to employ this kind of RFID-boosted gamification, with Universal Studios’ own Harry Potter attractions employing the gimmick, and knock-off amusement chains like Great Wolf Lodge copying the concept pretty much wholesale. But it certainly makes sense to see a Nintendo-centric park get in on the interactive fun, particularly with its Mario Kart ride, which asks passengers to don augmented reality goggles and battle the Koopa-affiliated characters who appear in the park’s Hololens-like goggles.

It’ll likely be quite some time before any American staffers at Ars Technica go hands- and eyes-on with the actual Super Nintendo World park, but we’re glad to bring you a small taste of the park’s contents and structure in the meantime.

Listing image by Sam Machkovech

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