Nintendo's Super Mario set to open first US theme park in California

Nintendo's first theme park outside of its native Japan is opening in California next month, just weeks before Mario gets the big-screen treatment in a major new Hollywood film.

Super Nintendo World will be part of NBCUniversal Studios Hollywood, an amusement park that is traditionally home to rides based on film and TV franchises from "Waterworld" to "Harry Potter."

But with the video game industry now eclipsing movies in size, and theme parks using increasingly interactive technology to immerse guests, bosses of the two companies have joined forces to capitalize on the platform-hopping plumber's global popularity.

The new Nintendo attraction will largely mirror the design of its recently opened, slightly larger sister park in Osaka, including a "Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge" ride that uses augmented reality goggles.

Visitors race along a real-life track surrounded by actual set pieces but can aim and shoot virtual shells at computerized villains they see displayed on their head-mounted, individual visors.

Guests explore during a preview of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California, on January 13, - AFP

"We've taken so many different layers, whether it's video mapping, projection mapping, LED screens, really immersive magical looking sets, special effects, physical effects, and augmented reality, to blend all together seamlessly to create this very immersive environment," says Jon Corfino, vice president of Universal Creative.

"Visiting the theme park is like being in the video game"

There are also a number of mini-games in which visitors with interactive wristbands can accrue coins and stamps, to qualify for a "final showdown" with the evil Bowser Jr.

"It's kind of the ultimate playground," according to Corfino. "We are known for our film franchises, which are terrific, and they're very immersive. Games are a different thing. How we even engage with entertainment is evolving in and of itself... entertainment is not static."

The official launch of Super Nintendo World is set for February 17, when visitors surrounded by mechanical Yoshis, Piranha Plants and Goombas from the beloved gaming franchise will be greeted by actors dressed as Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach.

Nintendo fans have already begun flocking to the Los Angeles amusement park, where word quickly spread last week that the new attraction was admitting visitors for a "soft opening" to iron out any final technical glitches.

A guest looks at a Toad toy on display in a store during a preview of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. - AFP

"When I was a kid, my parents, my dad, my uncle, they loved the old Mario stuff. We had the Nintendo Entertainment System, and that's the ones we played, and Dr. Mario as well. Yeah, so that's how long I've known him since I was a kid basically. So being here, it's, you know, it's like my childhood in real life," said Carlos Moctezuma, who wore a Mario outfit to the park.

"I've known Mario since I was in second grade. That was one of my first games on the Game Boy," said his partner Lexsi Houseman, dressed as Luigi.

Nintendo and NBCUniversal are betting big on this mind-bending reality venture in the hope of capitalising on the film's release and making a big dent too in the pockets of their rivals, Disney.