Bowser, Jr. Shadow Showdown is an interesting beast. On the one hand, it’s a full-fledged attraction, listed right alongside its Super Nintendo World brethren of Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge and Yoshi’s Adventure; on the other, however, it’s only accessible to those guests who purchase a Power-Up Band and complete at least some of the Key Challenges, those interactive activities that result in you getting a digital-item reward. (To put it in another, more Orlando-friendly way – and to use an example we invoked on the Orlando Informer Podcast – imagine only being able to access Knockturn Alley over in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley if you purchase an interactive wand and make a few successful spellcasting stops. Crazy, ain’t it?)
Adding to the intrigue factor is the descriptions that Universal has been using to promote the experience. “Players,” it turns out, will need to band together and use their whole bodies to successfully win the boss battle, promising a different kind of attraction than the company’s typical fare, whether that be, say, the newer Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure or the classic The Amazing Adventure of Spider-Man. All this mystique made us excited to rush into Super Nintendo World, slap on our very own Power Up Band, and dive into the Shadow Showdown ourselves. With the new theme-park land having been in soft openings since December 20, 2020 over in Universal Studios Japan, we’ve had the opportunity to do exactly that, and we’re happy to report back on every step of the process now that the media embargo’s been officially lifted.
(But before we do, you may want to first head on over to read about Bowser, Jr.’s two older, bigger, better-known brothers, Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge and Yoshi’s Adventure.)
Bowser, Jr. Shadow Showdown: Getting to the boss battle
As noted above, before you can gather together with your party of fellow park-goers and engage in the boss encounter, you’ll first need to purchase your Power Up Band (which can be accomplished at any number of merchandise carts located all throughout the land – and, even, right before it, when you transition from Universal Studios Japan proper to Super Star Plaza and the giant green warp pipe behind it). Once the wristband’s been equipped, you need to complete any three of the five Key Challenges that are scattered throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, whether that be out in the open or snuggled within the Underground Level – and then, finally, make your way over to the mini-fortress-looking structure located right next to Bowser’s giant castle (which is the home, of course, of Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge).
In typical theme-park style, there is – naturally – a backstory explanation for this rather involved preamble: Bowser, Jr. has stolen the Golden Mushroom, hidden it away inside his little lair, and then distributed the keys that unlock it to five of his most trustworthy minions (a Goomba, Thwomp, Bomb-omb, Koopa Troopa, and Piranha Plant). Each baddie must be defeated in a different way, whether that be by knocking him out with a turtle shell or by solving a whack-a-mole-style puzzle (you can read all about the various Key Challenges in our complete guide). Although this whole process may sound tedious to some, we found it to be on the rather enjoyable side, and not all that different from engaging in those interactive spellcasting locations over in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that we referenced just a moment ago. It also does invoke a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that one is progressing through a Super Mario-esque map – or, in other words, like one is in the middle of a living, breathing videogame.
Bowser, Jr. Shadow Showdown: The experience
With all the requisite legwork done, you’re now able to line up in front of little Bowser’s hideaway and wait your turn to enter inside.
Once you do, you’ll discover that the entire experience essentially consists of two rooms: a type of mini-queue, complete with a preshow video to explain the ins and outs of Koopa-stomping, and then the area where the battle actually takes place. Both are rather on the simple side, but, then again, both are also effective at the story they tell – and both, needless to say, are fun.
Take the waiting area, which is filled with all manner of Mario miscellanea, from a series of portraits of Junior (showing him with his imposing father or on vacation, being waited on hand and foot [and wing] by the Koopa henchmen) to statues (of 1-up Mushrooms, Mechakoopas, and the flying Koopa Clown Car) to graffiti on the chamber walls (including Goombas and Bullet Bills). This last item is actually a rather nice videogame call-out – the Koopaling often brandishes his Magic Paintbrush in the various titles and spinoffs, whose paint can create enemies or generate portals. (Yes, in another tried-and-true theme-park convention, at least a few of the elements guests encounter here will end up making their way in the awaiting attraction.)
At the end of the queue is a tantalizing glimpse of the Golden Mushroom, displayed on a screen built into the wall – which then doubles as the preshow video, giving attendees instructions on how to do combat once they step into the Super Mario Bros. arena. The experience works like this: when Bowser, Jr. flies overhead in his Clown Car and throws Bomb-ombs at you, you can swat them away using your hands. When Bullet Bills are unleashed upon you, duck to avoid being hit. You also need to jump to hit Question Blocks and, once you get a Fire Flower from them, swing your arms to throw fireballs.
In the room beyond, there is a brief opportunity to practice all these moves in a type of tutorial sequence, where harmless balloons double as the encroaching baddies, and then the Koopaling himself appears, and the boss encounter begins. Each player lines up and gets a certain portion of the larger screen to do battle in, which helps prevent the experience from being too chaotic (of course, it also prevents it from being anything other than a glorified PlayStation Eye or Microsoft Kinect game, but such is balance). At times, Junior creates shadow versions of himself – which is also in keeping with the source material – and sends one to menace each guest; at other times, he appears in his true form and is susceptible to attacks from all involved.
Once enough fireballs have been thrown and Bomb-ombs have been knocked back at him, Bowser, Jr. is defeated, and he blows open a hole in the rock wall behind him – your opportunity to (virtually) emerge back out into Super Nintendo World, jump (as a team) atop Mount Beanpole, and claim the elusive Golden Mushroom. Each player is awarded coins, depending upon how well – or not – she did, and these points not only go towards your overall totals, but they also allow your performance to be ranked against everyone else’s in Shadow Showdown for that day (just like with Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge).
Bowser, Jr. Shadow Showdown: Is it worth experiencing?
There can be no doubt that Bowser, Jr. Shadow Showdown is, in the grand scheme of Nintendo things, a smaller attraction, more like an add-on experience rather than a full-fledged ride. In this way, it makes us think once again of the Wizarding World’s interactive wand magic – beyond the certain, precise actions that guests have to perform in order to be successful, the mini-activities are clearly meant to function as additives to your time in the themed lands, acting like something of a cherry atop your experiential sundae. (We also kinda, sorta get some vibes from the classic Screen Test Home Video Adventure from the 1990s or today’s Shutterbutton’s Photography Studio back home at Universal Studios Florida, up-charge services that have you [and your family] posing in front of green screens for some great [or cheesy – or both] photo-ops. It’s a limited comparison, of course, but you get where we’re coming from.)
Put another way, Shadow Showdown will be worth it to some and probably deemed a skip-over for others, particularly if they don’t already feel like investing all the time and money into meeting the prerequisites in order to even access it. For our Mushroom Kingdom coins, it was a fun-but-limited activity, and worth doing at least once, but we have to turn back to the cherry metaphor one more time – it is more of a bite-sized dessert to be enjoyed once you’ve finished your Mario Kart main course (and your Yoshi’s Adventure side-dish).
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(Photo credit to @Bee_my_honeyyy.)