Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
October 15, 2020
Nintendo aren’t new to combining real-world elements and toys with their games. LABO allowed gamers to piece together cardboard creations to pair with the Switch, for example, but the one thing LABO possibly lacked was its direct connection to nostalgia and simplicity. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is the next Nintendo experiment, combining a real-world racing kart that can be controlled via your Switch, as you race around your house using augmented reality elements that, at times, feels pretty magical. It’s an expensive proposition compared to most games, but if you have the space and the imagination, it’s a successful experiment that kids in particular will get a real kick out of this holiday season.
The setup is easy enough. Simply downloading the free app from the Nintendo eShop and pairing it with the physical kart via a QR code. From there, setting up four cardboard gates and some accompanying directional arrows is all you need to start building your own course in your home. Quite quickly, that Nintendo Magic makes itself known; I got a huge kick out of playing with an RC kart on my Switch screen while Mario Kart staples like item boxes, turtle shells and banana peels littered the race track. The small camera on the back of the car behind Mario (or Luigi) puts you right in the drivers seat to see the action unfold.
Driving around the dining table and spotting my German Shepherd, Ziggy, across the room looking on in bewilderment and confusion made me laugh out loud, and it truly is entertaining converting your home into an actual Mario Kart track. I imagine that kids with a lot more imagination and inclination than I will be able to create all sorts of real-world obstacles and ramps to make the courses even more exciting, but just careening around my kitchen bench before accidentally driving into my couch while avoiding one of my three pets made for a fun afternoon as my partner and I passed the Switch back and forth between us, marveling at the new tech.
“The most genuinely compelling part of this whole setup is that the real-life kart reacts accordingly to the power-ups that you collect in game.”
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit does an admirable job of bringing the Mario Kart experience to life, by littering each course with unique touches. One is entirely underwater, causing Mario to gargle his words. Another course has a strong wind which pushes your car into a certain direction and blows items around. The Koopalings are your persistent opponents, and it’s fun seeing them racing around your home. There are a variety of items to unlock as well, including outfits, horns and radio stations that you earn from completing the Grand Prix races on offer.
While variety is very apparent in the visual flare of each track, inevitably the course is going to feel similar, based on the fact that it’s always going to be in your house. That couch isn’t going anywhere (unless you’re really committed) and that’s where Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’s biggest innovation is also its biggest flaw. The environment and obstacles will always look kind of the same, because they’re based in reality. Again, kids with the tools and creativity could make this work, but for me with only one physical kart provided for review, it’s a novelty that did eventually wear thin.
The most genuinely compelling part of this whole setup is that the real-life kart reacts accordingly to the power-ups that you collect in game. Different speeds (50, 100, 150 and 200CC) impact the regular speed of the vehicle, but if you use a mushroom for example, you’ll temporarily get a speed boost as always on-screen, which translates directly to the physical kart. Attacks don’t make the kart “spin-out” but they do stop you in your tracks, and you can also even drift around corners. It’s awesome that they’ve managed to translate this gamified experience to an actual physical piece of kit, and it made me smile every time.
The shortcomings of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit mostly exist in its real-world applications as opposed to its in-game ones that are mostly solid. I’m lucky enough to live in a house with an open-plan kitchen, dining room and lounge area, with wooden floorboards. That meant that I was able to create some relatively large courses with ease, but many folk won’t have the same access to a large space to be able to do this. It’s also recommended that the kart not be used outside. Your mileage is going to vary depending on how big your house is, so that could rule out the games success before you even get started.
On top of that, the price could be considered a little steep. The technology is absolutely cool, but at $149.95 RRP, it’s an expensive proposition. I can imagine this being particularly fun with multiplayer, having two karts racing around and racing each other on custom-made courses, but that would mean firstly having two Switch consoles, and then purchasing two of these kits.
It’s also worth noting that if you have pets, you”ll want to make doubly sure that your racing area has been swept and vacuumed before play. While seeing my pets on screen interacting with the kart was absolutely adorable, it didn’t take long (even after what I thought was a rigorous clean-up) for the wheels to be clogged with dog fur, causing my kart to stall and veer to the side. Trust me, there’s nothing fun about pulling the wheels off and picking hair out with tweezers after a couple of Grand Prix’s. This is no fault of the game itself, just something to keep in mind.
Lastly, it’s a real shame the capture and sharing button doesn’t work on Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. I get that Nintendo are probably trying to avoid people flashing their private parts and sharing it online via the Switch, but there were some genuine funny and cool personal moments of playing the game with my pets on the camera in front of Mario that I would have loved to keep and show my friends, but alas this is disabled.
It’s interesting and innovative for sure, but what it brings in terms of magic and child-like wonderment, it loses something in the repetitive nature of each course being in the same space of your house over and over. While kids may be stoked to let their imagination run wild with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, I think most adults will enjoy the novelty for a few races, show their friends and family, but ultimately go back to the more feature-packed Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The question is, beyond the real-world factors of space to play, how much are you willing to pay for that Nintendo Magic?