Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Review
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is one of the most Nintendo things ever. It’s something you don’t know you need, don’t think could or would exist until you see it and then somehow it works amazingly. But this Nintendo thing, despite it being Mario Kart, wasn’t entirely made by Nintendo. Velan Studios went to Nintendo with the idea of strapping a camera to a Kart and putting into an AR game. And they’ve pulled it off.
Mario Kart Live is a great Mario Kart game, it’s also an AR game, and it’s also a pretty sweet and solid RC toy.
Setting up your Mario Kart Live RC car is super simple: pull it out the box, turn it on and point it at a QR code from your downloaded Mario Kart Live game. Before you do anything, you’ll have to take a licence photo, and then you’re off to explore your home. You can explore around and get the hang of the controls. The kart handles as a kart does in Mario Kart with a tight turning, sharp brake turns. If it had controlled like a normal RC car it certainly wouldn’t have felt as right as it does.
From the outset, you’ll have access to all the game modes, but only at 50cc. Play more of the game and you’ll move up in speed. Not only is the game more difficult but the kart moves faster in real life as well. 200cc is just as hard to handle in this as it is in Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, and being so close to the floor the sense of speed is tremendous. After you’ve had an explore, set up a simple course using the gates provided. The gates are made out of cardboard, and while they look big, they fold down and even come with a sleeve to store them away. There’s also a couple of “arrow” signs that’ll light up in the game to help you around. The rest is up to your imagination.
I set up a course through my living room and dining room and had the Switch at one end of the house. Setting up a course is very simple, Lakitu tips paint on your wheels, and you roll around your house laying out the course. Depending on your home, your furniture, and where your Switch is positioned if docked, you’re only limited by the space you have and the four gates you need to go through to make a circuit. With Mario Kart Live you get to see your house from a new angle, and at first, you think you’ll miss out on all the action as your kart zips out of your eye range, but the real action is of course onscreen.
If you get everything set up and want to change your course you can, but if you can’t be bothered that’s alright too, because the game provides different themes and environments for you to race around to keep your course fresh. You’ll get to know the layout, but one race it’s a simple Mario Kart Stadium circuit, then it’s Bowser’s Castle with lava floors and fire bars, there are ice levels, underwater themes and all the environments you know from Mario Kart.
There’s a couple of new ones too with sandstorms making it hard to control your kart and tornadoes which can get in your way. Classics like Rainbow Road are here, too. You eventually forget — almost — that there’s a kart racing around on the floor, and you’re just playing Mario Kart.
The only issue with some of these new obstacles is that they can knock you off the track. There’s no real punishment for this in the game (or for cheating either) but if you’re tight on space or make a “canyon” between things you might get stuck. Tight turns can be navigated by tapping the brakes and then accelerating to spin the kart around reasonably quickly, or you can “drift” which happens on screen only, and you get a speed boost. The game compensates for this as well, the AI isn’t overly hard and will slow down and wait for you almost, it’s rubberbanded but both ways.
The game features three main modes, Grand Prix, Time Trials and a Custom Race. Grand Prix plays out very similar to regular Mario Kart games; you have several cups with three different tracks. Because the game only has your home to display the game cups are themed with track obstacles, gates with decorations and in some tracks, weather effects or a filter over the screen. You never really feel like you’re underwater, but some the other ones work well. Throughout all the races you only ever race against the Koopalings which makes sense in the game but would have been nice to see even more variety of characters.
Time Trial is where you can play with someone else if you don’t have a separate kart. As you would expect, you set a time on your track, and then you have to beat your ghost. It’s reasonably fragile as if you change your course naturally the times get erased. It’ll be great when people are over.
As you play the game you’ll collect coins, at the end of any race, you’ll put them into your collection to unlock new outfits, kart designs and even horns. These are some of the more outlandish designs from a Mario Kart game. Riding around with Luigi in a Rocket, dressed a cowboy. Or Santa in an ambulance – just silly fun. I’ll also never be bored with the old-timey horn. If anything from Live goes back into the next Mario Kart, I hope it’s the costumes.
Speaking of people over – local multiplayer. To play it you all need your Switch and your copy of Mario Kart Live. You can play with up to three other friends with any combination of Mario and Luigi’s. We weren’t able to test this out before launch, so we’re hoping there’s no connectivity issues with more than one kart. When playing in single player, the video feed worked well, and the camera quality is good enough to see where you’re going. If things are a bit dark, it can get grainy and the track can sometimes get confused where it should be. At least you can see where the toy is when this happens. The feed to the TV from the camera isn’t perfect, there were minor frame skips here from the video feed, but the toy went on as if nothing happened.
Mario Kart Live is as fun as any other Mario Kart game, while you’ll have to spend the time and creative energy to lay down your course you’ll soon forget about it and just start playing Mario Kart. The difference is there’s a little RC Mario or Luigi roaming around the floor bringing the game to life even for those not playing it. Mario Kart Live is a super polished experience, and possibly the first time I’ve ever enjoyed anything AR. Instead of just having AR for AR sake, it’s taken something already fun and merged it with real life.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit does not support in-game capture, and the screenshots and footage in this review were captured using an external device
+ It's a real Mario Kart game just in real life
+ The Kart handles like a Mario Kart, not like an RC toy usually does
+ Full of original costumes, karts and designs
- Some items and environments in-game cause kart to swerve and go off the track, causing issues in narrow spaces.
_ Gets tripped up in darker spots (under tables, shadows)
- You never know how much pet fur you have hidden under things until you play this