When I first saw video of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit my initial reaction was, “Holy crud – that looks amazing!” Then, reality set in. As a combination of the physical world and one of the greatest video games of all time I thought, “there’s no way this can work as well as the previews make it seem.” After all , I can barely control an RC car under normal conditions, how could I control one in my living room while also trying to avoid shells and bombs? Thankfully… I was DEAD wrong. I set Mario Kart Live up in my home and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to play but, is it worth the price?
What’s in the box?
Out of the box it’s a pretty simple set. The RC car feels solid, Mario looks great and it includes a camera just above Mario’s head. There’s a single button to turn the kart on and a USB-C port on the side for charging it up. The kart itself is as simple as it should be. Initial setup uses a QR code on the Switch screen to sync the kart up. Place the screen in front of the kart’s camera and it does the rest. It literally took 2-3 minutes to have the kart synced and the game ready to play.
In addition to the kart you’ll get 4 cardboard gates and 2 cardboard arrow signs. These are used to setup the track in your home and the game will recognize them and transform them into digital elements on the screen. The cardboard may feel a little flimsy for a $100 kit but they work beautifully once the game is powered up.
Once you connect the kart you’ll need to create your own course. This is where the fun comes in. Around the couch, into the kitchen, under the chairs… run the track wherever you want! My kids and I had a blast plotting out the tracks through the house. You setup the 4 gates along the route and use the arrow signs when you’re doing a tight turn. It’s pretty simple. Next, the game will instruct you to basically drive the course with the kart. This saves the plot of your track to the game.
Once the course is created, it’s GO TIME! The game magically adds the classic Mario Kart elements including other racers, a digital track to guide you around the course. Yes, there are still shells, mushrooms, bombs and even the bullets. The gameplay is exactly what we have come to expect from Mario Kart… it just happens to be in your living room.
So – how does it work?
So much better than I ever expected it to. I was worried the kart would be hard to control – dead wrong. I was worried it wouldn’t feel like “Mario Kart” – dead wrong. I was worried the augmented reality elements overlaid on the real camera would be delayed or glitchy – dead wrong. It’s 100% everything you expect it to be. I was really happy with the gameplay. What surprised me the most was how SLOW the physical cart was going. The speed feels perfect when you’re playing the game but when you look up and see the kart crawling across your kitchen, it’s a bit odd. This is also what makes it so easy to control because it’s nothing like a REAL R/C car that zips across the floor. Nintendo nailed it. Slow enough for anyone to control around tight corners in your house but fast enough to make the game feel like a classic Mario Kart game.
There are a few things that I might change. First of all, you should know that the connection between the Switch and the kart is imperative to playing the game. If that connection fails, the video feed glitches on the Switch. This was only an issue for me when I tried to take my track into another room in the house. Just something to beware of – you’ll likely want to be within line of sight of the kart.
Multiplayer mode looks awesome (I didn’t have the gear to test it) but it’s important to know that every player will need their own physical kart and Nintendo Switch. For example, to play a 2 player game you’ll need 2 karts and 2 Switches. It would be cool if you could play against someone else in your home on the big screen in split screen mode on a single Switch, that’s not an option.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a perfect example of Nintendo doing what Nintendo does best. They re-thought Mario Kart and managed to combine the real world with the video game world and it is AWESOME. Is it perfect? No, but it’s pretty darn close. It’s fun, easy enough for my 5-year-old to play and inspires creativity to create your own track through your own home. It’s expensive, especially if you want to have more than one player but it might be worth it for the ultimate Mario Kart fan looking to try something totally different.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is available in most stores and directly from Nintendo in Mario and Luigi kits for $100.