Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit takes the decades-old concept of a remote-controlled car, connects it to a well-known brand, and still a relatively new concept of augmented reality. It works better in some games, worse in others, and so far Pokémon Go has been arguably the most interesting project in this regard. This is probably the largest game made on this principle, and at the same time, it is probably a test of where augmented reality in games can go. Personally, it could go any way, but the result surprised us.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is actually an application that is a little over 1 GB and you can download it for free from the Nintendo eShop. But don’t look forward to it, you can’t play without buying the said car. It is sold in two versions: red with Mario and green with Luigi. The packaging is pretty massive, but you won’t find many things in it. No cartridges, no complicated manuals, just a few necessary things and simple instructions that will guide you through downloading and starting the game, and then the game itself will tell you how to pair it with the RC car. The whole thing is a really simple process and you don’t have to worry about going wrong, which is exactly how we are used to from Nintendo.
But let’s get to the packaging, where there are other important things besides the toy car. These are mainly four gates that are classically made of cardboard, as Nintendo has already tested in Labo products. You don’t need to fold anything up here, just spread them out, extend the legs and put them on the floor in the correct order. However, each target is marked with a number and the side to be facing the car and the camera on it is also marked. Then there are the arrows to help you design more complex tracks in the direction the player has to drive, too bad there are only two. The last part of the package is a short USB-C cable of just 10 cm to charge the car.
The design of the gates is perfect, easy to expand and fold back together when you need to store them and you are not playing the game. But I appreciate the quality of the toy car itself a lot more. The model is approximately 21.5 x 10.8 x 10.1 cm and weighs just over 300 grams. Only made of high quality, the materials also work well and there are many details on it. It reminds us of the highest quality amiibo figures. The small wheels are rubber, the rest is shiny plastic. The drive is on the rear axle and the front is used for turning. On the right side of the chassis, behind a sliding surface, is a USB-C charging port and a button above it to turn on your device and connect to your Switch.
Once you are behind the wheel of your car on the Switch for the first time, you will immediately notice that everything runs smoothly. Compared to normal RC Cars in real life, it is nice to see the room from a new perspective, say the same perspective as that of a baby, a cat or another small rodent. There is a standard filter on the screen which makes everything look slightly colder, but that is exactly what the maker had in mind for when you start one of the game modes.
Of course Mario Kart is all about racing, and in Mario Kart Live: Home Tour you are the master of creating your own track wherever you want. At least, as long as you stay within range of the Switch and preferably indoors. You set your track and you are ready to start in a Grand Prix, Time Trial, Free Race or in multiplayer.
Then the game not only adds enemies to the track created in this way, but other things as well. Especially the environment, your living room is suddenly on the seabed, under an erupting volcano, or even in the middle of a sandstorm. The given environment adds obstacles to the track in the form of, for example, carnivorous plants, bombs, goombas and the like. And even gates can change checkpoints at once. For example, a magnet will appear on it, slowing any car that passes that gate. It works very well and playful, the songs are lively and their quality depends only on your imagination and spatial possibilities.
So Grand Prix mode is at the heart of gaming and fun here, when you choose one of the preset cups or create your own. There are three races in the cup and each one is in a different environment. You can leave the entire cup on one track, or simply switch your track between races. You can choose from speeds of 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and 200cc, which are complemented by the mirror mode. Of course speed makes your car faster, but it is also more demanding. But you don’t unlock them all from the start, you have to unlock them with trophies you earn in the different cups.
There is no shortage of traditional power-ups, so you can accelerate the car, attack your opponents, but also be attacked. But the best part is that whatever happens in the game will also reflect on your toy car. It will even speed up or even stop if they hit you. If you get a Bullet Bill to your car, the steering is more difficult and it moves the car very fast, but you can more easily lose control. Technically you can also drift, although the kart may unfortunately not really drift over your floor. However, it has the same effect on acceleration as in the normal games. And there are also coins that unlock other ways to customize the car and Mario or Luigi in the game, or even radios that play well-known songs from the series.
The reaction of the image that your car sees is almost one-to-one, and only if you drive too far or behind one or more walls will you notice that your Switch will have a hard time maintaining a stable image. Nintendo does not recommend a maximum distance of 5 to 6 meters for nothing to have the best experience, and it is a bit unfortunate that your car cannot race all over your house, or cannot go on major ramps, because your car soon stops when he notices that it suddenly goes up. Small slopes will only just work, so forget to make a slope up or down the stairs.
And it is also contradictory in terms of content. There are 11 environments, 15 classic power-ups and 12 pitfalls at the gates, but the multiplayer is still an expensive joke as everyone needs their own RC kart from around € 100. Online racing is unfortunately not immediately an option, although it would be genius if this function could be implemented in one way or another.
Nevertheless, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a fun game and a confirmation of the viability of an unconventional AR concept all in one. The established elements of the series have been transferred well to the new form and the quality of the workmanship is impressive. And finally, a few tips earlier for parents. Always line up the gates and the area surrounding the court with something, such as books. Driving is fun at higher speeds, but at the same time it is more difficult to control the car in tight corners. Also, don’t design the tracks in such a way that, for example, to bypass the legs of the table – the game can place an element there and you then hit it – it is a shame to damage a nice toy car. Playing on TV is a bit complicated as you need to have a toy car near your dock. And the game isn’t exactly right for households with a lot of pet hair. The toy tends to collect hair on the wheels and the bottom.
Nintendo continues to amaze people and pets with their inventive games for the Nintendo Switch. Mario Kart Live: Home Tour showcases an astonishing example of augmented reality with a beautifully designed RC car, but the game itself will only remain interesting as long as your imagination and your space to race allows.