It’s been a few years since we’ve seen toys-to-life in the market. We had, of course, Skylanders, Disney Infinity, Starlink: Battle for Atlas and Amiibo’s from Nintendo. Now, it looks like the next step will begin with Mario Kart as Nintendo aims to use the series to create a mixed reality game that’s available now. The announcement came at the tail end of the Super Mario 35th Anniversary Direct and while the dream of a new Mario Kart is still alive, Nintendo is known for thinking outside the box with their IPs. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit combines and reinvents the way consumers can use their Nintendo Switch.
If you aren’t aware and missed the presentation from early in September, the idea behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is using the included RC car and Nintendo Switch together. Choosing either Mario or Luigi in the driver seat, you’re able to create a complete driving course within your home using mixed reality. On your Switch, you’ll see the perspective from your RC kart and also be able to navigate Mario or Luigi through the course you’ve built while the car moves throughout your home. Is it a novelty gimmick? After spending some time with it, I’m happy to report it’s a blast to use but it needs some work.
How It Works
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit includes the RC kart and four gates made of cardboard (think Labo) that you place around your home. To charge Mario or Luigi, you use the included USB-C cable and you download the game from the eShop. It’s easy to pair the system and RC car and you’ll need to decide where you want to place the gates within your home and then test run once before confirming placement. From there, you’re free to begin racing just as if you were playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Set up is as easy as unpacking the contents, scanning the QR code included within the Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit software to either Mario or Luigi’s kart. After this initial set up, it’s off to the track as Lakitu will paint your wheels, which you’ll use to design your track around your home or apartment. Your only caveat is ensuri2ng that the four gates are included in the design and from what I understand, you can’t use more than the four included with the unit.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’s four gates are the key compulsory to the overall experience. While I was worried that having only four gates would be an issue, I quickly came to learn that you can use each gate twice to create checkpoints to pass through. Players are able to customize each gate and what they do when you pass through them. One gate, for example, can be customized to be a speed boost, another might have an item box awaiting as you pass through the gate. Or, if you’re interested in being a trickster, adding a Piranha Plant, a Thwomp, or other enemies is available to you. Not only that, but gates can be customized to include a theme – say if you want to race underwater, you can do that and also classic stages like Rainbow Road.
If you’re like me and can’t wait to play with a shiny new toy before even charging it, you can play with Mario right out of the box. Nintendo says the RC kart takes approximately 3.5 hours to charge and upwards of 4.6 hours when using the Nintendo Switch dock and while using the console. You can also use your AC adapter to charge the unit and the unit ships with a USB-C cable. When fully charged, the kart can be used for upwards of 1.5hours when playing at 150cc.
Off to the Races
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit includes a handful of modes to choose from: Grand Prix, Time Trial, Custom Race, and Local Multiplayer. To start, Mario Kart Live offers both 50cc and 100cc racing modes and you race in any of the available cup circuits. Each cup consists of three races and you use the gates to change the environments and what each gate does, of course, you can use the same environment if you desire to do so. By participating in Grand Prix events, you gain access to additional speeds of 150cc and up to 200cc.
With these speeds in mind, my first concern was how these speeds will take into consideration the space needed within a home. While all you need is the RC kart and the four gates, once you bump up the races to 150cc or even 200cc, how will these karts handle turning? I was surprised how the RC kart handled and while I wouldn’t expect this product to replicate how smooth playing Mario Kart is, it was a blast for what it is. Using the screen as your eyes work incredibly well and it is easy to remember that looking at the screen an RC kart is zooming about the room at the same time.
Furthermore, participating in Grand Prix events, players are rewarded with coins, which can be used to gain access to various items. Just like in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you can unlock cosmetic items that you can use to customize Mario. If you want to dress up Mario as he looks in Super Mario Maker, for example, you can purchase the outfit for him. If you want to make your kart look like a ship or a bulldozer, that’s also something you can do. It’s a way to incentivize playing Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.
During my review period, I raced against several CPU opponents playing as familiar faces like Bowser Jr. and several Koopalings. I wasn’t able to utilize playing with my friends before publishing this review but you and up to three people can race in multiplayer. There is no online connectivity, unfortunately, so unless you gather three friends at home, you’re stuck facing off against the CPU. Each person who decides to play, however, requires a physical RC cart to play, so I can see a live race with others hard to co-ordinate in these current pandemic conditions.
Another concern is the life expectancy of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Last year, we were introduced to the Nintendo Labo kits and while these kits were a ton of fun to assemble, they quickly found a home in the closet. It’s hard to gauge the longevity when there is no online connectivity and local multiplayer requires four RC cars and four Nintendo Switches. That said, thinking about gathering a group together sounds like an exciting prospect for those truly invested in Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.
Lastly, my final gripe is that this is a product clearly meant for indoor use. Sure, I get that this is tied to your Nintendo Switch and Wi-Fi but the actual RC kart would not survive outside. Driving around inside, however, is a blast and the only limitations I found myself dealing with are having to clean away hairs or debris from the tires. All the traction comes from the tires and when you’re driving around, it’s necessary to ensure that moving about isn’t impeded by debris you may find on the floor.
Nintendo is continually finding new ways to engage with customers be it through Nintendo Labo kits or now with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Sure, you can certainly purchase the console and stick to traditional games but when you engage with this ecosystem, it is best to step outside the norm and enjoy yourself. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit works right out of the box and it is functional without sacrifice. There’s a bevy of things to do and a multitude of things to engage with, including customizing environments, enemies, power-ups, and most importantly, the tracks themselves. If you’re at all curious about whether or not this is for you, I can say that my initial reaction was full of wariness. After spending a week messing around tracks, unlocking costumes and engaging in Grand Prix races, I’m happy to report I had a blast the entire time. If this combo came out when I was a child, I can say with certainty that I would spend as much of my time driving this around the house and I wish we had this kind of technology years ago.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, which is available in Mario Set and Luigi Set is available now at $129.99 each in Canada.
[A retail unit was provided by Nintendo for this review.]