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This week’s gaming roundup is fully dedicated to the super cool Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, which was just released on October 16. Nintendo was kind enough to send us a kit for review, so we’ve been playing around with it throughout the week, and we have some thoughts!
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Mario Kart Live isn’t a traditional video game. It might be easiest to think of this kit as part toy/part video game. What you’re buying when you pick up Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is the “toy” part of the product. It’s actually an RC car (you have the choice of either Mario or Luigi and their respective karts), a charging cable, and four cardboard gates to set up and drive through. Where the video game aspect comes in, is in the downloadable software that you can grab right from the Nintendo eShop on your Nintendo Switch. The download is free, but it won’t work without the RC car and the rest of the kit. How do these two things come together? Well, to be honest, that part is pretty magical.
Thanks to a little video camera attached to the kart, the downloadable software on the Switch allows you to drive the kart around your house while experiencing a first-person karts-eye view of your space on your TV (or directly on your Switch, if you’re in handheld mode). It also uses incredible augmented reality (or mixed reality, if you prefer) technology to overlay a ton of Mario Kart staples that you know and love. Think Pokémon Go multiplied by 100.
Here’s how it works: You take the cardboard gates and you set them up in any drivable configuration you’d like inside your home. Once you’ve got a setup you’d like to try, you use your Switch to drive your RC kart up to the first gate, and you can then “create your course.” To do this, you simply drive the route you want your track to be, while making sure to hit all of the gates. On screen, you’re seeing augmented reality paint being dragged across your floor as a way to identify the track you’re creating. Once you’ve created a full loop, your track is finished and you can start racing!
Like in previous Mario Kart games, you still race in Grand Prix style events. Unlike in previous Mario Kart games, rather than the tracks changing shape every race, the changes in Mario Kart Live come in the form of the AR overlays and obstacles. You can choose to re-organize your gates and map new courses each race if you want, but mercifully, you aren’t required to.
As far as gameplay goes, the good news is that it feels pretty close to a traditional Mario Kart game. The bad news is that it doesn’t feel exactly 100% like a traditional Mario Kart game, and the difference is wide enough to be frustrating to a veteran of the previous Mario Kart entries. Like in most of the games in the series, you can get a start boost, pick up all your favorite items, and yes, you can even drift, but for me, although the feel was good, it was a bit too “uncanny valley” for me to be able to consider it to be great.
In addition to the uncanny valley feeling of the controls, my Switch has a notoriously hard time staying connected to, well, anything at all, and while this Kart did stay connected to my device, the connection got spotty at times and I had to stay relatively close to the console. Frustratingly close, in my opinion. In my house, at least, I felt like the connection range limited my ability to try anything truly nutty in terms of track creation, which was a bummer.
I should mention that while Nintendo says this product should be used on hard flooring only, I tested the kart mostly on carpet since my living situation basically made that a necessity. While the kart certainly runs better on a hard floor, my carpet isn’t very rugged and it seemed to work mostly fine for me either way. Not everyone who is going to want to try this game is going to have access to a large open space of hardwood or tile, so while my conditions weren’t perfect, they were realistic.
While Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is an awesomely unique, novel toy, it falls short of being the sequel to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that I’ve been dreaming about. The initial magic of seeing yourself on your Switch through the eyes of a Mario Kart is undeniably amazing, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly. If it seems like my opinions on this are torn, it’s because they are. This kit is mostly a toy, so it seems unfair to compare it to its more traditional video game prequels, even though it clearly seems to be inviting those comparisons.
My exceptional experiences with the previous Mario Kart games absolutely colored my expectations, but I also want to be fair to the fact that this is something brand new. If you have a strong WiFi connection and a large, open area, I think you’ll have a blast with this kit. But if you’re hoping for a Mario Kart 9, this wasn’t quite it. You can see even more of my thoughts in the video impressions at the top of this post, or in the livestream re-run where we streamed the game for a few hours on our Twitch channel, just below. If you’re looking to pick up a copy for yourself, you can do that right here.