Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines as the high-octane action of Mario Kart comes to your living room with Mario Kart Live Home Circuit.
Nintendo has always been the mad scientist of gaming, and rather than chasing the best graphics available and higher frame rates, the company often chooses to experiment and innovate in the weirdest and coolest ways.
It’s their weirdness and experimental nature that gave them hits like the handheld Game Boy and the motion controlled Nintendo Wii.
They have a history of bridging the gap between toys and video games, with peripherals like R.O.B. for the NES back in 1985, and most recently the toys-to-life LABO sets, Amiibo figures and Super Mario Lego.
Much like the LABO kits previously, Home Circuit merges real-world toys with Augmented Reality games.
Home Circuit features a Mario Kart remote-control car that has a small camera attached, allowing you to see from the kart’s view while you control it from your Switch in either handheld or docked mode.
The kart looks great and just like its video game counterpart with a noticeable camera behind him. Mario cannot be removed from the kart and is not posable in any way.
Don’t be fooled though, the kart is well built and sturdy, which is handy as you will crash often. The karts weighs just under 50 grams making it feel solid yet light enough to take to a friend’s house and share the fun.
Currently, Mario or Luigi versions are available but there is always the possibility of other racers being made available later (my fingers are crossed for Wario).
Set up is super easy, all you need to do is download the Mario Kart Live Home Circuit game for free from the Switch e-Shop. Then scan the QR code with the camera on the kart to pair it to your Switch. Cardboard gates are then placed wherever you like to create your racetrack.
You then place the four gates however you like and drive through them with ‘virtual paint’ on your kart to create a racetrack for you to follow, with you going through the gates in numbered sequence and ending with you looping back to the start.
Item blocks are activated on these gates, giving you one of 15 classic Mario Kart power-ups like boost mushrooms, stars, red shells, etc.
You can change the function of the gates including providing power-ups, a speed boost, causing coins to appear or some less helpful abilities like dangerous obstacles or a hostile Magikoopa casting a spell on the racer to spice things up.
You are then set to race virtual enemies Bowser Jr and the Koopalings using your home as the course. It can be very annoying when the other virtual racers pass through objects which you then hit. Part of my course was on the carpet which slowed Mario down but obviously didn’t affect the virtual villains.
In Grand Prix, there are 4 four speeds: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and 200cc, the top tier unlocking after you have won more trophies. Playing on one of the faster cups e.g. 150cc, 200cc the kart even moves faster, which is a nice touch. You can compete in eight cups each with three themed stages as well as setting records in time trial mode.
You can customise how your virtual course will appear in-game with one of 11 different themes – including the iconic Rainbow Road – which slightly change the look of your virtual environment. Once you’ve complete Grand Prix you unlock further course customisation options.
Once you’re away it feels very familiar with tight controls that feel close to but doesn’t quite 100% match the games as the physical kart isn’t as loose handling. The real life kart also cannot jump or power slide, but does so in-game, creating an odd disconnect that takes a while to get the hang of.
Impressively, actions in-game will affect how your kart moves. If you use a mushroom, the kart will get a burst of speed, but the kart will stop if you’re hit by another racer’s power-up, for example, a red shell.
Through winning races, you can unlock virtual cosmetic outfits for your racer and their kart, which look awesome and gives a nice incentive to keep racing.
A lot of fun is had from avoiding everyday hazards and obstacles including shoes, carpets and bemused pets. It reminded me a lot of the Micro Machines games from the 90s with everyday objects appearing as obstacles.
It’s really entertaining to get creative with your track designs and move the gates to change the configuration of your track, as well as adding hazards and ramps to interact with.
Connectivity was good and most of the time with it was impressively lag-free, but in the far corners of my living room or when I left the room I would start to have connection issues. While in the next room the frame rate would sometimes dip slightly, and the screen would begin to glitch but this would be resolved as soon as the kart got closer to the Switch.
The kart ran well on my wooden floor, bathroom tiles and carpets, with only occasional issues caused by bunched up carpet which led to me crashing to a halt if I wasn’t moving fast enough.
It’s funny to see how fast and frantic the race looks on the screen compared to the slower mechanical movements of the kart in real life.
You do require a decent amount of space inside to use it effectively. Nintendo recommends 10 x 12ft. I managed to do a lap of my whole flat but it did get a tad glitchy when it reached my bedroom which was about 9 meters from where I was sat.
The kart features a Lithium-ion battery which lasts over an hour and is charged via USB-C.
You can play in handheld mode or on TV with a standard Switch, and solely handheld if playing on the Nintendo Switch Lite. I preferred playing in handheld as it was easier to look up from the Switch to see the real kart racing along.
One kart retails at £99.99 which is a really good price compared to some remote control cars, especially when considering a standard first-party Switch game retails at about £50.
You can even play multiplayer with friends and up to 4 four players and there are two-car sets available featuring both Mario and Luigi. But unfortunately, the game remains a single-player experience if you don’t own to karts as there is no online play.
Mario Kart Live Home Circuit is one of those Nintendo ideas that’s just crazy enough to work and is extremely fun provided you have the space to play it properly.
It’s one of the best applications of AR I’ve got my hands on and features some impressive tech. The kart is a joy to drive and responds as closely to the game as physically possible, with multiplayer adding even more fun into the mix.
Mario Kart Live Home Circuit is a fantastic blend of mad Mario Kart action in your own home. It’s awesome seeing your home from the shifted perspective while you are zag zagging through your coffee table and under the sofa while dishing out red shell revenge.