Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is the newest entry in Nintendo’s longstanding arcade racing/bullshit simulator. Finally marrying the thrill of getting ruined by a blue shell with the space underneath your couch, Mario Kart Live uses your Switch and augmented reality to bring the race course into your home.
On Your Marks…
There are two sets – one kart has Mario, the other Luigi – and each is equipped with a camera that beams a video feed over what can only be described as the world’s worst wireless video codec to your Switch. The cars themselves actually feel pretty premium. The molding is nice, the detail on Mario’s eyes imbues the appropriate amount of lifelessness, and the tires are made out of a soft material that won’t scratch up your hardwood floors as you whip around your hallways. The package also integrates some of Nintendo’s learnings with Labo. The gates and course markers are made out of cardboard, and can be folded up for easy storage. It doesn’t seem like Nintendo is selling replacement gates yet, but with tape and a little determination any rips or tears that occur can probably be mended pretty easily.
You’ll want to keep those gates in good condition though, because they are how you create courses in the game. After you pair your car to your Switch, Latiku throws a bunch of paint on your tires and asks you to create a course. Initially, I decided to create a course that would take full advantage of my apartment. The course would begin at the door to my office, go down the hall into my living room, back through my kitchen, and into my hallway, with a hairpin turn sending racers back into the office to repeat the loop.
I live in a moderately sized (1000sqft) Spanish style apartment in Los Angeles. It is longer than it is wide, and I have a pretty good internet connection throughout the house because of my Eero router system. After I set the gates down and returned to my office, I began the journey out of the room and into the living room and very quickly I ran into the biggest problem with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit — the connectivity between the Switch and the karts themselves is absolutely terrible.
As the crow flies, the distance from my couch to the end of my hallway is ~30 feet. When the kart left my sight, the video feed on my Switch became choppy, and eventually froze. I could hear the kart banging around in my hallway, but I couldn’t see where it was. I had to get up and grab the car and take a step back. My course was too big.
So, with the help of my partner Kati, I took another stab at a course. Starting and ending in the living room, the course would be a standard loop that went through our kitchen. In a straight line, the furthest distance that the karts would be from our couch was 10 feet. The video below is of me trying to create this course. When I entered the kitchen, I lost connection and the game did not recognize that I had driven through Gate 4. I had to turn around and drive back through it, creating a weird double back in the track.
This was still too far. The video feed, with a full second or more of delay, was nigh unusable. As Kati and I yelled at our respective Marios to move, we were being lapped by our digital Koopaling opponents. The cars included with the game do not use wi-fi, but a protocol that closely mirrors the local wireless functionality of the Switch.
We eventually were able to create a playable course that went through our living room and into the kitchen. Once we got going, the familiar shouts and swears that Mario Kart elicits started to flow. Items in the game work as they do normally –– mushrooms make the car go faster, getting hit with a shell or a banana stops the car entirely. It felt, well, like Mario Kart! Just slower and in two rooms of my house.
The appeal of the game – at least to me, from looking at promotional material – was that I could create a Mario Kart course in my home that used in-built features (like my coffee table, a chair, the hallway, my dog, etc.) to create an infinite number of tracks. The game has a handful of different themes, too – so my living room could look like it was in a desert or underwater. In practice, though, because the video feed was low quality and easily interrupted, racing in any setting other than the normal one was nearly unplayable.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is an idea that is betrayed by its price point. At $100 for the kart, gates, and game, corners had to be cut. The wireless radios are not great, and the game itself becomes very shallow once you realize that there are only so many variations of course you can create when the usable range of the cars is taken in to account. I would not recommend that anyone who is looking for the next great Mario Kart experience to pick this up. If you are a parent of a Mario Kart loving child looking for a gift this holiday season however, this might be a hit.