Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Jorge Ba-oh 18.10.2020

Review for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on Nintendo Switch

2020 has been an usual and peculiar year. With most of us spending more time at home, gaming has been even more important than before. Online titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons have kept gamers well connected.

But what about a game experience that uses the living-room space as part of an interactive experience? Nintendo resurrects Augmented Reality tech from the Nintendo 3DS as part of a unique take on the classic racer, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Little RC racers equipped with cameras bring that iconic kart racer formula into an intriguing mixed-reality experience. Boxes, books, cardboard at the ready, it's time to race!

Nintendo have championed unique ways of interacting with the Switch console year on year. With seemingly wacky and inventive ideas that make the most of the Switch's handheld factor. It's surprising that Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit hasn't come any sooner given that popularity of the series lends itself to merchandise and spin-offs. Is now the right time for Mario Kart to enter living rooms around the world?

Announced as part of the Super Mario 35th Celebration earlier this year, the concept is a collaboration piece behind Velan Studios and Nintendo. The trilogy of 3D Mario adventures, Super Mario 3D All Stars is the ultimate throwback for fans, but part of the different anniversary goodies was something fresh, dubbed Mario Kart in real life! In the build up to the release, Velan Studios initially experimented with an RC car equipped with a drone camera in September 2017. Together with that timeless Nintendo magic, it morphed into the video game that its become today.

Screenshot for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on Nintendo Switch

Inside the box is a plastic RC car that houses one of two plumbers: Mario or Luigi. To bridge the real-world experience with the game, there are also four cardboard gates and a pair of arrow cards. A USB charging cable for the kart is also included, with the software a free download from the Nintendo eShop.

So how does it all work, though? The magic comes from the use of image markers, or targets, that are housed on the cardboard gates. The gates are micro checkpoints that, when connected together, form a virtual course that the game adapts to. Simply dot them around the chosen space and use the Nintendo Switch to drive the RC car through all four gates to set the track. It's surprisingly simple and puts the course design in the player's hands. The camera that sits on the top of the kart projects the first-person view, blending the living-room clutter, food packets and half-eaten sandwiches with an animated in-game overlay!

The gates serve as the opportunity to add augmented reality obstacles, power-ups and boosts to the tracks - making for an interesting experience that's governed by how they're positioned in reality. Having the RC car accelerate for a few seconds in the game and along the carpet is a bizarre yet immersive experience! What's most impressive about the setup is the speed of how it all plays out.

It's not the first time Nintendo have tinkered with AR technology, as it's been almost a decade since the release of the 3DS. There were some early form of interactive demos on the 3DS technology, using cards and markers to spawn Mii characters inside a pint of beer or serving them up to a hungry furry pet. But the technology, and similar AR concepts in recent times, required a few vital seconds for the interactive part to play out. It breaks that illusion and immersion. What Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit does exceptionally well is keeps it as near seamless as possible; blending the game world's colourful animations with the surrounding environment with as minimal latency as possible. With a game like Mario Kart, speed is of the essence!

Screenshot for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on Nintendo Switch

Whilst the RC car zips around, all the action unfolds on the screen in near-real time. In the trials and different configurations for this review, the space is small in this boxed-in London flat. Throw in a larger room and the possibilities can be near endless! Use card and books to conjure up small ramps, create tunnels and unique obstacles to conquer.

Other members of the Cubed3 team have given Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit a go and the results are mixed, however. The game's signal can drop significantly when trying the more inventive approaches, like under-the-bed tunnels or zipping along a hallway and taking a quick detour into another room. It could potentially hamper some of those creative ideas if the RC car's signal starts to chop out at times.

But what about the game's modes? Beyond the set up of the course and experimenting with layouts, it's to a race or two! Grand Prix sees those pesky Koopalings join the line-up, in a digital way. Seeing these floating avatars follow the courses is a joy to behold, as well as those timeless items being flung-around the racecourse. The virtual in-game characters are immune to the real-life obstacles - like a cat - however, so do keep that in mind! The addition of different themed levels does help adding variety into the design, with frosty set-pieces and haunted mansions spicing up the game with the usual Mario Kart flair.

Screenshot for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on Nintendo Switch

What is missing, though, are those other Nintendo fan-favourites. The Koopalings are a neat touch, but there's a significant lack of those dinosaurs, mushroom folk and princesses we've all come to love. It would be interesting to see whether Nintendo mix-up the races with other characters in the future. For those who prefer a more solo race, Time Trial and Custom Races are there to spark up those creative juices.

In terms of longevity and value, there is no disputing that the initial hands-on experience with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a visual showstopper. Seeing the concept come together is nothing short of magical. Whether it'll be a regular family fix or a dust magnet really does depend on the space available, and how inventive the setup becomes.

Where the game's value can be limited is with multiplayer. It is certainly intended to be a local affair. Friends, family, siblings - the package comes with a single RC car.

At time of writing, those wanting to support two players will need to shell out for another complete set with the elusive Luigi, rather than just getting hold of a second RC car. A battle mode that makes the most of the additional RC carts would be a great extra at some stage, too.

Screenshot for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is immersive, addictive and refreshingly fun - a fresh way to interact with the living space; blending a traditional toy with that intense Mario Kart action!

Throw in those familiar items, themes and chirpy music and Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a recipe for an afternoon of Augmented Reality racing. Home Circuit does certainly have room to grow and questions around replay value - whether through more affordable additional RC cars, extra accessories, and additional extras in the game.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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