Have you ever found yourself wishing that the gaming worlds we all know and love could come to life? Well, I know I have and I’d be willing to bet that you have, too. With the exception of hugely expensive AR or VR simulation booths, ‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ is possibly the closest we’ve ever come to this experience.
‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ is a radio-controlled AR experience that launched in mid-October 2020. However, due to COVID-19 induced stay-at-home orders and a myriad of overseas supply issues, the Karts were fairly hard to come by in the early days.
In the time since, I’ve managed to land my own Mario-driven Kart and have embraced the whimsical fun of zipping around my own apartment, with courses limited only by my imagination (and some very minor software/hardware limitations).
The game looks and feels like the kind of thing that would be thoroughly and primarily enjoyed by swarms of children around the world. However, as a fully grown man, I can tell you categorically that age places no limitation on the amount of fun one can have while playing this game.
I’m going to start with the flaws, because I want to get them out of the way before discussing in detail, what makes this game so entertaining. Naturally, ‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ is not without its limitations. Afterall, you can’t possibly expect AR perfection from an experience that cost only $150 AUD (Roughly $100 USD).
Depending on the layout of your layout of your living room, the 4.5m range radius can provide some limitations on the complexity of course designs. However, if you’re willing to think outside the box, you soon realise that this stretches to 9m in length when you play the device in the middle of the course, and play around. Once you get up and running, you quickly realise that a 9m course is way more than you need to have a very fulfilling experience.
Depending on the lighting of your home, your may experience some camera quality issues. Although, I must say that I only know about this anecdotally and haven’t personally experienced any issues that I would consider a problem. I would, however, place some flexibility on your level of expectation regarding the camera quality in general. While it’s not at all disappointing, the games trailers do make it look like a flawless experience, but in real-life it can often be ever so grainy in appearance.
Now, on to the positives. Because there are a lot.
Most importantly, I want to stress how much fun this game can be. Nintendo have done an incredible job at mimicking the experience of their Mario Kart titles. I think all the way back to my first experience of zipping around the courses in Mario Kart 64 and it’s unbelievable to think how far we’ve come.
‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ allows you to choose play in a Grand Prix style format, or challenge yourself (and friends) by taking part in time trials. The game also offers a multiplayer option, but frankly, the hoops one needs to jump through somewhat dampens the possibility of any lasting multiplayer excitement. In order to play local multiplayer with your friends, all players must have their own Nintendo Switch and Kart. This is a lot of expensive gear to be lugging around the peoples homes everytime you want to play a game.
The AR experience that Nintendo has provided throughout this game is worthy of praise. When setup correctly, the course designs are near faultless and your AR racing opponents will (at least 95% of the time), stick to the course that you’ve laid out. I’ve read other reviews stating that there’s an inherent disappointment in the fact that the enemies aren’t bound by the same physical restrictions as your own Kart. Frankly, this is hugely nitpicky. We can’t expect complete perfection…at least not yet.
The package you purchase will include the Kart (featuring either Mario or Luigi – your choice), 4 gates, 2 arrow markers and USB-C charging cable. The gates will become your tracks guidance system. They also contribute to the ability to add themes and designs to the AR experience. If you ask me, the idea that pits of lava or huge Ice crystals can form on my apartment floor, and add to the racing experience, is pretty damn cool.
The Kart itself is wildly impressive. The Kart will physically act depending on the games AR interaction. For example, if you happen to hit a mushroom in game, the Kart will speed up. If you hit a banana or get smashed by a Spiny Shell (or as I call them, the blue shells of death), your Kart will stop, forcing you to pick up your pace again. The front bumper also appears to have some sensors, so when you accidentally run into the leg of your kitchen table, it creates a more lifelike and intense digital experience.
In my opinion, ‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ is worth every cent of its price tag. The amount of fun one can have while playing is, at least at this point, endless.
I’m sure the game will continue to receive software improvements, as well as new content. Since we’re breaking this game down into a rating, I would be placing it pretty high to the top of the pile. Sure, there are some elements that could be better. However, if we’re talking about whether or not you can have genuine fun playing this game, it’s a no brainer.
‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ is a game before it’s time. Hopefully the quality and accuracy of AR and AI tech continues to improve. If Nintendo decide this was a sales success, I’m pretty keen to see what they roll out next.
‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’ Review
While the game has some flaws, 'Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit' is worth every cent of its price tag. The amount of fun one can have while playing is, at least at this point, endless.