Microsoft has Forza. Sony has Gran Turismo. But Nintendo? Its premier racing franchise has always had its iconic mustachioed plumber behind the wheel. Swapping V12 engines for more a more stripped-down ride, Mario Kart has excelled over the years as being a fast and furious entry in the racing genre that can easily hold its own with the biggest names on Ken’s block.
Lightning-quick racing, deliriously fun drifting with a purpose and an assortment of power-ups makes for a game where the action is always neck and neck. So imagine then, that very concept of Mario Kart given life in your very living room. You set the track, you decide where the race will be held, such as in a stately bedroom, the tight corners of a passageway, or even the vast open expanse of a double garage once all the hazards have been moved out of the way.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is astonishingly good at what it sets out to do, which is real racing with the most adorable of remote-controlled vehicles. At the same time, I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a heck of an impulse buy, doomed to gather dust once the novelty has worn off and left in a cupboard next to other peripherals from the past, such as various Rock Band musical equipment, my DJ Hero spin table, and Tony Hawk’s Shred board.
But for what it’s worth, those hours when you distract yourself are going to be amazing. First off, you’ve got the kart itself. Nintendo loaned me the Luigi kit, a boxed set that includes the underrated green plumber, four cardboard gates that have better quality than the box it arrived in, and two cardboard direction bumpers.
The kart itself is lovely stuff: Luigi looks he was ripped straight from any of his recent games, the vehicle is a surprisingly chunky size, and the plastic looks beautifully vibrant. Heck, I’d happily store this on a shelf as a collectible before even playing with it. Mario Kart Live, which is a free download on the Nintendo eShop, is a quick download and wastes no time in getting you up to speed on the basics.
Once you’ve set the gates up, you’re tasked with driving through them and creating a race course that can consist of straight and narrow basic shapes or twisting and treacherous tracks devised by a racing devil. The camera mounted on the track monitors your route without fail, and once you’re ready to go, it’s Mario Kart business as usual! Fast rivals who can easily keep pace with you and make you invent several new curse-words when they nail you with a tortoise-shell right before you cross the finish line.
So how does the kart itself perform? Impressively well! Looking at those tiny wheels, you’d think that only the smoothest of surfaces would be able to support Mario or Luigi before you burnt all the rubber off their cute little wheels. In my own testing, I threw the kart at a number of surfaces and it took off like a politician spotting an opportunity to score quick points at a local tragedy.
Wood, tiles, carpets, concrete, and even the freakin’ road outside my home, Luigi was home on all those surfaces. You’ve also got a choice of CC-classes to choose from, and on the higher settings the kart will face even less resistance from the surface it’s placed on, like the aforementioned carpet. Othewise, I was genuinely amazed at how well Luigi’s little real-life presence could match the experience of a regular Mario Kart game.
Within the series, it’s not just about how fast you can go but mastering that all-important drift which gives you a speed boost when you come out of the corner, and by Bowser’s spiked shell did this Kart deliver. I think it’s also a testament to the gameplay mechanics and its approachable simplicity that I could give my father a go and within a minute he had mastered the intricacies of the game. That’s just damn good design right there.
There are some catches of course. For starters, it’s recommended to have a decent amount of floor space around which you can create a course. As much fun as I had with Mario Kart Live, having to rearrange a living room just so that I could spend a solid amount of time with it was a bit tiresome. In addition to that, you’re going to need a room that has a decent amount of light as well, lest the camera fail to pick up a gate and penalise you for that blunder.
In docked mode, I also discovered that there was a certain level of choppiness to the game as opposed to when I played in mobile mode which didn’t skip a beat or a frame. Strange.
But what an experience it all adds up to be when you’re properly set up and ready to race. From humble puttering about in the 50cc class through to the blistering quickness of the 200cc category, this little kart is amazing in action once optimal conditions of space and lighting are setup. Charging the kart is easy stuff as well, as you’re able to plug a USB-C cable (Thank the gods) into the battery fuel tank via a hidden panel, and it’ll easily last an hour or two in action.
It’s the sheer thrill of Mario Kart with a whole new layer of creativity attached, as well as a healthy mix of daredevil glee and cautious cornering lest you smash poor Mario or Luigi into your couch. How much fun you get from the experience is up to you, but if Mario Kart Live is anything like Nintendo’s other augmented reality projects and sees constant growth through free content drops, this novel mix of remote control karting and iconic racing game pedigree is going to be in for a lengthy season on the track.
Like most Nintendo ideas, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit has a certain magic to it, charm and some caveats thrown at you. It’s mad stuff that somehow works, and performs even better if you’re rich enough to own a spare living room to set up a lab dedicated to racing game experiments.
Last Updated: October 19, 2020