Here are 10 things you should know before you consider picking Mario Kart Live up for you and your geeklings.
What do I need to play?
Chiefly, just a Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite, the contents of the Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Mario or Luigi set, and some empty floor space. The basic character sets are super straightforward; you get a Mario-red or Luigi-green kart complete with driver and top-mounted camera, a USB-C charging cable, four foldable cardboard gates, and two arrow signboards.
Wait—so there’s no game cartridge?
No, the companion video game title is exclusively available via the Nintendo eShop. It’s free, so even if you don’t pick up Mario Kart Live at launch, you can still download the game itself and check out its gameplay information to help inform your purchase decision.
Is there multiplayer?
Yes, while any single player can get plenty of playtime going up against a team of ruthless virtual Koopalings, up to four real-life players can race at a time. Of course, each player must have their own Switch console and, as of now, this also necessitates purchasing multiple copies of the Mario or Luigi starter sets.
This isn’t exactly ideal, and I hope that Nintendo considers broadening the line with two-player kits or some additional karts to choose from at a later date, but there’s been no word on either at this point.
Still, hope springs eternal.
How difficult is setup?
Setting up Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a breeze!
Charging the Kart
Just push aside the panel on your kart’s right side (next to the vehicle’s single start button) to access the USB-C connecter and charge it using the included cable through your Switch dock or a Nintendo Switch AC adapter. It takes around 3.5 hours to fully charge (which will, in turn, give you about 90 minutes of drive time in 150cc mode), and the light display on the back of the kart’s camera mount will let you know when it’s ready.
Prepping Race Gates and Signage
Each of the four race gates includes a special marker to let the kart camera know where it is on a course, so you’ll need to use all four. (Don’t worry, though; they come pre-assembled!) To set them up, simply flip out the legs from the numbered crossbeam and fold out the feet before securing the support tab in the middle.
The optional arrows signs are even easier; just fold the bottom supports into place and you’re good to go.
Pairing the Vehicle
Easier still is pairing a kart with your Switch console. At startup, the Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit software will display a QR code. Scan this code with the kart camera and you are literally off to the races.
How much space do I need?
Nintendo recommends a physical space of at least 12′ x 10′ to allow for both customization of the course and proper control for your kart. Obviously, the faster you drive, the more difficult it can become to corner/drift, so a space sufficient in 50cc mode may feel a little tight as you advance through 100cc, 150cc, and 200cc.
Also, I’ve found it’s a good idea to budget an extra couple of feet in all directions. This allows you to modify your course between Cup races in Grand Prix mode. Mario Kart Live does a fine job of mixing things up with new power-ups and environmental effects, but physically manipulating your course in the real world is half the fun.
Can I play it all over the house?
In theory, yes, but there are a few considerations.
The Home Circuit kart is optimized for hard, flat surfaces. Hardwood, tile, and linoleum are perfect, and in my house, at least, there was no noticeable issue transitioning from my kitchen vinyl to low-pile rugs or carpets. However, anything with long fibers could slow down kart performance and potentially get tangled in the axles.
Nintendo of America also advises that you keep the kart within 15′ of your Switch system when racing—anything further away can negatively impact connectivity. This is less of an issue when playing in handheld mode, where you can generally reposition yourself for optimal play, but is something to keep in mind while playing on your television in docked mode.
How about outdoors?
Outside play—like steep inclines and ramp jumps—is inadvisable. Exposure to dirt, water, and the rigors of the elements can prove detrimental to the sensitive kart hardware.
Are there any other special considerations?
I live in a house with two large, lazy housecats. However, no sooner will Mario round a corner than they both become alpha predators intent on devouring this diminutive Italian. Sure, it’s pretty funny to watch their maddened eyes flash in the mixed reality camera as Mario and the Koopalings speed by, but they’ve certainly ruined more than their fair share of speedruns.
Consider putting up your pets before playing.
What’s the control scheme like?
While not as simple as the one-finger touch interface of mobile phone entry Mario Kart Tour, Home Circuit‘s steering assisted controls are very easy to grasp. It basically revisits those of that other recent series entry, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The A button accelerates while B is used to brake and back-up. The left analog stick steers and the right shoulder button lets you drift into a turbo-boost, while the left shoulder button is reserved for deploying items.
How is the “mixed reality” gameplay?
In my opinion, it’s practically perfect. Crafting your own dream course, complete with tight turns and real-world obstacles, coupled with the digital set dressing of unlockables like car/driver skins, race gate power-ups, and environmental elements are —to borrow that well-worn phrase—two great tastes that taste great together.
Sure, Iggy and Morton don’t have to worry about the minefield of mini traffic cones (or the occasional ornery cat) that lurks outside the starting gate, but they also don’t know about the homestretch shortcut of cutting under the kitchen table to snatch an easy victory. And that, at its heart, is what Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is all about.
It’s your game in your house with your rules, but at its core, it’s still the same on Mario Kart we’ve loved for decades.
Review and promotional materials provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. My kingdom for a Yoshi kart!