One of the most exciting moments of Nintendo’s big Super Mario Bros. 35th-anniversary celebration reveal was the appearance of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, an augmented reality take on the beloved kart-racer franchise that adds an element of real-world RC racing to the mix. With the product launch just a couple of weeks away—October 16, for those of you keeping score at home—Nintendo of America was nice enough to treat me to a little online preview.
While this means I haven’t yet had my own hot little hands on the product, NOA did provide a nice breakdown of its features and functionality. Which I will now relate to you because I’m cool like that.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit comes in two flavors, Mario and Luigi, each retailing for $99.99 and containing the same four racing gates, two arrow signs, and USB-C charging cable. The only real differences are the driver and his color-coordinated kart (and some minor packaging details).
The Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit game won’t be cartridge-based. Instead, you can freely download it from the Nintendo eShop to your Switch or Switch Lite system. Simply scan in the QR code generated at startup with the integrated camera on your kart to easily link your devices.
The game’s four race gates are basic cardboard constructs in the Nintendo Labo vein, seemingly using the same middle-weight board and plastic locking rings as their crafty forebearers. The amount of space between them (and, in turn, the overall length of your course) will vary based on your desired race speed, with 50cc requiring less floor-space than 100cc, 150cc, and the granddaddy of them all, 200cc.
With your gates in place, Course Creation begins with Lakitu dumping a bucket of paint on your kart’s wheels. As you wind your way through each numbered gate, the paint trail left in your wake outlines the kart circuit. This allows you to establish a course that’s as straightforward or as challenging as you like.
Like Mario Kart-proper, Home Circuit allows for single-player (against the Koopalings) and multiplayer racing (with up to three other physical karts) across both single-track Custom Races and Grand Prix contests. Familiar circuits like the Mushroom and Flower Cup are back, with various power-ups and environmental effects like wind, rain, lava, and even underwater racing helping to keep things interesting.
The standard Gold Coins collected are used to unlock new driver and kart skins as well as unique sounds for your horn, though, sadly, your physical competitors won’t see your tricked out kart overlay on their Switch systems.
Power-ups and obstacles, on the other hand, do visibly affect your physical kart in real-time, with Mushrooms providing a speed boost, opponents’ Koopa Shells stopping you on impact, and an overeager Chain Chomp sometimes overriding your steering as it wildly barks and bucks.
The Course Creation interface looks phenomenal, promising a fully-featured suite of Mario Kart tools at your ready disposal. Everything from Fire Bars to Thwomps to kart-pulling Magnets can be assigned to your gates in multiple positions, allowing for both creativity and a nice level of granularity in your creations.
For even more of a challenge, you can integrate real-world objects into your course, knocking over blocks or dodging around furniture to ramp up the difficulty. (You can’t, however, use actual ramps, as those could prove damaging to your kart!)
On the other hand, if your racing skills are strictly lightweight, there is a steering assist feature. Though, given that Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit seems more concerned about your passing through the requisite gates than staying perfectly on your virtual course, I’m not sure how much of an advantage this will provide.
All-in-all, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit looks like a nice blend of the cleverly cosmetic, like the frantic AR overlay on an arrow sign that indicates an upcoming sharp turn, and the characteristically classic, like its Mario Kart 8 Deluxe-style control scheme complete with shoulder-button drifting.
In my rundown of Super Mario Bros. 35th-anniversary highlights, I said Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit was “sure to be one of this holiday season’s hottest items,” and all I’ve seen so far only reinforces that belief. In fact, my only lingering complaint—aside from the lack of ramps because everybody loves ramps—is that I haven’t yet been able to take this bad boy for a spin in my own home!
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