When Super Mario Kart hit Australian Super Nintendo consoles in early 1993, our new favourite game was born. It’s been through several evolutions through the years, but none as exciting as its leap into the real world with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.
Opening up the box, we find a remote-control kart with either Mario or Luigi behind the wheel, plus a bunch of gates. All that’s then needed is a free-to-download (and useless to those without the car) game for Nintendo’s Switch.
Using the wonders of augmented reality, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit gives the player a Mario (or Luigi) eye view of a course that you map out through your home.
First, you’ll want to sort out your Kart. It arrives with some charge, although if you want an extended initial play session then you might want to plug it in while you set everything else up. A USB-C cable is included to connect to your Switch dock, or you can use the standard Switch power pack. We hunted a bit for the charging socket, which is a panel that slides up on the righthand side of the kart – the same side as the power switch.
“It’s no half-baked gimmick, either, as you race like you do in the games.”
Next, you’ll want to pull out the four cardboard gates and fold them into place. There are also two arrow boards to help guide you through trickier circuits that you may set up. Yes, the shape of the course that you race is entirely up to you – just set up the gates, and you pop into a learning mode in the game whereby you drive along the route that you wish to be your course.
Some strategy needs to be employed with gate placement, as some courses can be cheated on if they’re in certain spots – not looking at anybody, STACK Pokémon correspondent James… While extra gates can’t be added, you could make up your own extra arrow boards and they’ll be recognised by the software. The best news is that even if you have a small home without big open spaces, with a little thought you can still make great courses, as they can double back over and cross each other.
Now, after the simple operation of pairing the Switch and kart, it’s time to get going. We’ve been around a while and even experienced plenty of AR, but none of that could prepare us for the excitement when race time came. Beyond getting a fascinating rodent’s eye view of our flat (which hopefully doesn’t actually house any rodents), it’s how much of the Mario Kart games that we know and love is included. But we’re playing on our own turf. To quote Owen Wilson, “WOW!”.
While you start out with a basic kart, costume and horn, as this is AR there are all sorts of extras that are unlockable as you progress. There are also several race options, including classic grand prix and time trial modes, and up to four Switches can be interfaced with four of the karts for truly mad home racing.
Starting a grand prix is where the magic really happens, which makes us sound like a bumper sticker. Anyway, it truly is something else. You get a view from behind your Mario (or Luigi) that’s fully animated, and race onscreen against several characters from the seamier side of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s no half-baked gimmick, either, as you race like you do in the games – nabbing speed-up mushrooms, super stars and bananas through to red turtles, and drifting around corners and getting those sweet, sweet turbo boosts. It’s certainly no picnic, as an array of nasties such as Bloopers and Bob-ombs on various themed tracks throw up environmental challenges like poison Piranha Plants, Cheep-Cheeps, Thwomps and Chain Chomps. Again, but we’re playing on our own turf!
As with the regular Mario Kart games coins are your friend, as these help towards unlocking new karts, costumes and horns.
Control is surprisingly good – we didn’t have too many stacks into immovable objects around our rather cramped living quarters – and if you are a total klutz there is a steering assist mode that basically takes away all the fu- erm, steers for the player.
As far as longevity is concerned, that’s up to the attention span of players game-wise. The physical package delivers a sturdily built plastic Kart that also works great as a display piece. The only possible weak link is the cardboard components – possible leftovers from the Labo experiment – which tend to get bashed quite a bit by the kart and will likely deteriorate if not shown plenty of TLC.
We won’t lie, we were really looking forward to Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, and can honestly say that it’s an even better experience than we had imagined. WOW! Now, let’s-a go again!
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is available now for Switch, in both Mario and Luigi versions.