For quite some time now, video-game companies have dabbled in augmented and virtual reality. In this sense, and for the most part, some of them have succeeded and others have failed. With this in mind, today’s review looks at a new entry in the augmented reality side of things from Nintendo, and it is called Mario Kart Live Home Circuit.
At first glance, it is quite clear just how interesting and unique this product is, because it really does seem to blend the best of what augmented reality can offer when merged with a popular video game franchise. Simply put, Mario Kart Live Home Circuit aims to turn the popular franchise into a true-to-life game with a physical counterpart. However, despite how cool it is on the surface, there are quite a few caveats gamers and potential buyers will need to take into consideration – many of which will be discussed further on in this review.
Unboxing Mario Kart Live Home Circuit is a pretty basic experience. The box clearly showcases what the product is about, including images for the included cart, of which there are two versions: with Mario being read and Luigi being green. The box includes a user and setup guide, the cart, USB-C charging cable, and several cardboard gates for setting up races. Noticeably absent, however, is a game cart. Rather, Nintendo have included a message in the packaging directing owners to the Nintendo eShop to download the title. It is a bit of a strange move, and there is no real rhyme or reasons as to why Nintendo have done this. However, it is something to take into consideration for those who are unaware that an Internet connection is required to download the game – all 1.1 GB of it.
The cart included with Mario Kart Live Home Circuit is rather nicely designed. We received the Luigi variant for review and the detail is quite good. The tyres are made from a seemingly durable rubber-plastic hybrid that picks up dirt super quickly, whereas the rest of the cart is made of a durable plastic – perfect for bumping and bashing. It also includes a USB-C port for charging, an ‘ignition’ button for pairing and turning on the cart, as well as a camera for the augmented reality features (jutting out just above Luigi’s head).
In terms of setting the game up, it is a fairly easy experience. After downloading the Mario Kart Live Home Circuit software onto a Nintendo Switch, the game will prompt for the cart to be started and paired. Thereafter, aiming the cart’s camera to the QR code on the Nintendo Switch will cause the two products to link to one another. Once done, the cart will immediately become active. From here a license – with photograph – can be created and then the motions of setting up the track can be carried out.
In terms of Mario Kart Live Home Circuit, course creation is where the actual magic happens. There are four included cardboard gates in the package, each a different colour and featuring some lovely Nintendo artworks. Once placed on the floor in an open space, the game will prompt users to put down the racer at Gate 1, after which the software will take over and the augmented reality experience begins. It is here where Luigi will become alive on the Switch screen, and elements of the track will begin to take shape. It is all super simple and works extremely well, providing a rather impressive first impression. After the initial track creation, the game opens up with a variety of options. In this sense there are three main modes: Grand Prix, Time Trial and Custom Track.
Grand Prix mode pits drivers against all sorts of Koopalings and other characters across eight cups in over 24 tracks. The best part about this mode in Mario Kart Live Home Circuit is how each cup augments a variety of different and unique effects over whatever track has been created. The good news is Nintendo have managed to retain the frantic nature of Mario Kart titles within this augmented experience. In fact, the experience is somewhat even more challenging given how it offers a wonderful merger of real world play and physics with digital augmented gameplay elements. The effect is surreal, highly enjoyable and quite polished. It really is the kind of product that needs to be tried out to be fully understood. One caveat, however, is despite being fairly comprehensive the Grand Prix mode does become repetitive fairly quickly.
If the Grand Prix is a little too challenging, there is always the Custom Race mode. Players can modify what each of the gates do for a more subdued experience. In addition, there is also a Time Trial mode that is seemingly geared towards multiplayer. Whether you know someone else with Mario Kart Live Home Circuit, thus pairing multiple carts together, or you simply want to share the Switch with a friend by passing it to them for a chance to race; the good news is both of those options exist for this title.
There is also a decent amount of customisation featured in the game by means of coins that can be earned in the Grand Prix mode. These coins can then be redeemed for unique outfits and even new carts. When applied, Luigi’s entire look and the cart he drives will take on entirely new looks and features. It is a rather welcome addition for such a unique experience. As great as the game is, however, there are some unfortunate caveats that take away from the overall experience.
The biggest barrier to entry is the absolute and non-negotiable need for space in order to play. Unlike traditional games, Mario Kart Live Home Circuit requires space – and quite a fair amount of it too. Given how tracks must use the included gates, it simply means that an area of at least 3 x 3 metres is needed to enjoy the product. Worse still, is how the game obviously cannot be played without first being setup. Therefore becoming quite a burden to pack away and setup every single time the need to play arises. This is especially an issue for people who, like myself, simply do not have the space to leave the track elements out in the open for extended periods of time.
There is also some concern around the durability of the gates – all of which are cardboard. The environmental aspect of these gates is great, as it means less use of none renewable resources and energy to produce them. Even so, making the gates cardboard instead of plastic really makes one wonder just how long these gates will last for. Thankfully, should any of the gates meet an untimely demise; Nintendo does allow for users to print out additional patterns for use with Mario Kart Live Home Circuit.
The final caveats relate to the price and performance of Mario Kart Live Home Circuit. From a price perspective, it is US $100/R2000, which is by no means cheap – especially given the overall plastic and cardboard nature of the included products and accessories. Cost is thus an additional barrier to entry for many. Furthermore, when it works the experience is truly incredible. However, gamers must note how the cart only has a battery life of around one hour – a decent amount of time – despite Nintendo advertising 90 minutes of play. In addition, the cart is meant to have five meters of wireless connectivity. In my experience, it was closer to three metres. In many respects these are not major issues. Rather, they are aspects that potential buyers should simply be aware of.
With all of the above in mind, Mario Kart Live Home Circuit can be a truly novel and unique experience, one made for young and old gamers to enjoy together. The way the augmented reality aspects help bring the real-world elements to life is incredible; and it stands as a brilliant ‘first generation’ product that will, no doubt, get better with time. Despite one or two caveats; the overall experience is decent and paints a bright future for what Nintendo might have in store for gamers going forward!
|Time Played||> 5 Hours|
|Acquisition||Review product courtesy of Nintendo|
Owner, founder and editor-in-chief at Vamers, Hans has a vested interest in geek culture and the interactive entertainment industry. With a Masters degree in Communications and Ludology, he is well read and versed in matters relating to video games and communication media, among many other topics of interest.