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access_time October 25, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Reviews by David Poole

Review | Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

Nintendo may be a market leader in the video game industry, but they also know a thing or two about the toy game. When the Switch launched, an enhanced port of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 followed shortly after. While the Switch hasn’t gained a Mario Kart 9, it’s now home to Nintendo’s newest toy experiment: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit from Velan Studios. This isn’t a mainline Mario Kart game, but rather an interactive experience using a remote control Mario Kart. Using an augmented reality camera, players can turn their homes into the Mario Kart track for their race. Just how complex these tracks can be will ultimately be up to you, but the possibilities are practically endless based on your own creativity.

The idea in Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is that players will go up against Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings. You’ll compete across eight different cups, each with three races. Just like normal Mario Kart, all your speed classes are here, with 50cc all the way up to 200cc (after unlocking it). Of course, the main difference here is that the tracks are of your own creation. This makes the unlockable Mirror Mode even more interesting, flipping your actual real world setting in the game. To get started is fairly easy. All it takes is downloading the free software, then you’ll utilize the included kart and cardboard gates to help make your course.

Course creation is honestly pretty ingenious. Players will place all four of the included gates around the room in order. Once the gates are set up, Lakitu will place paint on your kart’s tires so that you can drive around to shape your course. Once the course is complete, you’re ready to race, decorate, or even make slight adjustments. With creating courses, your limits are really your own imagination. The kart can work across carpet, so you’re not limiting yourself to hard surfaces. You can even go up slopes, which can add a bit of depth to your track, though only if you put in the work. Only some of the most creative people will go the extra mile to make their course truly special.

Even if you don’t physically decorate your track, that’s perfectly fine. The game will have virtual decorations on each course to give a little variety to your courses. Avoid getting frozen in Freezie Frosts, escape Piranha Plants in Piranha Paradise, and even dodge pixelated Goombas in a track inspired by World 1-1. Classic favorites like Bowser’s Castle and Rainbow Road appear, but we’ll also have a lot of newer style courses as well. The aesthetics for each course are surprisingly diverse, doing just enough to make each one feel different. This can even be the case when you don’t change up the course.

One thing that Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit does well is how it implements different situations to your kart. For starters, the remote control kart isn’t going at maximum speed, making it so that mushrooms and other speed boosting items actually increase speed. Hitting obstacles can also slow you down, steer you off course, or even hinder your driving. Of course, hitting an obstacle in the real world will also cause problems, which is fairly easy to do depending on how your track is set up. Thankfully, courses have a lot of helpful features as well. This includes things like stray mushrooms, boost pads, bonus items and more. All these features make races challenging, but also not too difficult to manage.

Of course, like all Mario Kart games, you’ll have item blocks to find on courses. Items include a lot of the mainstays like red turtle shells, banana peels, mushrooms, stars, and even blue shells. You’ll also have items like Chain Chomps, boomerang flowers, Bloopers and more. Like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you can even hold two items at once. These items work just like how you’d expect them to, though with the virtual course, it does sometimes make tracking an issue. If I place a banana behind me, it might not be exactly in the right spot on the next lap. Even so, the items help to make this a true Mario Kart experience in your own home, and it’s frankly quite awesome.

One of the best things about the game is the presentation. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit has some pretty refreshing visuals, not to mention a solid use of audio. Not only do you have charming animations from Mario (or Luigi), but you’ll also have lots of customization. As you collect coins in races, you’ll unlock costumes, karts, and different horns. It gives it a sort of Super Mario Odyssey feeling to have all these different outfits, which is always welcome. One other great element is the music. The Mario Kart series has gained a ton of catchy beats, and Home Circuit is no exception. Even with a host of tons of original songs, there are some pretty solid remixes here too.

While a fun game, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit does have some faults. First of all, you’ll need proper lighting to play effectively. Even if you decide to get creative with going under tables or beds, the camera may have trouble capturing certain information. I’ve crashed into a few chair legs simply because the camera couldn’t see them. Sometimes the game also has connection spikes that make the camera stutter. This can make the difference between crashing or making that necessary turn. Finally, the multiplayer, while welcome, is difficult to get set up. Up to four players will need their own Switch and their own remote control kart. Since the game is currently considered rare, it might be a while, not to mention an expensive endeavor, just to get a multiplayer race.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit may not be the Mario Kart 9 players want, but it’s still a fun experience. Given the popularity of the idea, the game is already difficult to track down. If you can manage to find one, it should make for a fun gift for this holiday season. Even with some shortcomings, this is yet another innovative experience from the minds at Nintendo. With nearly endless options on courses and a cool use of technology, I look forward to seeing what some players come up with. As a game it might be somewhat lacking, but as a toy, this is surely going to be a hit.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10

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