Taking it for a test drive


Bring Rainbow Road to your living room with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, an augmented reality game hitting shelves on October 16 for $99.99.


As a go-kart driver, Mario has conquered beach sand, ocean floors and rainbow roads. But can he navigate my carpet?

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit brings go-kart racing to your living room, literally. Nintendo, in partnership with Velan Studios, combines the classic Mario Kart game with a real world, remote controlled car and augmented reality courses leveraging your living space.

In some respects, it slightly recalibrates how players will enjoy Mario Kart. It’s not just about overcoming challenging courses. The real joy comes from how innovative players can be in creating their own tracks.

The Nintendo Switch game, launching Oct. 16 for $99.99, includes a physical kart with either Mario or Luigi behind the wheel, four cardboard gates, two arrow signs to help guide drivers, and a USB-C cord to recharge.

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Setup is simple, once players download the Mario Kart Live game from Nintendo’s online store. You point the physical kart’s built-in camera to a QR code on screen to pair to the Switch. Then, players get a quick driving lesson, watching on-screen prompts while the kart whizzes around your living room, or family room, or other space in your home.

After you’ve earned a digital driver’s license, you can start building courses. Once you place your four gates in the preferred order, you’ll actually create the course within the game itself.

This is where it gets fun. You can keep it simple, and create an oval track, or maybe you want something more complex with many turns. There are many opportunities to use your track-building creativity.

Players can also add obstacles to add another layer of complexity. You can drive under your couch, or around objects placed within a track. During a couple runs on one track I built, I even included a crude ramp using an old cardboard box. Also, for the record, Mario is just as good speeding through a carpet as he is on a hardwood floor or tile surface.

Will you drive vertically or make crazy jumps like the tracks in a standard Mario Kart game? Highly doubtful, since the game’s ability to recognize tracks is mostly limited to staying on flat ground.

Nintendo tries to compensate by adding more environmental effects and custom gates. You can create crazy weather like powerful winds or snowy conditions to make driving more difficult. With gates, you can add a Piranha Plant to pluck Mario from his kart, or giant stones that slam to the ground to knock you off course.

Players can perform Time Trials to see how fast they complete their new course, or compete in a Grand Prix event consisting of three races against other drivers. The Grand Prix races feature combinations of obstacles and environments, including strong winds that try to force the kart off track and creatures freezing your vehicle in place.

All races offer coins which help players unlock new Mario outfits, karts and horns. More importantly, earning trophies from the Grand Prix events unlock the game’s higher speeds. At its top speed, 200 cc, the physical go-kart zips. Nintendo says battery life for the kart last around 90 minutes at 150 cc speed, but I was able to get a couple hours of use at lower speeds.

The big knock on Mario Kart Live is it has limited racing options. The only way to do real racing with multiple people at once is having multiple physical karts, which will get expensive. Probably the best you can get with one kart is taking turns trying to win Time Trials.

Another element to the racing that’s different: There aren’t any penalties for veering off track. It’s much easier to take a shortcut to the next gate without consequence. 

If you have big Mario Kart fans in your home, particularly kids, Home Circuit is a fun, imaginative way to spend time. 

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

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Wednesday November 2, 2022