Friday, 6 November 2020

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit ★★☆☆☆

At this point in the history of video games, Mario Kart is ubiquitous. Not only has it been on home consoles for nearly 30 years, but versions of it can be found in arcades, on toy shelves and even off-brand PEZ dispensers! It’s easy to understand why; Mario Kart has been a staple of Nintendo’s game lineup because it appeals to gamers of all skill sets, ages and experience. But one realm the king of kart racers hasn’t yet conquered is that of augmented reality. That is, until Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit sped onto the scene. This unique package looks to combine the classic Mario Kart experience with a physical remote-controlled kart that hooks up to your Switch to turn your real-life setting into the Mushroom Kingdom. On paper, it sounds like pure fantasy fulfilment. But does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out…

When it all comes together, it’s undeniably impressive. You use the included cardboard archers to build out your track, with the game working out the route between them. But between these points, you’re given huge scope for creativity. In theory, any real-world object can be used to give yourself an extra challenge, and we’ve already seen some truly inventive custom tracks appear online.

What’s more, all the items, characters and power-ups you’d expect to find in the main Mario Kart series can be found here, including Goombas, Piranha Plants and the dreaded Blue Shell. This adds a real sense of authenticity to proceedings, elevating it beyond a mere spinoff or tech demo. 

It’s also worth noting how impressive the visuals are. The RC car has a small inbuilt camera that offers a worm’s eye view via the Switch screen. This altered perspective turns familiar settings like a living room or bedroom into a brand new world, and the mixed reality of the game helps it to feel like a genuine Mario Kart game. 

With that being said, there are a few issues that prove to be barriers to entry. Firstly, you need to have a reasonable amount of room to set up your tracks, and it won’t work outside. This means anyone with limited space will find it essentially impossible to use, which is definitely worth bearing in mind if you’re thinking about picking it up. You also have to stay within 5m of the car at all times, which necessitates winding courses, rather than long straights that stretch out into the distance.

And while one of Home Circuit’s main selling points is crafting your own tracks, this also proves to be one of its biggest frustrations. Having to set up a course for every new session can be a bit of a faff when you’re just looking for a quick game, and if you lose interest, it might be one of those things that gathers dust in the back of the cupboard.  

While the aforementioned examples might be inevitable drawbacks of this type of game, there are some inexcusably avoidable flaws too. For example, some of the power-ups just don’t work in the real world; Bullet Bill might hurtle you forward on a digital track, but in our experience, he just launches you into the leg of the sofa in Homer Circuit. This must’ve been an issue during playtesting, and it boggles the mind why it was left in.

The problems extend to the hardware too. Unless you’re racing on the most pristine floor, the wheels can easily get jammed with debris, within even stray hairs hindering performance. Having to repeatedly use tweezers to clean out the tyres is nobody’s idea of fun, particularly when it’s already an ordeal setting up the game at the best of times.

To make matters worse, with no online multiplayer, you’ll need two cars and two Switch consoles to play with friends. Although this is a lot of fun, and probably the best way to experience the game, it’s a big ask when it’s already a premium product. Is this reviewer just salty because none of their other twenty-something friends wanted to fork out the money on a plastic toy? Maybe…

To wrap up, at its best, there’s nothing quite like Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. It faithfully adapts all the fun and excitement of Mario Kart into the experimental new world of mixed reality. But with severe technical limitations, we couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s a glorified prototype. Hopefully, it’s an indication of what’s possible in future, but for now, it’s little more than a curiosity, and definitely not a paradigm shifter.

Tom Baker

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