Developer: Velan Studios
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: Physical Version (Mario Kart set)
No. of Players: Up to 4 players
Release Date: October 16, 2020 (Worldwide)
The Mario Kart series has been going strong since 1992 when Super Mario Kart released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). It has gone on to receive multiple installments over the years with essentially a Mario Kart game on every Nintendo console to date.
The Mario Kart series has been incredibly popular. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Nintendo Switch, for example, has seen resounding success, selling more copies than its Wii U original. Mario Kart has always tried to improve upon itself by introducing new modes or mechanics but the latest entry into the series takes things to a whole new level.
Developed by I, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit turns your living room or even your entire home into a racing circuit. The game combines radio-control cars with augmented reality and Mario Kart. It sounds maddening but in actual practice, it is just as much fun as the solely virtual Mario Kart games.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit doesn’t have a story, so I will talk about the general premise of the game instead. In Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, your humble abode can become a Mario Kart Circuit. By setting up the four gates that come in both the Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Mario Set or Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Luigi Set, you can create your very own racing circuits with the only real limitation being your own imagination.
Depending on the version of your chosen kart set (Mario or Luigi), you can compete in a series of races against Bowser Jr and the Koopalings. Bowser Jr and Co. race against you in their Koopa Clown Cars that are fitted with Anti-Gravity like in Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a Mario Kart racing game that brings the action into your living room as well as on the screen. The game connects the physical kart to the Nintendo Switch via a Wireless connection. The Switch itself becomes a remote control that moves the kart in real-life. The Kart comes with a camera that displays what is seen in front of the kart to the Nintendo Switch.
By using the four gates that are included in Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, you can set up a racing track for your kart to race around. It can be as simple or as extravagant as you like as long as it is within range of the Switch console (20-30 feet approx.). Set up the four gates along your track and then join them up by “painting” the route by moving the kart through each gate. Once that is done, you are ready to race.
The main game mode is Grand Prix. Grand Prix has you take part in 9 Cups that each has three races apiece. Each race has a particular theme (standard, underwater, volcano, tundra, etc) that can change the feel of the race each time without having to move the gates. Of course, you can alter the track between races as well.
Depending on the size of your track, you can race between 5-8 Koopalings across 3 or 5 laps with a choice of speeds from 50cc upwards. The Mario Kart series is no stranger to Rubberband AI and Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is no exception. The AI will follow you around for the most part and won’t get too far ahead or fall too far behind. The exception to the rule is when you crash into an obstacle. The AI will keep traveling ahead and trying to catch up with them will be next to impossible.
As you finish a race, you will score points on how well you place. Top points are given to 1st place and you will earn considerably less for each consecutively lower position. At the end of each Grand Prix, you can earn a bronze, silver, or gold trophy depending on if you finish third, second, or first.
After you have collected a certain number of trophies, you will unlock faster speeds like 150cc and 200cc, as well as Mirror Mode, which just like in the other games, will flip the course around. You can then compete in Grand Prix at the higher speeds that you have unlocked and win trophies for them as well.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit does have some other game modes aside from Grand Prix. The other modes are Time Trial, Custom Race, and Explore Mode. Time Trial is a mode that allows you to set up your circuit and then race around it as fast as you can. After setting a time once, it will create a ghost that you can race against and try to beat. You can then race along the track as many times as you want to set a record and take it in turns with another person to compete for the best time. Bear in mind though, that if you alter the circuit, your previous times will become inaccurate. I wouldn’t worry too much about this though as all recorded laps are deleted when you turn off the game anyway.
Custom Race allows you to set up a circuit and change other parameters like how many laps are required to complete a race, the music that will play during the race and the kind of environment, etc. You can then race against the Koopalings on your custom circuit. In Exploration Mode, you can drive freely around your home without the hassle of the pesky Koopalings. You can also customize your gates in Exploration Mode with the likes of chain chomps, item pipes, piranha plants, and any other gates that you have unlocked from competing in races. These changes can come into effect in Time Trial Mode and Custom Race as well.
The environment is another feature that you can unlock that will change up the general ‘look’ of your circuit. As well as visual effects like being underwater or in a sand storm, they also had obstacles like icicles or goombas that will stop you in your tracks. Environments also have an effect on your kart like blowing a gale that will make your kart veer off-course and having you fight to maintain your kart on the track.
Multiplayer of up to four players is also possible in Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit though it does require that each player has their own Nintendo Switch console and Kart set. This will be particularly expensive for families that would need two or more consoles and Kart sets to play. However, groups of friends are more likely to own their own Switch and possibly have their own kart set as well.
While you are limited to how you customize your kart physically (ideally, it isn’t really recommended), there are plenty of customization items in-game. You can change the look of your kart, outfit, and the sound of your horn. In order to do so though, you will need to collect coins. Every time you collect a certain number of coins, you can unlock a new customization item. The number gradually increases over time from a low 20 up to 60 coins and more required each time. You can collect up to 20 coins per race and all coins are counted that have been collected in any of the game modes except Exploration Mode.
Just like in all the other Mario Kart games, you can use items from Item Blocks. There are banana peels, red shells, coins, blue shells, boost mushrooms, chain chomps, bullet bills, and the super star, just to name a few. They can each affect your vehicle or your opponent’s vehicle in real-time as well as in-game. Getting hit with an item will cause your kart to physically stop. The Bullet Bill will pull you across the circuit automatically and the Chain Chomp will pull your kart in all different directions.
Another little feature that is worth noting is that you can keep an eye on the connection strength between the Switch and the kart as well as the kart’s battery life in the top left corner of the screen. I love how the battery life is depicted as a fuel pump. The battery life is not just shown in the top left corner either, you can also see it displayed on the kart’s dashboard in-game as well as a working speedometer. This is nice attention to detail on the developer’s part. It shows that they went to a lot of effort to make sure that even the smallest details were given as much thought as the bigger details.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit uses a lot of the music and sound effects from previous Mario Kart Games. Such Tracks include Moo Moo Farm, Yoshi’s Island, and Baby Park. While the music is set in the Grand Prix races, in Custom Race, you can set the music track you wish to listen to for a race. Exploration Mode, however, allows you to switch between music tracks that you have unlocked freely as if you were changing radio stations.
The figures in the physical karts may not have much to say but Mario and Luigi on-screen certainly do. Both characters are voiced and it feels like a few new voice lines were recorded for the game. Hearing Mario say things like “oh, Mama!” when he loses and Luigi grumbling to himself makes me happy that Nintendo and Charles Martinet have added new lines to the mix rather than just the same old sound bites that we have heard many times before.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
The visuals in Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit are kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, the blend of the real world and the augmented models is rather surreal and very cool to look at. Seeing Mario race around my living room as he takes on the other racers whilst dodging both virtual and physical obstacles alike is very immersive.
However, the HD virtual models can’t really make up for the low-resolution camera that is set on top of the cart. For as intricate and stylish as your course may be, the lower resolution dampens the experience somewhat. If you have set up a circuit in an area with a lot of furniture like chairs and tables, it can sometimes be difficult to make out a chair or table leg on the screen until you hear a hard “thunk” just before you see the crash on screen.
The performance is another thing that has its ups and downs. Playing in handheld mode is by far the optimal way to play Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. As the Nintendo Switch and the kart are connected via a wireless connection, the connection can be hindered if the kart is too far away from the console or if large furniture or thick walls come between the kart and console. When the console is docked, it can also affect the wireless connection as well. If you live in a restrictive space and you try to make a circuit that goes through various rooms, you may find yourself having to walk alongside the cart to maintain a stable connection.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a lot of fun and seeing your circuits come to life with interactive gates and obstacles do make the game feel all the more immersive. Playing alone is enjoyable, for a time. After you have fully beaten Grand Prix on all 9 cups and acquired the gold trophy for each speed category and then again, in Mirror Mode, you may feel at a loss of what to do next.
Multiplayer will ultimately keep this game going in the long run. Playing with friends and family will extend the longevity of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit as it is always more fun to play it in groups. Even with only two karts and two consoles, a group of people will be able to take it in turns racing one another while the others watch.
What some players might find as a faux pas when playing multiplayer is that while their own kart is fully augmented on their screen, none of the other karts are. It breaks the illusion a little when most things that are seen in the immediate action area are augmented and then out of nowhere, a plastic kart flies pass you and you remember that you are just playing with RC cars.
To be fair though, I’m sure it was difficult enough just to augment the gates. They may be stationary, but making sure the camera is aligned with them just right for it to augment efficiently is a task in itself. Trying to then augment a fully moving kart with no fixed angle would truly push the limitations of the technology.
What Velan Studios has created is truly something fun and innovative that it is a wonder that Nintendo didn’t think to do it sooner. RC Mario Karts have been out for quite some time already, not to mention augmented reality, which Nintendo dabbled with for the Nintendo 3DS. Still, Better late than never” I say and I really feel like Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit has the potential to go even further.
Now, it can be quite difficult to imagine Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit coming onto the eSports scene but I do think that small-scale tournaments and competitions could very well be possible at some point. I think that local communities could very well get together for racing sessions with one another in a suitable area. After all, even though the game itself only recommends playing indoors only, I’m pretty sure that the interior of a community center or other venue will surely suffice as well.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is another fine example of Nintendo’s penchance for innovation. Velan Studios has done a tremendous job of bringing Mario Kart “to Life” and game nights with friends will never be the same again!
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*The Mario Kart set was purchased personally for the purposes of this review
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Tags: Gaming, Mario Kart, Mario Kart Live, Mario Kart Live Review, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, MK Live, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Velan Studios
This post was written by Mike Scorpio