Everyone is probably familiar with Mario Kart, Nintendo’s enduring multiplayer title that combines Mario characters, goofy cartoon racing karts, and plenty of weaponized widgets for attacking other players on elaborate fantasy race tracks. Since its debut in 1992 under the Super Mario Kart title and subsequent appearances since, Mario Kart has been played exclusively in the digital realm, on home consoles, Game Boys, portable systems, and in arcades. That changes with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch, which literally drops the racing game into reality—in your living room. How? With clever software capable of delivering a “mixed reality” experience between players, their Nintendo Switches, and physical Mario Karts that can be raced around actual tracks you create.
Sound trippy? A little. With Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, Nintendo uses its handheld Switch console to overlay the cartoon Mario Kart universe over a live video feed of your surroundings taken from a camera mounted to a small remote-control go-kart. The result is your being able to “play” Mario Kart in your house, with the physical go-kart being less of a drivable toy than a drivable avatar for the video background populating the gameplay. That said, your inputs on the Switch controller do steer, brake, and accelerate the real-life Mario Kart, and you “drive” it through a real-life track of your own making—but players’ eyes will be on their consoles (or their TVs, provided they’re using their Switch’s dock), where the computers handle the magic of displaying a digitized version of your kart, the various in-game koopa shells, gravity effects, and more as you race other, um, Live Mario Karts.
How Does Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Work?
We sat down with some nice folks from Nintendo for a walkthrough of how Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit‘s augmented-reality setup works, and it’s quite cool. Let’s start with the basics: What’s needed to play Mario Kart Live? Assuming you already own a Nintendo Switch console or a Nintendo Switch Lite, you’ll download the game itself for free from the Nintendo store. Next, you must plunk down $99 on the physical aspects of the game, namely the rechargeable, steerable go-kart. The kit (initially available with either a red Mario kart or a green Luigi kart) also includes four cardboard “gates” that must be set up on your floor; as part of the in-game setup, players simply arrange these four gates (that mimic those in purely virtual Mario Kart iterations) and drive through them, creating a “track” as they steer along. Each kit also includes two track barriers that can be set up to help outline particular corners and such, but which aren’t necessary to the gameplay. Provided you’d like to play against someone else, your friend (or up to three of your friends) will need to bring along $99 sets (and Switches) of their own.
Nintendo points out that no aspect of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, is online. That means up to four players must be present in the same room, each armed with a kart and a Switch, in order to race. There are three racing modes: Grand Prix, Time Trial, and Custom. In all three modes, players determine the track layout before the race using those cardboard gates. They pre-run their intended course and choose whether the gates will serve up a boost (offering a speed increase after you drive through them) or an item (where you can pick up weapons and other ways to knock your opponents off pace). As you progress to higher levels within the game, more gate options are unlocked, including “thwomp,” “piranha,” “chain chomp,” and other classics from the Mario Kart universe. Players can also customize the on-screen versions of their rides in the game, but only they can see the results of those modifications—other players won’t, and the physical kart will look the same.
What’s the Run Time for Each Kart?
As to the battery life of the physical go-kart tied to the in-game play, Nintendo says each one is good for about 90 minutes of play before needing a recharge via a supplied USB-C cable that can plug into the Switch itself or a charger. To help players keep track of their run time, Nintendo includes a battery level indicator in the upper corner of each player’s screen. The karts can run longer or shorter than 90 minutes, depending on their in-game use. Nintendo offers up four speed ranges for the karts, with some available only as temporary boosts and others selectable as players progress through the game; each speed is denoted by a “cc,” as in engine displacement: 50 cc, 100 cc, 150 cc, and 200 cc. Speed around in 200 cc mode, and you’ll run the battery down quicker; stick to 50 cc, and your run time may be longer.
Even though you’re free to make your racing track as large or as small as you’d like, Nintendo says an area of about 10 feet by 12 feet is recommended for the 150-cc speed range. Size that up or down depending on the speed, of course—less area is needed for slower speeds, and more for the faster 200-cc speed. Carpet is okay to run on—Nintendo tested it—but clearly hardwood flooring will result in maximum velocity. Other kart functionality, besides speed boosts and game-induced slowdowns (such as when an opponent hits you with an item), include “drift” modes, which, like in other Mario Kart games, essentially lock a player into a left- or right-hand turn, limiting their ability to turn to the other direction for maximum cornering prowess.
When Is Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Available?
Nintendo will release Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on October 16, 2020, just ahead of the holiday season. As previously noted, each kart kit will run $99 and is available in Mario and Luigi liveries. Stay tuned for a full review—we’re looking forward to getting our hands on this new Mario Kart title soon.