Surprisingly announced to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Nintendo mascot, Mario Kart Live is a bold and unconventional game.
The announcement of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit took everyone a little by surprise. The celebrations for the 35th anniversary of the Nintendo mascot have embraced numerous facets of the mustachioed plumber’s gaming history, and this augmented reality spin-off of the popular kart simulation is perhaps the boldest experiment of all. From the collaboration between Nintendo and Velan Studios This is how a courageous title was born which, taking up the threads of the speech started with Labo, attempts to bring the unmistakable Mario Kart gameplay back into the reality of our rooms.
3, 2, 1 …
If the philosophy behind Labo was to “transform the living room into a workshop” (recover the Nintendo Labo Robot Kit review), in Home Circuit our rooms will become circuits in which to compete to the sound of skids and turtle shells. However, if an integral part of the Toy-Con experience was their construction, Mario Kart live is a much more immediate experience that allows you to whiz across the floor of the house in a few steps.
So kits give way to sets, one dedicated to Mario and the other to his brother Luigi, which contains everything you need to quickly set up your grand prix. The sets consist of four cardboard doors, necessary to arrange the track checkpoints in sequence, two signs for the curves, a USB C charging cable and obviously the radio-controlled kart. The Velan Studios team produced a very convincing modeland, with a lightweight but sturdy plastic shell, designed to better cushion the inevitable (and numerous!) bumps that will occur during matches.
The camera, which towers over the plastic driver, will not only allow you to see the race on the console from the kart’s perspective, but will also be required to synchronize the model to the game software, which will be downloaded from the eshop. Once this quick initial setup has been completed, you can freely drive around the room by observing the screen of your console. The “radio-controlled” driving, which actually takes place via wi-fi, is fluid and reactive and the images transmitted are always at a good level of quality.
The camera has excellent adaptability in low-light situations even if in docked mode in these situations there is a lot of video noise dictated by the compression of the streaming, a defect decidedly attenuated by playing in portability. As well as the driving model, even the elements of augmented reality manage to fit stably within the game guaranteeing a visual coherence even in moments of maximum acceleration. We only noticed uncertainties with glossy floors, such as marble, where reflections created some problems with the lighting mapping of the optional signage. Nothing, however, capable of ruining the overall gaming experience.
Do it yourself slopes
As we said, the creation of the circuit takes place through two simple steps: first of all, the cardboard doors are arranged in a sequential manner, and then through a first test lap you trace the actual path of the track with your kart. It is clear that Nintendo’s intention was to leave full creative freedom to the player, not forcing it on predetermined paths.
The circuit borders themselves are purely indicative and you will not encounter any penalties when exiting the road. The only obligation remains to go through the checkpoints, but it will still be allowed to skip no more than one consecutively to complete a lap.
At this stage of preparation the only obstacle is the imagination and from a single positioning of the doors it is possible to create infinite different paths, all obviously within the limits of the available space. The minimum recommended space is 3.5 x 3 meters, a distance necessary especially in the most excited phases of the game when selecting speeds such as 150cc and 200cc. Unfortunately, this is a surface to be obtained inside a room because, as we have noticed in the test phase, moving away further 5 meters from the console, or simply by putting a wall between the kart and the Switch the signal quality drops drastically.
Once the first track is created, the main mode offered by Mario Kart Home: Live Circuit is the Grand Prix. As per tradition, this is a series of 3 races to be faced in sequence, with the aim of collecting a higher total score than the other 4 opponents.
Obviously it is not the conformation of the track that is pre-established but the “theme” of each race, which is reflected in specific environmental conditions and contextual obstacles. For example, if in “Tracciato Ghiacciato” we will have to deal with slippery ground and icicles that will block us on contact, in “Piranha Paradise” we will have to drive under an incessant rain and the Piranha Plants ready to bite into the passage of the doors. In addition to the classic objects, such as sprint mushrooms, turtle shells of various colors and the star of invincibility, the augmented reality of Home Circuit thinks about it the great variety of weather conditions and the impediments scattered along the levels. The frenetic and unpredictable arcade feeling of the series, also recalled by the possibility of obtaining a speed boost following a drift, is amplified by the effects that will affect the maneuverability of the Kart. The wind storms will make it very difficult to progress even on the straight and the blows of the shells will knock out the engine for a few seconds.
From underwater settings to the thrusts of the Categnacci, Home Circuit guarantees a variety of situations that are not at all obvious, able among other things to restore physicality to all the intangible elements added on the screen, thanks to the interactions with the radio-controlled kart. A real shame that the same complexity has not been repeated also in the challengers, embodied whatever the race by Bowser Jr. and his henchmen.
The sense of progression is not dictated simply by the possibility of facing the trophies in four different difficulties (even in their mirror version) but above all by the unlockable items by collecting coins. Scattered along the routes, these will allow you to obtain different skins for the kart, new outfits for the drivers and sound effects for the horn, as well as elements with which to create your own customized tracks. It will in fact be possible to study new courses in detail, for example by indicating precisely where and which obstacles to place on each door.
A welcome addition that along with the mode Time Trial, where you can try to improve your records, completes the single player offer of the title. Apart from the good number of trophies available in the Grand Prix, much of the appeal of the solo experience is left to the player’s willingness to experiment with his creations. Certainly to best express the great potential of the title and thus increase its longevity, it would not have spoiled a wider selection of modes.
From split screen to split reality
It is obvious, however, that Mario Kart Live gives its best in multiplayer. The multiplayer is designed only for local games, and each of the maximum 4 players will need his own set and a Switch with which to drive the Kart. Once again it is augmented reality that adds a layer of fun to the experience, which is revealed much more than just a miniature Mario Kart episode.
The physical presence of the model pushes the series far beyond the confines of the video game, resulting in a product capable of capturing the attention of those who are not used to approaching the medium. There is something very special about playing together on Home Circuit starting from the creation of the track and respecting its limits, often imposed only by the correctness of the player. In Mario Kart Live the physical presence of the kart as well as of the users is once again fundamental, so much so that it seems to relive the golden age of split-screen multiplayer through a new technology.
With Labo, Nintendo went back to the “community” aspect of the experience by appealing to the desire to build the game itself together with others (to learn more, find the Nintendo Labo VR Kit review): a factor radically different from how we are used today from convenience of online, an approach that required active participation but above all an additional effort of imagination.
In Home Circuit returns to its own foreground the “physical” component of the competition, a true trademark of the local games to which the series has accustomed us, greatly benefiting in transporting everything in an effectively shared space and not only present on the game screen. Precisely for this reason, rather than augmented reality we could speak of “split-reality”, shared reality, and the multiplayer of Home Circuit is a perfect example of this.
Mario Kart Live: Home CircuitNintendo Switch Analyzed VersionNintendo continues undaunted to experiment with alternative toy lines on the Nintendo Switch. Is Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit a successful product? Like Labo, certainly. But the survival of such a title passes first of all through the continuous support of its creators. The potential to expand the experience is all there: you can imagine new Kart models, introducing some historical faces of the series, or perhaps alternative sets to add tools in the creation of the tracks. And why not, even a software improvement, with the inclusion of new modes, trophies and aesthetic elements. Ultimately Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a game with great potential, which deserves to be explored as much as possible. Despite a content offer that risks running out in a short time, the great strength of the title lies in an unconventional approach to game design which, thanks to augmented reality, is able to make the world of video games interact with that of the games in a simple and intuitive way. toys. Ability that will be able to entertain a huge slice of the public, transforming Home Circuit into yet another high-caliber playful experiment on Nintendo Switch.