[Review] Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Velan Studios
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 16/10/2020
  • Price: £99.99
  • Review unit provided by Nintendo UK

Introducing Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Review on Nintendo Switch

Nintendo certainly doesn’t do things by halves, do they? After years of waiting for an announcement for a follow up to Mario Kart 8 (or even more DLC), Nintendo finally showed off the first Nintendo Switch exclusive version of our portly plumbers favourite extracurricular activity. It’s safe to say that nobody expected what they eventually revealed. Mario Kart: Live isn’t in any way a direct sequel to MK8, instead it’s a typically inimitable, innovative iteration of the MK brand. It’s so Nintendo, right down to the way it merges so many of their previous endeavours into a coherent package.

Nintendo was playing with AR during the 3DS’s days, here they’ve fully realised an implementation for this perception-altering technology. Their love of utilising cardboard; in an era that is obsessed with teraflops (the scariest of flops), frames per second and number of cores, has been really pushed home with LABO. Toys-to-life were all the rage when Nintendo entered the fray with their own amiibo range. 5+ years later and amiibo is still going strong, none of the competitors remain, however, I digress. 

Start your engines!!


Mario Kart Live is the ultimate toys-to-life product, offering both an on-screen experience and a perfectly adept RC car to-boot. Speaking of the RC and it’s without a shadow of a doubt the star of the show. Nearly everything that makes MK Live so special is a result of your connection with the Kart and it is testament to the work of Velan Studios for managing to replicate the feel of driving in Mario Kart, within the confines of an IRL RC. For want of a better word, it’s witchcraft.

The first time you drift and subsequently witness the Kart boost is pretty impressive. The drifting also gives an impressive level of control, allowing you to navigate tight corners or perform sharp turns, however, there is a compromise as there can sometimes be a little stutter – akin to when Mario gets a power-up, a little single frame freeze. It’s the same when Mario receives an enemy projectile or hits an environmental hazard. The IRL kart will stutter, slow and crawl to a halt, before having to accelerate and regain any lost momentum.

AR you not entertained?

Harking back to my earlier musing, Nintendo draw upon so many things that came before, culminating in a well-rounded and familiar, while entirely new experience. When the 3DS released it came bundled with a set of AR cards. These could be read by the camera and depicted a Nintendo character on screen, within the confines of the real-world surroundings. Mario Kart: Live utilises the camera atop the kart to produce a similar effect, albeit far superior in execution.

Each of the four checkpoint gates is a giant AR card that not only maps the course (more on that later) but also manipulate the environment and applies some recognisable filters to proceedings. For example, the gate might have a familiar bricked skin or resemble Bowser’s Castle turrets, complete with spinning fire whip which acts as an in-game hazard. It’s incredible stuff and seeing your home augmented with iconic landmarks, and scapes, from the Mario universe, is, certainly within the confines of 2020, a sheer delight. 

Once more, in RC mode, there a plethora of customisation options available. If you drive in front of a gate and press X, you can augment the gate’s properties. Want more mushrooms available while exploring your kitchen/diner? Put some item boxes in play. Like coins, drop a P switch. There really is so much to explore and discover. In typical Nintendo fashion, it encourages you, the player, to do just that.

M.K. Live. It’s in the game.

Moving on to the game aspect of Mario Kart: Live. To begin with, download the free software from the eshop and sync it with your Kart. It’s a seamless process that is a simple as pointing the karts camera at a QR code on the Switch when instructed.

Once the Kart is synced, you’ll be freely able to drive it around using your Nintendo Switch. The controls are mapped exactly as you would expect them to be. Accelerate with A, steer with the left stick, drift with ZR and use AR implemented items with ZL. The game offers you a free-play area that allows you to familiarise yourself with the controls. Once your done with what I have dubbed RC mode, you just need let Lakitu know and he’ll guide you through setting up gates.

The basic idea is to create a circuit and a basic loop will be suggested at first. Once your IRL gates are in place, the ever-helpful Lakitu will lavishly apply neon paint to the kart’s wheels. All that’s left to do is set about mapping your course. Drive through the gates in order, one through 4 and back to one, to complete the circuit. It’s the tried and tested Nintendo way of – you made it, now play it. Borrowing from Mario Maker, it ensures that whatever you create isn’t unrealistic or overly anarchic. And if it is, it at least can be beaten.

I would have gotten away with it too…

Upon completion of your course creation, Bowser Jr. along with the rest of the Koopalings- Lemmy, Larry, Ludwig, Iggy, Roy, Morton and Wendy – rock up (on-screen), ready to race. Without a secondary Kart, the questionable Koopa clan act as your main competition. In typical Koopaling fashion, they also cheat. A lot.

On my first day with MK Live, I set up an intricate loop course, that saw progression through the lounge, the track veering sharply off to the right (gate two), before traversing under the dining room table (gate three) and back around to complete the circuit. The Koopalings just decided to skip gate three entirely and jump straight from gate one to three. There were more similar instances, including them just warping straight to the end of the lap and jumping up a few positions in the process. Whenever this happened, it did seem entirely random and I couldn’t eliminate any underlying factors or conditions that set this chain of events in motion.

Regardless, once you manage to best the aforementioned pesky-kids, you’ll unlock a selection of courses and cups that act as the crux of the video game experience.

Augmenting reality, one sheet of cardboard at a time

Different levels affect the environment in different ways, and the gates act as the real focal point of these environmental effects, however, the game does add filters to the screen as well, to further the impressions of these enhancements. If you choose a water track, you’ll see bubbles and ripples on-screen to give the impression of being underwater. The game will also appy a blue hue to the entire screen. Likewise, the rainbow filter fills the night sky with stars and makes everything slightly purple. These effects can also be applied to RC mode, allowing you to further elevate your solo sandbox experience. As well as a choice of tracks, there is also the usual selection of Kart speeds, 50cc – 200cc. Only 50 and 100cc are available from the outset and you’ll have to compete and triumph in 5 and 10 races respectively to unlock higher classes.

I touched upon it briefly earlier, with the drifting boosts and the visible speed enhancements they provide. Seeing the difference in speeds in motion, between 50 and 200cc, is a sight to behold and once more testament to the clever tech present within each and every kart.

On top of the gameplay experience, there is a slew of customisation options, ranging from Mario appearance to the style of the Kart he drives and the horn that he honks. In RC mode, you can change the radio station and listen to instantly recognisable jams. Blasting as the Moo-Moo meadow theme, while driving around my home has been a personal highlight of the year. So far. Much like kart customisation options, you unlock more and more stations as you play through the game’s cups.

The final lap

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is something new and unexpected. A metaphor for 2020 if ever I heard one. It brings new ideas to the table and marries them with a lot of things Nintendo has been working on for years. The result is something that engages and delights, although not without the odd frustration. Don’t even think about adding cool ramps into your course ideas. Even with the kart’s engine operating at 200cc, it won’t be able to navigate them! Regardless, for a first iteration, it’s a marvel. The clever little kart truly is the star of the show. Future karts, with new character options, could really elevate this product exponentially. Bowser, FTW!

It’s honestly a crying shame that MK Live released in the times we live in. It would be the perfect title to play with friends, whether in a group, laughing, sharing and taking it in turns to experience the ethereal delights that it offers, or racing against a pal who might have picked up their own Kart. The price point, while possibly justified, is high. There’s no beating around the bush with that. Again, in these current times, when disposable income is harder to come by than it was earlier in the year, the idea of owning multiple Karts is a little opulent. At the same time, with Christmas just around the corner, Mario Kart Live could be the perfect gift for members of the family, young and old alike, to unwrap on Christmas morning.

Pros

  • The Kart is wonderfully robust and controls superbly
  • A great RC, even when not playing the full game
  • Splattered with Nintendo magic
  • Fun for all the family
  • The only barrier to your enjoyment is your imagination (creative people)

Cons

  • Price point
  • Cheating Koopalings (A.I problems)
  • RAMPS!
  • The only barrier to your enjoyment is your imagination (simpletons)

Verdict

What MKL:HC achieves in its inaugural iteration is staggering. While not without flaws and commanding a premium price, it’s Nintendo at their creative best and could well be a sleeper hit this holiday, providing stock is readily available.

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