Mario Kart has been in the virtual realm for a very long time and it's about to enter your living room via a new augmented reality game.
I love when game companies push boundaries by offering exciting new experiences and Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is just that. I've been looking forward to trying it out since it was announced and now that I have, I must say that I'm very impressed with how well it works. In order to play, you essentially set up 4 checkpoint gates around your home which are basically pre-built collapsible Labo. There are also 2 arrow signs that you can place wherever you wish in order to steer whoever's racing in the right direction. When you're ready, you place your Mario or Luigi kart near the starting goal then drive it through each checkpoint in order to paint the track. After that, you simply commence the race that you can either observe on your TV while docked or on the Switch itself. As you play, you'll race against virtual opponents as well as see cool weather effects, power-ups, themes incorporated into the checkpoints, and much more.
All of this works brilliantly well and considering it's intuitive to set up, Mario Kart fans of all ages will have no difficulty getting everything working. Plus, I imagine that creative types will put a lot of time and effort into recreating classic Mario Kart courses in real life as well as making their own imaginative themed courses. I think this sort of thing could easily go viral, especially if you make something truly special. Imagine a course that looks like it belongs in Yoshi's Crafted World or a Halloween one; the possibilities are endless!
Although it seems like Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit doesn't offer much gameplay variety considering you make the courses yourself, it compensates for this in a clever manner. For starters, there are oodles of familiar power-ups that actually affect your kart such as speeding it up or making you lose control. In my opinion, the coolest feature is the variety of environments which come with their own weather effects, gimmicks, hazards, power-ups, and AR visuals which make the checkpoints come alive with impressive animations and elaborate designs. On top of this, you can assign various features to the checkpoints that add functionality such as giving racers a boost or forcing them to avoid enemies. All of these elements come together to make a solid gameplay formula that has some longevity to it.
With all of that being said, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit certainly has its limitations. First, playing it multiplayer requires at least 2 full kits and Switch consoles which might not be feasible for some. Next, even with the fun AR aspects, the gameplay is limited to what you can actually set up in your home so it might get repetitive after a while; depending on how much effort you're willing to put in to course creation, of course. Another aspect that I find strange is that you can only race against the Koopalings which makes the gameplay feel lacking when it comes to personality. Finally, I found that it's very easy to completely mess up your track in mid-race. For example, when you slip on a banana peel or activate a Bullet Bill power-up, you might accidentally push a checkpoint thus making the course render incorrectly from then on. You could tape the checkpoints to the floor but I don't particularly want to do that.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit does nearly everything it can to offer a commendably fun-filled AR racing experience. Although it has its inherent limitations, it's definitely a novel concept with a lot of promise, especially if you want to create your own real-life courses.
- + Clever use of AR that actually works well
- + Creative types will enjoy building fun and imaginative real-life courses
- + Solid amount of gameplay variety
- - The actual game portion is rather limiting
- - Certain power-ups and hazards can push the kart and mess up the track
- - You can only race against the Koopalings