Nintendo is daring an exciting experiment with the AR-based Mario Kart for the Switch. TechStage tests the remote-controlled karts with live image transmission in practice.
The Nintendo Switch (test report) was able to convince in the tests both in the standard version and in the Switch Lite (test report). When looking at the sometimes strange accessories for the Switch (advice) it becomes clear that Nintendo is trying new and unusual things with the Switch. The mixture of software and real racetrack is not entirely new, Anki Overdrive (test report) takes a similar approach, but the implementation with live images and AR is new.
Scope of delivery & design
The packaging for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is similar to the size of the console. The game is currently available in two versions: once with a red kart and Mario as the driver, once with a green speedster and Luigi as the handlebars. Inside each package there are two packages. One is well padded and contains the controllable kart and the corresponding USB-C charging cable. In the other there are four cardboard gates and two signposts that can be set up. Otherwise, a quick guide is included.
The software is not included on a storage medium and must first be downloaded from the Nintendo e-shop – at a price of around 100 euros, this is at least questionable.
The small racing car in the classic Mario Kart design is almost 20 cm long, 11 cm wide and 10 cm high. At first glance, it could also be a very pretty decorative item. You only discover the technology at second glance. There is a small camera in the roll bar over the head of Mario or Luigi and a button and a small sliding door can be seen on the right side of the kart. Behind it is the USB-C port for charging the permanently integrated battery.
The karts are extremely chic, very well made and leave a sufficiently robust impression after the first two days. The vehicles put away one or the other frontal crash against table or chair legs without any problems and without leaving any permanent marks. However, they are only suitable for indoor use. This works surprisingly well even with moderate lighting.
After unpacking the download and installation of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit follows. The next step is to charge the kart and set up the first racetrack. To do this, the four cardboard gates are first opened and set up in the desired, completely freely configurable, route design. You only have to pay attention to the correct sequence of numbers. The gates can be weighed down with books, for example, to prevent them from being moved in the event of a crash. The design of the route is surprisingly a lot of fun! The youngsters in particular show creative commitment in setting up track barriers, obstacles and the grandstand.
After the batteries have been charged, the first practical test begins. Pairing the Nintendo Switch and the home circuit speedster works without any problems thanks to the QR code. To do this, the code shown in the game is simply scanned with the kart’s camera. The live image from the Mario Kart can then be seen on the display. Instead of the real vehicle, however, we see an animated kart with waving Mario (or Luigi). This is followed by a short driving tutorial and a photo for the virtual racing ID.
Before the first race, the software must first get to know the racetrack it has built itself. To do this, we place the kart in front of gate number one and press the X button. Now the desired route is driven through the gates. When you get back to the first gate, the game saves the course you have just completed.
Our first impression of the karts: They are slow. That’s also true – at least when you compare them to classic RC cars. Thanks to the AR overlays in the display, the whole thing is gaining momentum. Not only that opponents are faded in – also virtual lane boundaries, turbo strips, bananas lying around, whirling turtle shells or sandstorms ensure a lot of action during the race. It can quickly become too much on short, confusing and delivered routes. With all the action on the switch monitor, there is hardly anything to be seen of the actual course.
The hectic rush of the driver is very amusing for the spectators in view of the kart driving comfortably around the corners. Even at the wheel you quickly forget reality and concentrate fully on the fast-paced racing. A real Mario Kart feeling sets in very quickly when you are stopped by a banana or blown to the side by a sand vortex. When colliding with real objects, such as the table leg, the racing driver loses virtual coins and slows down a bit.
However, if you get your opponent out of the way with the cannonball extra, you will quickly notice that the software intervenes and steers properly. The so-called smart control can at least partially be deactivated under the options. Switching off completely does not seem to work – the kart still brakes slightly before sharp bends.
The display of the virtual racing elements works very well. Only the displayed route boundaries seem to have a certain life of their own. Otherwise, the combination of the virtual Mario world and reality works very well. The two directional indicators are recognized by the camera at a distance of several meters and replaced by brightly lit arrows on the display. The four gates are also pretty, for example with castle battlements, decorated and animated. The typical Mario Kart sound reinforces the racing feeling even more.
Even after the first successful race laps there are rewards in the form of different character designs or new horn sounds. The routes can also be gradually made more challenging with more different modifications (sandstorms, icicles, etc.).
After the first few laps, your fingers itchy and the track is being rebuilt several times. The design is largely individual, but we found out a few things during the first attempts. The racing courses shouldn’t be too small and winding, because without long straights and enough space to run out, the race can quickly become confusing. A simple oval and a simple circular course become boring after a short time. As is often the case: the mix has to be right.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit can be used alone or locally with up to four other players. The prerequisite for this are four consoles plus four karts – quite expensive. There is no online mode.
So far we have not been able to test the multiplayer modes due to a missing second console. We will promptly submit a field report via an update.
Battery life and range
Nintendo states a battery life of 90 minutes when using the fast 150 ccm class. In practice, with a few breaks from racing and modifications to the track design, we were able to gamble for over two and a half hours without any problems. Full charging via USB-C takes a good three and a half hours. The range is 4.5 to 5 meters. That sounds very little, but it is sufficient for indoor use.
Limitations and technical requirements
Playing on the TV is easily possible with the docking station and the switch – but only with the standard version. TV mode does not work with the Switch Lite. The switch’s share function has been blocked for the game by the manufacturer.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit supports a maximum of four goals at the same time – we hope that further expansion stages will be possible in the future. All four gates are always required for a functioning race track. Only the enclosed goals can be used for playing. Each gate has special markings that tell the camera where the kart is currently on the racetrack in order to trigger certain actions in the game.
The game is currently available in two versions. But we can well imagine that other characters besides Mario and Luigi will also be offered in the future.
The experiment of a Mario Kart game for living room or children’s room has definitely been a success. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a successful mix of remote-controlled car and video game and is really fun in single-player mode. In the next few weeks we will test whether the multiplayer modes can keep up. If you have enough space and sufficient budget available, Home Circuit is an extraordinary and completely new racing game in the classic Mario Kart style.
The biggest downside is the high price. For multiplayer games at least two Nintendo Switches and two racing cars are required, which costs around 600 euros. In this respect, the game is actually especially suitable for hardcore fans and technology nerds. The second negative aspect is the space required. The construction of the race tracks is a lot of fun, but the living room or children’s room should also be used as such again at some point. In this respect, playing the game means a lot of time spent setting up and dismantling. The AR racing game is only partially suitable for very small apartments.
If that’s too expensive for you, you should take a look at the Anki Overdrive review. The game is available from around 50 euros including two vehicles. Alternatively, there is also the classic Carrera track (test report), but it can be similarly expensive.