Mario Kart Live – Home Circuit, review: Nintendo’s augmented reality game offers a truly beguiling gimmick

Not since the heady, misadventure-prone days of the 2016 Pokémon GO craze has there been an augmented reality game with as much popular potential as Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Taking Nintendo’s best-selling racing series and transplanting the action into a living room of one’s own, Mario Kart Live is a toy-game fusion that mere decades ago would have seemed like a gadget from a farfetched sci-fi future.

The game itself is mostly comprised of a download code, four cardboard gates, and a motorised racecar. Depending on which edition of Mario Kart Live you purchase, the car is either red and driven by Mario, or green and driven by Luigi. Affixed to the top of the car is a forward-facing camera. Using a Nintendo Switch console, you can then steer the (fast, and mercifully robust) vehicle around a course of your own design, with hazards and opponents imposed over live video footage.

It’s a strange but energising gimmick; the ability to zip round the room at ankle-height offers a whole new perspective on your own familiar lived-in surroundings. Mario Kart Live seems like two timeless children’s Christmas presents rolled into one: an enticing cross-breed of a video game and a Scalextric set.  

Mario’s car, racetrack and opponents overlay live footage of your living room
Mario’s car, racetrack and opponents overlay live footage of your living room(Nintendo)

There are a few technical issues, most irritatingly the limited range on the toy – drive more than a few metres away from the Switch console, and you risk losing connection with the car. Though the ability to constantly re-draw and physically re-build your racetrack adds a good amount of replay value, it’s also a little laborious to set up.

Mario Kart Live’s biggest problem, though, as many sibling children will surely find, lies in its multiplayer mode. You can race up to three other human players in real time, but it requires that each individual possess their own copy of the game (at roughly £80 a pop), and their own Switch consoles (considerably more expensive) to play on. For most households, this will limit multiplayer to a turn-based time trial competition that lacks the usual breakneck Mario Kart competitiveness.  

There is magic and ingenuity in Mario Kart Live – a crisp, appealing fun factor that Nintendo has always done so well. But just as the world’s love affair with Pokémon GO proved little more than a summer fling, so too is it hard to get past the sense that you are simply being dazzled by Mario Kart’s technical newness, that the spell of its reality-warping gadgetry will one day wear off entirely.  

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