This week we had the opportunity to get a first proper look at Nintendo’s next wonderfully madcap endeavour – Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Mixing Amiibo, LABO, some impressive AR technology and one of their most successful and well-known franchises Mario Kart – our preview of the new game/tech/toy promises a new way to play that once again highlights the Japanese giant’s uniquely creative take on the industry. And while the price reveal (and how high that number is) will likely prove to be the key factor in how popular it is (especially here in SA), our first peek definitely leaves us smiling.
Quick off the marks
Combining a very popular franchise, with some cardboard and AR-tech boosted toys seems kind of crazy. However, when it comes to Nintendo – it’s the kind of wonderful madness we love. And the good news – our preview actually made it seem pretty quick and easy to set up. First, there will be no physical game cartridge. I’m not sure why this will be the case but I suspect this has to do with saving cash – on what will no doubt already be a quite heavy initial investment for players. So the software itself will only be available via download from the eShop.
Set-up not only seems pretty straightforward, it actually looks quite fun.
We didn’t get any info as to the size of this download but once that is out the way, you’ll then need to purchase the physical Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit ‘toy’ box. From that point – it seems like it will be a quick set up. The software will generate a QR code – you scan it using the camera on the Kart and basically, you can start AR-driving around your home using the Switch as the RC-controller. Of course, if you want to play any of the included modes – you’ll need to create the tracks. But even this seemed quite remarkably simple…
First, clear up some space to drive around. Indoor (flat) areas are the basic requirements with tiles, laminate floors and simple (non-furry) rugs/plain carpets being the ideal surfaces. Within this area, set-up the four LABO-like carboard gates (which seem to take mere seconds to fold into shape) and select the create mode. Lakitu will then slather your tyres with some digital paint and your first job will be to slowly drive through the gates twisting and turning between them as you desire – and once you’ve made your way back to the first gate – the game will automatically map out the track as per your movements. Keep making as many different tracks as you desire and you’ll soon have enough to tackle the actual racing modes. I was a bit worried about how complicated the set-up process would be. Thankfully, it not only seems pretty straightforward, it actually looks quite fun.
Now, despite how much I enjoy Mario Kart and the obvious similarities to LABO, I wondered if this new venture would be able to get past the ‘gimmick’ of the idea, as well as the cardboard creations did. And I’ve got to say – from what I saw there may be a lot more to this ‘game’ than you were expecting. Not only is there a traditional Grand Prix mode – the single-player experience we’ve come to expect from MK titles, but a brief look showed us at least 9 cups and the traditional 50, 100, 150 and 200CC speeds (the Karts actually physically accelerate more quickly based on the CC). Of course, each cup is only as good as the tracks you create – but we watched a few races and it seemed that depending on the cup – the gates/environments and more change to match a set ‘theme’. We saw water and then sandstorm- themed tracks to mention just a few.
Imagine altering the AR environment and it affecting that kart by making it go faster (mushroom boosts), making the track more slippery (ice/rain) or inverting your controls thanks to the swing of a magikoopa’s digital wand.
However, it does not end at that. There is Time-Trial mode (which was sort of sold as the local (pass the Switch) multiplayer mode. And while I’m sure that that will be fun in short bursts with a few friends, the true multiplayer mode requires that each player (up to 4 in total) have their own Switch, Kart and the downloadable game software. An ad-hoc wifi connection and one player being appointed as the host allows you to jump into action. It looked quite enjoyable, but I just can’t help thinking about my tiny home and worrying about how much space you’d need for that many people and Karts etc., even if I could find three other players with all the gear. And given that we’re still at least trying to self-isolate – not having an online option is a bit of a bummer. But on the flip side of that – it is good that once you download the game and if you’re on your own – there is no need for further internet connections to play.
However, what really stood out was the customisation options. Now, don’t get me wrong – some of these are purely cosmetic. As you race, earn trophies and collect coins you’ll slowly earn enough to unlock new costumes for Mario, new Kart designs that your Switch screen will display and instead of wheels or gliders you’ll also be able to unlock a bunch of hooters/horns to annoy your friends and family. And while racing through my kitchen with Mario dressed as a medieval knight, driving a caterpillar truck and wielding a cowbell sounds like fun this is pretty superficial stuff. Interestingly, however, it does not end there.
Not only can you also physically alter tracks by placing light objects in the way (think an empty cereal box or finished water bottle), but even more interesting alterations can be made to the digital environment and to the in-game gates – which actually affect the way the toy kart behaves. Remember the sandstorm I mentioned earlier? Well enabling that environmental feature will literally have your physical toy Kart being blown from side to side; Yes, somehow steering will be affected. And you may have seen how getting hit with a red shell will actually stop your kart? Now, imagine altering the AR environment and it affecting that kart by making it go faster (mushroom boosts), making the track more slippery (ice/rain) or inverting your controls thanks to the swing of a magikoopa’s digital wand. It all looks really cool and so creative. And being able to theme gates and populate them with everything from question boxes, flame bars, Piranha-plant pipes and even plain boosts means even a simple track could become a Rainbow Road and see a lot of replayability.
An impressive qualifying lap
As you can tell, I rather enjoyed this little sneak peek we got earlier this week. I’m sure this will yet again be another creation which sets Nintendo apart from so many companies out there. And of course, while I am happy to heap praise on what I saw and was surprised by how much ‘actual video game’ content it apparently contains – there are still quite a few unanswered questions that will impact whether it will be worth saving up for.
As good a product as it seems to be – if it skews to a younger audience but is in a price range that most parents cannot afford (especially here in SA) – it sadly just becomes another great idea lost to the sands of simple economics.
We’re still not sure what battery life will be like, or how long it will take to charge these Karts. And while we did see some drifting and even a drift boost – will the controls feel anything like playing an actual Mario Kart game? And probably most importantly, how much will the physical box cost? As with LABO – I think this is actually the single-defining characteristic. As good a product as it seems to be – if it skews to a younger audience but is in a price range that most parents cannot afford (especially here in SA) – it sadly just becomes another great idea lost to the sands of simple economics. But, as I said – I’m smiling about what I’ve seen so far – and you may be pleasantly surprised too. So look out for this new way to fulfil your need for speed and throwing bananas coming on the 16th of October.
PS. If you have any specific questions that I didn’t cover in my preview – drop a question in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer if I have the info.