Bottom line: It's definitely an expensive purchase, but if you're willing to spend the money, it provides a unique AR gaming experience like no other. The software works well as long as you're near enough to the kart as it races through the track.
Fun AR elements
Beautiful collector's item
Custom track building
Excellent cat toy
Video & signal limitations
Each player needs a kart and Switch for multiplayer
Requires a lot of room
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I don't know why but for some reason I have some crazy good skills when it comes to playing Mario Kart. For years, I've been the person to beat when friends or family come over. As you can imagine, it's one of my favorite games to pull out at parties and get togethers.
So when I heard that an augmented reality version of my favorite racer was coming out in the form of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit I knew I just had to try it.
I've been fortunate enough to test both the Mario Set and the Luigi Set for several days now. While Mario Kart Live's AR experience isn't mind blowing, it's definitely something we've never seen before and provides a fun new experience to share with others — that is, if you're willing to pay the high cost.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review What I like
Nintendo knows how to create charming and daring experiences, more so than any other gaming company out there. This has been proved once again with Mario Kart Live's unique AR racing game.
A touch of magic
|Title||Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit|
|Players||Up to 4 (Each player needs a kart and a Switch)|
When you start a new game, you connect your Mario Kart Live kart to your Switch by scanning a QR code. Then, the game walks you through a tutorial process and has you get a drivers license. This includes taking a picture of yourself for your ID using the kart camera. I have a curse where any driver's license photo taken of me makes me look like a serial killer, so I'm not going to include a picture of it. But still, this simple little introduction put a smile on my lips and prepared me for the other magical touches heading my way.
What really makes Mario Kart Live interesting is that the physical karts react when they come in contact with AR elements. For instance, if I'm playing a track that has strong winds blowing in one direction, I will need to fight to not get blown off course. If my husband hits me with a Red Shell, my kart will temporarily stop until my player has recovered. If I use a Mushroom, the physical kart picks up speed and races past my opponents.
Additionally, your kart physically goes faster depending on what class you choose, whether that be 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, or 200cc. While the tangible karts don't seem to go that fast, it looks like you're going 100 miles an hour on screen. Another fun touch is that if you accidentally run into something like a chair leg, your on-screen character will react to the crash.
Setup & Battery life
In the box you'll find four large cardboard gates, two cardboard arrow signs, a USB-C to USB cable, and of course, the kart itself. The cardboard gates only require a tiny bit of setup before they're ready to go. However, the fun begins when the camera recognizes these cardboard pieces and overlays AR graphics on top of them. I did end up running into these gates multiple times no thanks to Bananas and Chain Chomps, so it's a good idea to weigh them down with something heavy like books so they don't move.
The kart's battery only lasts for about 90 minutes before running out of juice, but my playing sessions always naturally wound down before I hit the battery's crucial mark. However, I did notice that the karts did seem to slow down a bit when power was on the lower side, making it harder for them to traverse carpet or drive up gentle ramps.
There's a sliding plastic piece on the side of the kart where you can insert the included USB-C to USB charging cable. I noticed that these charging cables are really short, and don't reach regular USB outlets very easily. However, they're a perfect size for charging the karts using the Nintendo Switch Dock's USB ports. A light on the back of the kart glows red while charging but turns off when the battery is full, so you know when they're ready to be used again.
A novelty experience best shared with others
Playing on my own was interesting as I watched various AR graphics overlay themselves onto the cardboard gates and racetrack within my home. Since the game centers around racing against Bowser Jr. and the other Koopalings, it engaged my competitive nature and kept me interested for long stretches.
However, the game became much more fun when I shared the experience with others, and it doesn't concern buying multiple Mario Kart Live sets. I found that taking turns on the same kart can provide plenty of fun for everyone involved.
Everyone in my house wanted to view the Switch screen, so I opted to play with my Switch docked to the TV. My five-year-old nephew's eyes lit up in wonder as he realized that we got to see what Luigi was seeing directly from the screen. Whenever a race finished, he was eager to help me set up a new track to see how well the kart could handle it. While he was busy doing that, my friends and I talked about how impressive the AR elements looked. Then later, when I set up the second kart, I got competitive with my husband, which lead to a lot of cackling and good-natured trash-talk. It eventually turned into a typical Mario Kart experience, but with some fresh elements.
Since Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is basically all about driving a camera on wheels around your home, the game protects your privacy by not allowing you to take any screenshots or videos. Now you don't have to worry about your kid accidentally sharing images online from the kart's camera.
However, if you're someone who wants to capture your cat's reactions to the kart or wants to share images on social media than this is a problem. If you really want to stream your races or take screenshots then you'll have to connect your Switch to a capture card like I did.
Excellent cat toy
The internet erupted in a shower of cat videos when Mario Kart Live released. People's cats were filmed curiously running around the tracks or slapping at passing karts as they raced by. As a cat owner, I can attest to how fun it is using one of these karts when my cat, Misty, is around.
You've probably seen her in one of the photos or videos I've put on this page. So far she's only stalked the karts and hasn't had the courage to pounce, but it's fun seeing her zoned-in expression from the kart's camera as she stalks it. I'm not gonna lie, I've spent a lot of time just playing with her in addition to racing on the track.
Mario Kart Live review What I don't like
Mario Kart Live offers a fun experience, but it does have some issues.
Obviously, it's expensive
It would be ridiculous for me not to start with the most obvious downside. Mario Kart Live is very expensive compared to other Switch games, especially if you want to play multiplayer. The Mario Kart Live software itself is free for anyone to download, but each player must have their own Nintendo Switch (or Switch Lite) and kart to play. Considering the karts sell for roughly $100, it puts quite a gouge in your wallet.
Video lag & signal limitations
Because of how my home is layed out, the only place large enough to accomodate the Mario Kart Live track is the hardfloor surrounding my kitchen sink island. Unfortunately, these karts don't function as well when the signal gets interrupted by walls or when the Switch is too far away. I often experienced video lag at the point on the track furthest away from where I was sitting with the kitchen island between me and the kart.
This lag wasn't completely debilitating and it didn't happen every race, but when it did happen, it sure was frustrating racing against virtual opponents who weren't affected by it.
Most people don't have the space
The karts themselves aren't very big, only measuring in at about 8.5 inches long, 4 inches tall, and 4.25 inches wide. But considering how big the cardboard gates are and how much space you need so the karts can move around corners, you're going to need a decent play area for it to work properly. Nintendo recommends having at least a 10-by-12-foot area to play Mario Kart Live, which isn't feasible for many people.
Due to the previously-mentioned signal limitations, if your home doesn't have the best layout and you're hoping to stretch the track through multiple rooms, it likely won't work out very well unless you're willing to follow the kart around as it winds its way through your home. And since you're not supposed to use these karts outside, that narrows the usability down even further.
Pro Tip: Remember to clean the wheels regularly
Not only do I live with constantly shedding pets, but I have also been cursed with curly fine hair, which means that fur and hair are everywhere in my house. Because of this, I made sure to vacuum my floors before each Mario Kart Live session, and that still didn't prevent my invasive hair from winding around the Mario and Luigi karts.
To prevent your kart's motors from burning up, I recommend cleaning hair and dust off of the karts after every play session so those wheels can continue to spin freely.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review Should you buy it?
I honestly had a lot of fun while playing Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. However, it is a really expensive buy. Additionally, this isn't a good fit for anyone who doesn't see the track creation process as part of the playing experience and just wants to get to the racing. If that sounds like you, then you probably should just stick to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to get one of these karts is to see how your pets respond to it. My cat constantly stalked it as you might have seen in the videos and images I've included. Though, so far she hasn't been brave enough to actually pounce.
Mario Kart Live might just be the biggest Nintendo game of the holiday 2020 season. If you're a collector of all things Nintendo, have a child who loves to build, or are just a Mario Kart fan, this will be a fun addition to your library.
Remote control Mario Kart
The one and only
The Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit set comes with a Mario Kart and camera and four goal post. It's a fun AR gaming experience to share with friends.
Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.