Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review: perfect for keeping creative kids entertained

If you've got the space for it, building your own real life Mario Kart course is an absolute hoot

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit
The augmented reality effects are a real highlight of the Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit experience Credit: Nintendo

My flat has a fairly big living room. It’s one of the reasons we decided to move in, in fact. It’s not enormous, about five metres by four metres, but for a London flat, it’s not a bad size. Of course, once we put in the sofa, the table, the chairs, the bookshelves, we were left with a smaller space, maybe about three by four metres. 

I mention all this because my question, and the question on everyone’s lips when Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit was revealed was a simple one: will I have space in my home to use it? 

The reveal trailer and all the subsequent materials from Nintendo have seen the game used in gargantuan, cavernous living rooms, twice the size at least of mine. Still, as I say, I moved into this flat for the living room, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, and we started setting up a simple circuit. 

Along with the physical remote control Mario Kart (or Luigi Kart, depending on which version you picked up) you also get four fold-out cardboard gates and two direction markers. These come to virtual life when you boot up the game, using augmented reality to add all sorts of effects to them. 

Just over a foot across, the gates are quite sizable and Nintendo mandates that you use all four of them on your course, so they do take up a fair bit of room. I was immediately worrying that corners might have to be quite tight to make things work. 

After connecting your kart to your Nintendo Switch console by using the kart’s camera to scan a QR code on the control, you’re good to go. Mario must drive around the room to ‘draw’ a course. There are no limits to the twists and turns the course can take, only that Mario must drive through all four of the gates in order and end up back at the start. 

That accomplished, a mob of Bowser’s lieutenants appear on the Switch screen for you to race against, while your real life kart zips around the room. The game does a good job of generating a feeling of speed while the kart isn’t actually zooming around that quickly. 

Alas, after the first race my fears proved well-founded. Even with my relatively big living room, things felt cramped. I was constantly driving into the edges of the gates, dragging them behind Mario and messing up the course for the next lap. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get it right. 

Then my partner came up with an idea: instead of relying on the game’s virtual track, why couldn’t we build real-life walls to help me stay on the road? Before long we’d set up my vast collection of gin bottles to act as walls to prevent Mario from straying off course, and added a ramp made from an old shoebox. 

And with that, the game suddenly came alive for us. Even though the space was still a bit of an issue at times, building a real life track doubled the fun and we spent evenings just assembling and tweaking our lay-out for the optimal racing experience. I can absolutely imagine kids having a whale of a time building and constructing with this game; it’s one of those great Nintendo experiences which takes creativity outside of the game and inserts it into real life. 

While constructing the courses was most of the fun for me and, I think, where you’ll get the most out of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, the software is no slouch either. 

Mario Kart fans will get plenty out of the game, which features plenty of new and returning power-ups from speed-boosting mushrooms to those infamous blue shells, along with some interesting returnees such as the Chain Chomp which, while giving a slight speed boost, also drags your kart off course. 

I was also particularly intrigued by some of the weather effects which are applied to your hand-created course via augmented reality filters. Rain, for example, makes mushrooms grow from the course itself, while a sandstorm effect makes it harder to steer in a straight line. Weather has always been a feature of Mario Kart’s brilliantly intricate courses, but never has it so fundamentally altered the racing experience. 

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit features time trials as the only form of 'multiplayer' without getting a whole other Switch console Credit: Nintendo

These effects also have the added bonus of adding a bit of longevity to the game. You can do the same basic lap of your living room but by applying different weather effects courses do feel radically different each time. If, like me, you’re basically stuck with a smaller living room which is limiting the amount of courses you can build, that’s a pretty significant thing. 

One little negative, which is worth mentioning is that the only multiplayer option requires a second remote control kart and a second Switch console. And, having tried it out myself with a friend, it’s just not that fun. Well, I suppose it is, but with a maximum of two players to race against, it gets tiresome pretty quickly. You can also race time trials as a kind of multiplayer, but the days of the frenetic 8-player online battles of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe seem a far cry from this. 

Overall, I had a good time with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Being totally honest, I still think that the more traditional Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will still be the go-to for Switch owners looking for the classic experience, but for families with young kids looking to keep them entertained while we are spend more time at home, Home Circuit is a real treat. Building courses and giggling at the ways your remote control Mario Kart reacts to virtual obstacles will keep imaginative kids entertained morning, noon, and night.