Oct 19, 2020 - Technology

Review: Latest Mario Kart game drives into AR

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, the latest installment in Nintendo’s racing franchise, brings together the fun of a remote control car with the versatility of a video game, bridging the two with a clever use of augmented reality.

The big picture: As we've written before, games that merge digital and physical play have tremendous promise, but that pairing has seen more misses than hits.

How it works: Mario Kart Live consists of a downloadable game for the Nintendo Switch, a miniature physical car equipped with a front-facing camera and four cardboard gates for the car to maneuver through.

  • Players set up the gates and then drive the car through them to "paint" the course. Real-world obstacles can be added as well.
  • After that, players race against digital opponents, do a time trial, or even race against up to three other cars (each sold separately).

What they're saying: I reviewed this game along with junior tech correspondent Harvey Turpen Fried. Our almost-8-year-old had lots of praise for the game, which he was able to pick up quickly and maneuver on his own, after a little bit of setup help from me.

  • The best part of the game was being able to see the car he was driving show up on the screen alongside familiar digital competitors and obstacles.

What's hot: Mario Kart does an admirable job of staying true to the game franchise while adding in the fun of driving a physical race car around your house.

  • Setup is easy and, unlike most toys, everything easily fits back in the box when not in use.

What's not: At $99, it's not cheap, and if you want two physical cars to race, you need two Switch consoles and have to buy two kits.

  • Also, you need some space. It’s designed only for indoor use and Nintendo recommends having around 12 feet by 10 feet of space. (Poor Mario would never be able to navigate our cluttered narrow hallways, so for testing purposes, we used my parents’ far less obstructed living room.)
  • Finally, it’s a little hard to know where to look. If you look at the Kart, you miss the fun of AR, but it can be tough to get the full perspective just by looking at the Switch. Working off a TV would have helped, but alas we forgot to bring the docking station to connect the Switch to the TV.

The bottom line: I can easily see us plunking down the money to make Mario a permanent resident in our house. Maybe he can even get us to clean up a bit.

Go deeper: You can see Mario Kart Live in action here.

Go deeper