A unique kart racing experience that’s full of potential, if you meet certain conditions.
After seeing some extended trailers and gameplay, my excitement for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit had started to build over the last few weeks. After showing one such trailer to my three-year-old, he and I were both very much ready to pick it up. While my full review will take a couple weeks, I did want to share some early impressions after toying around with MK Live for about 90 minutes.
Inside the box is a small USB-C charging cable, the Mario or Luigi kart, a single sheet of instructions for downloading the game from the eShop, and six pieces of cardboard. It’s recommended that you fully charge the kart before starting, and so once that had completed, I jumped right into the game. A brief tutorial shows you how to connect the kart to the Switch console and how to set up the four cardboard gates, and then you’re basically off to the races.
MK Live asks you to hold the kart up to your face so that the camera above Mario or Luigi’s head can take a picture for your in-game driver’s license. Next, you set the cart down behind gate number 1 so that Lakitu can put paint on your wheels, allowing you to map out what your course will look like. The path you take driving through the four gates determines the course itself, and the whole process of designing is intuitive and straightforward. Of course, you can get creative, but the space around you will dictate how much freedom you have for this process. A smaller apartment or rooms with lots of heavy furniture might not make for the best experience with this one.
The actual karting experience is much simpler than Mario Kart 8, but it’s incredibly charming and almost as much fun to spectate as it is to actually steer Mario or Luigi. About seven or eight Grand Prix cups are available from the get-go, each consisting of three tracks. In truth, the way you lay out the course has a much bigger impact on the driving experience, but the subtle touches of each named track in the game are fun to try out, if a little lackluster. For example, a bowser’s castle track will have fire bars rotating around each gate that can cause you to spin out, in addition to giving the Switch screen or TV screen a red tinge. An ice-themed track will have freezies on the track as hazards that can encase you in ice, while snow falls all around. Rainbow Road has shooting stars that land on the track and actually grant the Super Star power up.
Not all of the normal Mario Kart weapons made the transition to Home Circuit (most notably, the green shell), but without question the most dangerous elements in all of my races were my and my sister’s Frenchies and my two sons, one of whom hasn’t started walking yet. Surprisingly, I was able to maneuver Mario in between the dogs’ legs on a few occasions, but my one-year-old played the role of King Kong just as often, so with pets and younger children, you may end up bringing home a toy that appeals to just about everyone in the house.
All in all, Mario Kart Live feels incredibly accessible and enjoyable. The number of track themes in the game itself isn’t huge, but then most of the fun comes from seeing your living room form the background for the tracks that you design yourself. Creative types and those who really get into can develop intricate course layouts that feature multiple twists and turns, and even short ramps. I spent a little bit of time altering a cardboard box into a makeshift ramp, and most of the time Mario could get over it at 100cc. I suspect his success rate would go up at 150 and 200cc, which are unlocked by earning trophies in Grand Prix. The unlockable outfits, karts, horns, course themes, and gate types will add to the longevity of the game, but I still need to see just how many of each you can obtain.
On laminate floor, the kart controlled incredibly well, and it even ran over the short carpet area rug that took up the middle of the room. The most noticeable takeaway from booting up the game for the first time? My kids and my siblings were completed absorbed by the course design aspect and just watching the kart weave in and out of dogs and coffee table legs. I’ll be testing out more surfaces, 150 and 200cc, and even more death-defying ramps for the full review, so keep those engines revved and stay tuned. My first lap with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit went smoothly, but we’ll need to see if it can stay in pole position for the rest of the race.