Nintendo is always good for a surprise, isn't it? Be it the most famous mobile game of all time, Pokémon Go, the creative handicraft kits for Nintendo Labo, the establishment of touchscreens (Nintendo DS) and motion control (Wii) on the mass market, glasses-free three-dimensional display (3DS) on a handheld or … one of the many other examples, the list of which without exception would go beyond any scope at this point.
Also interesting: The new Pokémon DLC "The Snowy Lands of the Crown" for Sword & Shield in the test!
With Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit the Japanese company once again proves its penchant for unusual game concepts. Because this is nothing more than a wild combination of what is probably the most popular fun racer in the world, remote-controlled mini-karts and augmented reality. It has never happened before! But just because the concept sounds exciting in theory, it doesn't have to be in reality. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to subject Mario Kart Live to the extensive test and thus get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the AR Mario Kart.
First of all, the basics. At Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit (buy now ) there are currently two different versions of a remote-controlled kart with additional accessories in the box. The vehicle is currently available as a Mario and Luigi model, further variants are conceivable if the game is successful. The price hurdle is quite high, with most dealers between 100 and 130 euros; sometimes even more if there is a shortage. In addition to the kart, the box contains a USB-C cable for charging, but without a power supply unit, four foldable cardboard gates, two directional signs (also made from cardboard) and brief instructions. The software required for playing the Switch is not included and must be downloaded free of charge from the eShop. A bit of a shame, we expected a cartridge like the one at Nintendo Labo. For most players, this is certainly not too bad, but for collectors, omitting a physical version could be angry.
The heart of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is, of course, the kart. The difference between the Mario and Luigi variants is purely optical, technically both versions are identical. A USB-C port for charging is located under a small sliding flap on the side. A full charge takes around three and a half hours, but you get a running time of around 90 to 120 minutes, depending on how fast you drive. If you buy the set, you can start immediately, the battery is not completely full, but it is already charged properly. There is also a small ignition button on the kart, as it is called in the game, which is used to switch on and synchronize with your switch console. Kart and switch connect directly to each other via Wifi-Direct.
The camera, which is located directly over the head of Mario or Luigi, cannot be overlooked. It captures the action in front of you live, transmits it to the switch and expands the picture with purely digital elements such as opponents, obstacles and items. The kart's tires are made of rubber and can be easily removed for cleaning. When steering, the front wheels move, the rear wheels are rigid. The vehicle is relatively compact and smaller than it appears in videos, but it is also surprisingly agile. You can control the kart with Joy-Cons or Pro Controller, you can watch the game itself either directly on the switch in handheld or table mode, and TV mode is also supported.
Source: PC Games
To put the kart into operation, you first download the software from the eShop, synchronize the vehicle and console with each other, snap a quick picture for your so-called racing license and get a brief explanation of the basics at the beginning. All of this only takes a few minutes and then you can drive off right away. If you want to complete real races with opponents, items and Co., you still have to set up the four cardboard gates. All you have to do is unfold it, which works quickly and easily, and position it in the room so that the kart's camera can clearly see the inscription when it starts off.
For example, if you place a tight curve directly in front of a gate, the camera does not "see" the gate in full and the game does not credit you with a lap when you drive over gate 1; It is essential to pay attention to this when setting up. The directional signs are optional, but look nice on the screen in the AR version of your race. In order to race, you slowly drive down the desired slope once, whereby you have to cross all four gates. With it you determine your individual route. And then it can start!
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit offers you various modes and game options. In the single player, for example, you can complete a Grand Prix. There are several of them to choose from, each consisting of three races over five laps each – so that's a bit different from Mario Kart 8 (Deluxe). The route always remains exactly the same that you set yourself at the beginning by driving off. The difference then lies in the AR game elements that you can see on the screen in addition to the camera image. These are different surfaces, obstacles, items, opponents and special features of the routes. Amazingly, the result is a very typical Mario Kart experience and the controls feel very typical of the fun racer.
However, it gets chaotic at times on the semi-virtual, semi-real track, especially in multiplayer. Up to four players can compete with their karts at the same time, supplemented by CPU opponents in the form of Koopalinge. Even when playing, we had to struggle with enormous jerks and dropouts in the camera image, the connection was even completely broken several times and we were thrown out of already started multiplayer games. It was only after several attempts that the two of us were only able to complete a single Grand Prix. The overall multiplayer experience was therefore disappointing. If it works, then Mario Kart Live was a lot of fun for us. The emphasis is on "if".
In general, the sometimes extremely poor connection between kart and switch is the biggest problem with Home Circuit. Nintendo only specifies a range of a few meters without obstacles and this information is actually correct. If even thin objects such as a shelf are partially in the way, the range is further reduced. What initially shows up in a poor and jerky camera image then leads relatively quickly to a complete standstill of the vehicle if the connection simply breaks off completely. That happened to us without any obstacles at a distance of a few meters from the kart.
Source: PC Games
When playing in a (small!) Apartment, the connection was even more difficult than in an office, Mario Kart Live almost unplayable. In the end, we even stopped trying to play at home, the experience was too frustrating. And that's a terrible shame, especially because driving around in a kart with a live camera image on switch or TV is actually a lot of fun. We also had problems with the camera image when the lighting was not optimal. Basically, the transmitted image is okay if the conditions are optimal.
At least the game offers many different possibilities. In addition to the Grand Prix, we can also try our hand at the time trial, master the mirror mode or simply drive around freely, for example, scare the cat or, um, "surprise" the colleagues in the office. The battery lasts for a long time, which is a clear plus point. At the Grand Prix, we activate various karts, horns and outfits that we can combine with one another as we wish. Of course, that doesn't change the physical appearance of the kart, but it does change the AR version on the screen.
Depending on which speed class we select, the vehicle is actually faster or slower. 50ccm, 100ccm, 150ccm and 200ccm are available, whereby the higher classes must first be activated. The smart controls known from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are also available, which prevent the kart from leaving the virtual route. That works amazingly well, as we were able to let the vehicle drive the entire route without any problems by simply accelerating and not steering at all. Impressive!
We have seldom seen a Nintendo product where joy and frustration were so close together and constantly alternating, as in Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. If the conditions are optimal and everything works as desired, the AR experience is great fun and knows how to impress. The hurdles for this are very high, however, and so we constantly have to struggle with poor camera images, lost connections and an extremely short range, which sometimes leads to complete frustration.
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The idea of Home Circuit is still fascinating and so we hope for significant improvements in connection and range for the next generation. Apart from that, Nintendo is already doing a lot of things right and has an exciting new concept on the market.
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