Nintendo is once again blurring the line between toys and digital entertainment with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, a “mixed reality” product that’s part-RC car and part-video game. Developed jointly with Velan Studios, Home Circuit gives you the ability to create your own Mario Kart courses in real life. The key to this is a toy kart that you can drive around using your Switch. The kart features a camera that streams a video feed back to the system’s screen, which the game then overlays with a HUD, item boxes, environmental hazards, and other Mario Kart trappings.
It’s a genuinely impressive conceit, the same kind of technological sleight of hand that made the company’s various Labo kits–which combine peripherals you fashion out of cardboard with the Switch hardware–seem so mystifying when they were unveiled. Given how unorthodox it is, it may also be initially hard to wrap your head around, but Nintendo gave us a much better understanding of how it all works and what you can actually do in Mario Kart Live during a recent preview presentation. Here’s what we learned.
Mario Kart Live is compatible with both the standard Nintendo Switch and the handheld-only Nintendo Switch Lite. If you have the standard model, you can also play in TV mode with the system docked. The game supports the Switch Pro Controller as well.
The Mario Kart Live software will be released on the Switch eShop as a free digital download, but to use it, you’ll need to pick up either a Mario kart set or a Luigi kart set, which retail for $100 USD apiece. Along with their respective toy karts, each package comes with four checkpoint gates, which you’ll need to arrange around the room to construct your course, along with two (optional) arrow sign boards and a USB charging cable. You can charge the kart by connecting it to your Switch dock, and Nintendo estimates it takes approximately three to three-and-a-half hours to fully charge.
When you fire up the Mario Kart Live software on Switch, you’ll be presented with a QR code on the screen. You’ll need to scan this code with the camera on your kart to sync it to your system.
Once you’ve connected the kart, you’ll be able to drive it around the room freely to get a feel for how it handles. The controls are similar to Mario Kart 8: The A button accelerates; B is used to brake and drive in reverse; and drifting is handled with the R or ZR buttons. You can also use items you’ve picked up during the race by pressing L or ZL. As in Mario Kart 8, there’s an optional “smart steering” mode as well for less experienced players; this mode will help keep the kart in the middle of the track.
Before you can create your own course, you’ll first need to arrange the checkpoint gates around the room. You must use all four gates when setting a track up. After the gates are arranged, you’ll need to drive the toy kart through all four gates in the correct order and return to gate 1 to establish the course. On the screen, Lakitu will coat your kart’s tires with paint, and the trail you leave behind as you drive through the gates will determine the shape of the track.
There are three main gameplay modes in Mario Kart Live. The first, Grand Prix, is similar to what you’d find in a proper Mario Kart game. This mode features a handful of different cups, each of which consists of three five-lap races. The game will randomly mix up your course with a different environment theme and obstacle placements for each race. For instance, one race could set the entire course underwater, while another could take place during a raging sandstorm. In addition to changing up the look of the course, the theme will also affect how your kart handles; the aforementioned sandstorm, for example, will obscure your vision and constantly nudge your kart to the left.
Underwater course theme
As in a traditional Mario Kart game, there are four different speed classes as well. You’ll start with 50cc and 100cc, but as you play through the Grand Prix, you’ll also unlock 150cc and 200cc modes. (There’s an unlockable mirror mode as well that flips the orientation of your course.) The speed class you choose will determine how fast your toy kart goes, so you’ll need to consider how much physical space is around you when selecting a class, as the faster classes will require more room. Nintendo recommends choosing 50cc or 100cc if you built your course in a small bedroom, while your play space should be at least 10×12 feet for 150cc mode.
In addition to Grand Prix, there are Custom Races. This mode gives you full control over how your course is customized; you’ll be able to choose the environment theme, what type of checkpoint gates appear, and other aspects of the track. You can also remove the CPU opponents so that you can race another player head-to-head.
Finally, there’s Time Trial mode. As in other Mario Kart games, the aim here is to clear your custom course as quickly as possible. After the first race, you’ll compete against a CPU ghost of your best time.
Up to four players can play Mario Kart Live together locally, but each person will need their own Switch console, toy kart, and the Mario Kart Live software installed on their system. The player who hosts the session will establish the course (either before the session begins or after the other players have joined).
In addition to being able to play Custom Races, all four players can take part in the Grand Prix mode together. The joining players will unlock whatever customization options appear during the Grand Prix races in their own game, and any coins they collect while playing will still go toward unlocking new costumes and vehicle parts (more on that below).
Although Mario Kart Live places a big emphasis on playing with others, every mode is playable solo as well. When playing Grand Prix solo, you’ll race against CPU-controlled Koopalings. As you complete the different cups, you’ll unlock various customization parts for your course, such as different checkpoint gates. Each of these has its own gimmick; one gate is guarded by Thwomps that may crush your kart, while another will have a Piranha Plant dangling down from the center that’ll snap at you if you drive too closely.
You’ll unlock different costumes and kart parts as you collect coins in Mario Kart Live.
The coins you collect during races will also go toward unlocking new costumes for your character, as well as different frames and horns for your kart. The first three customizations you’ll unlock are the Builder outfit, the Big Scoop (which transforms your kart into a construction vehicle), and a construction horn, but all items beyond that will be random, so every player will unlock something different. Nintendo notes these customization options are entirely cosmetic and won’t affect your kart’s performance during a race.
Mario Kart Live launches on October 16. You can learn more about the game in our Mario Kart Live preorder guide.