Games this Week... Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

All right, friends, review time!

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit released this past Friday (and because preorders were not available for some reason, I had to go pick it up at a local store before it sold out), and it is so much fun!


It is a pricey game at $99, which is going to be out of some gamers' price ranges for what seems like a novelty buy, but if you are a Mario Kart fan, I highly recommend it for a completely remixed Mario Kart experience that you can customize to your heart's content. It has also been thoroughly kid-tested in my house, and the car seems to hold up to an assortment of minor bumps in the course of driving it. I think as long as it doesn't drop more than a few inches, the car will survive.

So, the basic gist of the game is you get to drive a physical kart around courses of your own making. There are multiple gameplay modes, including Grand Prix (Go for Gold in a 3-Race Cup!), Time Trial (Race alone for new records!), and Custom Race (Race using custom rules). 



The different modes are familiar to any Mario Kart veterans. Grand Prix mode presents you with the option of 9 different cups, each with three tracks (rather than the usual four), and if you place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, you win a trophy. Time Trial is a race against yourself. And the Custom Race mode just lets you race without worrying about time or trophies or anything like that. 

You can create and recreate and customize your tracks however much you like, to create the racing experience that you enjoy most. The game box provides you with four gates, which you can set up in any configuration, as long as they are in numerical order, with Gate 1 as your start and finish line. You can do a circle track, or a figure 8, or any kind of track that ends where it begins. The box also contains two arrow signs to help the kart create the track.

The gates can also be customized in the game to give item blocks, speed boosts, or "magnetize" your car so that it's pulled in the right direction. As you play the game, you can unlock additional gate types that behave in different ways. With the item blocks, the items themselves run the gamut from Blue Shells to Gold Mushrooms to Bananas or Bullet Bill, and your kart reacts differently for each one, from speed boosts to complete stops or brief slowdowns. If you run into a real obstacle, the virtual kart within the game also reacts. It's a wild experience.


To create your track, all you have to do is set up your four gates, drive your kart through them to map the path you want your track to be, and you're ready to race!

As you race, you can earn coins to unlock new in-game skins for your driver, kart, and horn. And once you have earned enough trophies through Grand Prix mode, you unlock higher speeds, and eventually, each mode allows you to choose from four racing speeds: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and 200cc.

The whole experience is really well designed and executed.



Now, there are some limitations to the game. Whatever wireless communication is used between the Nintendo Switch system and the kart can be disrupted by distance, walls, or large furniture, so it's best to build a track in a more open room where you can easily see the whole track from wherever you are playing. The kart itself is small and has very little ground clearance, so it has difficulty with high carpet, soft or plush surfaces, and most inclines. It will drive on carpet, but I would recommend building your tracks on hardwood, laminate, or tile for the best driving experience. 

One other thing to keep in mind when playing is that the computer-controlled racers are not affected by any obstacles whatsoever. So, if you make a super difficult track with lots of stuff to dodge and places where your cart might get stuck, you will probably lose the race because your opponents will zoom straight through your walls, furniture, and pillow tunnels as if they aren't there, while you somehow get wedged in the bricks of the fireplace and can't seem to get unstuck. Ask me how I know. 

The biggest bummer is probably the multiplayer mode. If you want to race a friend or family member with an additional kart (which sounds so cool, especially since the game supports up to four players), each racer has to have their own Nintendo Switch system and physical kart. For a $200-$300 console and $100 game, that's a really steep price to have more than one setup to be able to play with friends or family.

While it's pricey to get multiple systems and karts to race together, it is easy enough to take turns playing through each track with a single console, whether through Time Trial mode, or Custom Race mode. We like Time Trial mode because it records your times, with a High Score board and everything, where you can enter your name once you finish the track. 

Really, it's a stellar design for something that I could not have imagined existing before Nintendo announced it last month. I'm pleasantly surprised at how well the kart responds to the controls, and the difficulty of the races themselves. I've only really raced at the 50cc speed so far (and have a hard enough time winning those matches), because when I turned it up to 100cc, the kart was so much harder to control that I kept crashing into all of the obstacles I put up.

I really look forward to playing more of the game, creating different tracks, getting better at faster speeds, and unlocking all of the in-game goodies. My next objective is to figure out how to create a track with inclines (I'm thinking cardboard roads with Lego infrastructure), and see how that works out.

All in all, I really recommend it, and I'm glad that I bought it. Both me and kiddo really love Mario Kart, and it's a lot of fun trying to figure out the best/hardest/wildest track configuration together.