10 things we learned about Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, Nintendo’s mixed reality racer

One of Nintendo’s more intriguing upcoming games is Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Developed by Velan Studios, it’s a title that follows the likes of Labo and Pokémon Go, attempting to take Nintendo’s playful experiences and translate them into the real world. In this case, Home Circuit is both a game you play on a Switch and a remote control racer that will take over your living room.

There’s a lot going on, and I recently had a chance for a hands-off demo of the game, where I learned a few interesting tidbits about what the experience will be like. Here’s what you need to know ahead of Home Circuit’s launch on October 16th.

What you get in the box

The $99.99 package comes in two varieties — Mario or Luigi — though both offer the same basic experience. For that price you’ll get one RC kart featuring either brother; four cardboard “gates” that serve as the core of your race course; two arrow signboards, which are optional course-building components; and a cable for charging the kart.

You can download the game for free — but you need a kart to play

The game itself, meanwhile, will be available as a free download from the Switch eShop. However, while anyone with a Switch can download it, the game won’t actually be playable without the hardware. Very early on in the game’s setup, you’ll be presented with a QR code, which you need to scan with the camera on the RC kart to continue. Without a kart, you can’t progress beyond this point.

You can play with up to four people

Home Circuit supports multiplayer with up to four people, but everyone will need the complete set to participate. That means a Switch, a copy of the game, and a kart to race. Once you start, one person will serve as the host, and everyone plays on their course. It seems like a fun multiplayer experience, albeit an expensive one. (There is no form of online multiplayer.)

How you customize courses

One of the major appeals of Home Circuit is that you can build your own courses around your house. And, in true mixed reality spirit, you do this in two ways. The core of this is the gates, which you use to make the basis of your track. There are no one-way courses in Home Circuit. Instead, you use the gates to form the outline of the track, and players complete it by driving laps through all four of them. You can then incorporate physical obstacles — say, the legs of a table or LEGO bricks on the track — that players have to avoid.

But there are also the in-game elements that only show up on the Switch’s screen. The gates, for instance, can be customized with different features; you can have them drop items, like shells or mushrooms, or offer speed boosts. Gates can also be home to obstacles like spinning fire bars, thwomps, or chain chomps, while the signboards can be used to add extra decoration to a course, with flashing lights and colors. Additionally, there are different themes you can apply to a track, some of which add in more virtual obstacles. A lava theme features random bursts of lava bubbles on the track, while the 8-bit theme has goombas patrolling back-and-forth.

It seems like the best course designs will incorporate both these virtual features and real-world obstacles.

You need coins to unlock features

Collecting coins while racing has a purpose here: the coins are used to unlock key features. This includes some of the course customization options, as well as cosmetic upgrades for your racer. You can use coins to turn Super Mario into Builder Mario, for instance, and have him drive around in a piece of construction equipment. However, the changes obviously will only impact the on-screen version of the game and not the physical kart.

In-game moments will impact the IRL kart

One of the coolest things I saw was the way the things happening on-screen impacted the RC kart. For instance, when you use a mushroom for a speed boost, you can see the little toy car speeding up IRL. When you get hit with a red shell, the kart will stop completely. The best example I saw was a course with sandstorms, where the constant wind caused the RC car to move erratically as it was being blown around.

There’s still a grand prix mode, but it works differently

The traditional single-player grand prix mode returns in Home Circuit, but it functions a little differently. You’re in control of the basic layout of the course, while the game will overlay different themes and obstacles on top of that depending what stage you’re on. During my demo, I saw fairly traditional themes like underwater and ice, and there’s even a Rainbow Road theme. What this does mean, though, is you won’t see the same kind of wild, gravity-defying courses that made Mario Kart 8 such a delight.

Battery life depends on speed

You’ll need to recharge the karts, but how often depends on how fast you plan on racing. Home Circuit features four speeds: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and 200cc. Nintendo says that if you’re playing on 150cc, you should get around 90 minutes of battery life. But that number will go up if you play on the slower settings and down if you decide to go all-out at 200cc.

It should work just fine on carpet

The videos shown so far mainly depict the RC karts driving around on clean hardwood floors. But Nintendo says the game should work just fine on carpets, though it might slow down a bit, particularly if your carpet is on the thicker side. It might make for some interesting course designs, depending on the layout of your living room.

You can play in handheld mode or on a TV

Home Circuit supports both the base Nintendo Switch and the portable-only Switch Lite. Both games will work in portable mode, but on a standard Switch you can also play on a TV. For multiplayer matches, this could add an interesting spectator view, as if you were watching a very small Nascar race.

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