A Family Double Dash: a Nintendo Dad’s Review of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

Flying over a cardboard ramp, shooting red shells through the legs of the family dog, and hitting that turbo boost below the coffee table; these are the joys of the augmented reality (AR) featured in the new Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on the Nintendo Switch.

The game is free to download, but the initial investment cost is high; getting hold of a Mario or Luigi RC car runs $99 (USD). The kit comes with one RC car, 4 race checkpoints, and two direction arrow signs. Players can immediately set up their own course after completing a short, charming tutorial that ends with a Mario Kart driver’s license.

The gameplay is diverse and offers a range of options that allow every kind of player to find what suits them. From time trials to the free-range exploration mode, there’s plenty to do in single-player. The traditional Grand Prix is also available (with the range in engine size and speed like the classic game), and the AR computer opponents offer plenty of entertainment and challenge.

Much like any standard Mario Kart game, there’s plenty of unlockables. Even though the RC cars currently offer just two choices (Mario and Luigi), the AR allows players to unlock new vehicles and driver costumes by dropping the ‘skins’ over the top of the car, so that when viewed through the Switch screen, the vehicles appear different than the actual RC car. Various weather options become available as players progress, and checkpoint rings become customizable to let players choose from item boxes, virtual magnets, rotating fireballs, and so much more.

The real fun, however, comes with playing against other humans. The cost is definitely a barrier, but if players can find friends who have an RC car or if the financial means are available to purchase more than one, the fun grows exponentially. For Christmas, we were fortunate to be able to purchase one for each of our two children (and I convinced my wife to let me get one too).

Playing Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit with my kids has meant more than a chance to play video games together. It’s meant fostering a sense of creativity, sharing a vision, celebrating together as it comes to life. When we race, our experience surpasses ‘screen time’ and means actually playing together in the real world.

These days, my fourteen year old son rarely chooses ‘dad time’ unless his friends are busy, and he’s bored of whatever project he’s working on. My bids for quality time are usually met with a “Thanks Dad. Maybe some other time.” And the truth is that I’m okay with it; he’s at an age where that kind of individuation is healthy and important. That Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit has him asking for time together is a testament to how much fun it is and the good times we’ve had together since unboxing it.

The other day I came home to a garage door flung wide open, my son running out with a pencil-drawn diagram waving in his hand. He passionately explained his next big idea, a Mario Kart course called “A Teenage Life,” a race dedicated to the various pleasures and pressures of being a teen in 2020. 

We got right to building the course. Soon remnants of the waning 2020 spread themselves across our family room floor: a school computer opened for class beamed over a hairpin turn, a muddy skateboard (my son’s latest non-screen activity) lined the straightaway, a collection of holiday memorabilia from the past few months dotted the finish line. The decorating felt eclectic and a bit silly, but it meant the world to him. When we finished an hour of racing, he asked to take a picture of the track so he could remember it.

This week, my daughter’s already reserved her ‘dad time’ slots, extracting commitments to build a Yoshi’s Crafted World course, along with a Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity track from our amiibo collection and the wooden castle from her toy chest. Like my son, her brain is always working the puzzle, finding the next big course idea.

As a lifelong gamer and fan of the Mario Kart franchise, I am so happy with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. It’s an absolute blast; but more importantly, it provides endless hours of creativity and opportunity for connection. It rates a definitive 10/10 in my book.

Have you tried Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit? We’d love to hear your reactions; please share with us in the comments below.

David Lasby is a life-long gamer, dating back to his childhood console, the Nintendo Entertainment System. He is a staff writer for Boss Rush Games and Zelda Dungeon, along with a contributor to The Mighty. He co-hosts the Nintendo Pow Block Podcast, and you can find him on Twitter to talk all things Nintendo, Zelda, pop-culture, and mental health.

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