There are few thing’s more instantly Nintendo than Mario Kart and Home Circuit takes the core gameplay that has seen so many hundreds of hours spent dodging red shells and banana skins and brought it into your actual home. Home Circuit encourages you to turn your front room into the next Rainbow Road, mapping out a ‘real’ course and racing around it with a mini plastic kart (both Mario and Luigi variants are available). Rather than have you lay out tiles of track, however, the minimalist package consists instead of four gates that help the game map out the raceway. You then paint the route with the kart by driving a lap and your new course — however complex you want to make it — is then stored in the game’s memory and ready to race.
It’s a deceptively simple process and coming up with increasingly convoluted courses that overlap, twine through the dining table legs, fly around the kitchen and startle the family cat are all part of the fun. Without dedicated track to run on, wooden floors work best, but the kart deals well enough with regular carpet — although thick shag pile is likely another matter entirely. Once the race is on, though, the game comes into its own. Thanks to the mini kart’s onboard camera, you play the game almost exactly as you would Mario Kart 8 — even the boosting power slides are present and correct — duelling with AR opponents as your vehicle hurtles across the floor. Like traditional Mario Kart, you’ll start on 50cc and 100cc, before working your way up to faster 150cc and 200cc, but the camera’s proximity to the ground makes everything feel like it’s travelling at a fair old clip from the off when viewed on screen. Thanks to a variety of environmental effects unlocked as you go (rain, crosswinds, virtual lava, blocks of ice), the tracks quickly take on their own distinct identities, and when it comes to the tracks themselves, only your imagination and the amount of floor available to you can curb the options available. It’s worth noting, though, that physical obstacles on the course, while fun, will prove no threat to your virtual opponents and are best reserved to those who want the extra challenge.
If the novelty of constructing courses wears off (unlikely) then there are different cart customisation options unlocked as you go, with varying outfits, accessories and sound effects that allow you to mix things up. There are also some nice touches new to the series, including a hazard that turns the track you’re on into mirror mode on the fly, instantly forcing you to get to grips with a whole new layout mid-race.
The temptation to glance up from your screen and watch your real kart is always strong but also a certain way to lose — unless you take pains to line the virtual tracks with physical markers, like spectating action figures or assorted boundary cushions. The game also works far better in handheld mode as the Switch requires a wifi connection to the Kart itself and losing connection when the vehicle strays out of range is frustratingly easy. The kart itself is robust enough but does struggle with mats, rugs or other unexpected changes of surface, and its motor won’t do well on anything but the most gentle incline. You’ll soon learn to appreciate Lakitu’s handy fishing rod far more than you have in the past, too, as having to trudge over and right your kart manually can become something of a chore. The on-board battery lasts roughly 90 minutes and takes some time to juice up again, so lengthy sessions aren’t really an option, and multiplayer is limited to alternate play time trials, as head-to head requires both two karts and two Switches.
Mario Kart: Home Circuit never comes close to the lofty heights reached by Mario Kart 8, but given the absence of looping anti-grav fields and extended underwater areas in the average home, that’s probably not a huge surprise. Where Home Circuit does excel, though, is in adding a tactile, real-world dimension to one of Nintendo’s best-loved properties. There’s a primal joy to be had from turning your home into a Mario raceway and one that’s sure to delight younger players (and older players with younger spectators). Flawed it may be, but Home Circuit is a decent execution of a brilliant idea, only only held back by a few technical limitations, the square footage of your home and, ultimately, your imagination.
Buy Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit now for Nintendo Switch.