The toys-to-life genre has been dormant for the past few years, but that could change with the release of “Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.” The upcoming title reminds me of “Anki Overdrive,” but the game is built with the Nintendo Switch in mind instead of a smartphone.
The premise is simple: Players download the game and connect to a remote control car that happens to have Mario or Luigi in the driver’s seat. A camera is hidden in the vehicle and it transmits images to the Switch screen. When a player drives, the car moves in the same direction in real life, almost like an RC racer.
The big difference is that the game is played by looking at the Switch screen and seeing the race from Mario’s perspective. As he races, “Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit” generates baddies and other competitors in an mixed reality experience. The game looks like “Mario Kart” but players are racing in real life using the living room as the environment.
“Anki Overdrive” tried to do the same thing, but the company used the smartphone as a controller and the cars raced along a special track with markings that the toy vehicle could read. “Anki” and “Mario Kart Live” are different approaches trying to do the same thing — bring toys and video games together — but Nintendo has a big advantage because its title is based on a proven franchise.
Players will instantly pick up the toy and know what it does and what to expect. From what I’ve seen in a virtual Nintendo meeting, players buy “Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit,” which comes with the car, a USB-C cord, four cardboard gates and cardboard arrow signs. As I mentioned before, the game is downloaded from the Nintendo eShop.
Once that’s done, they turn on the game and take a picture using the toy to get a “license.” To create a track, players lay out up to four gates and drive the toy through them. Lakitu tosses paint on the tires in the Nintendo Switch game and that’s how “Mario Kart Live” tracks the path.
Nintendo said the optimum size for a track is 10 by 12 feet or 120 square feet of space. Players can make any track in that zone. Nintendo also recommends the game be played indoors on hardwood floors and most carpet. Don’t use it in a parking lot or the street. The toys aren’t built for off-road trails in the backyard either.
From there, players race around as they would in “Mario Kart.” They’ll be competing with the Koopalings, who I assume play dirty. If Mario gets hit by a turtle shell, the car stops. If players turn, the kart turns as well. If they use a mushroom, they’ll speed by rivals.
By bringing “Mario Kart” in the real world as a toy, players can get creative with their track designs. They can run the race through the dining table legs. They can set up amiibos to be the crowd. They can create obstacles with books or pillows. “Mario Kart Live” has a bit of a do-it-yourself vibe of “Nintendo Labo” built into it.
“Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit” is scheduled for release Oct. 16. A price has not been announced as of Thursday. Two toys will be available at launch: Mario and Luigi. For multiplayer, two toys and two Switches are needed for local online play.