Nintendo’s Mario Kart Live brings video game to life with remote control toy car

This is the perfect Christmas present for Mario Kart fans.

Nintendo bosses have taken their classic race game, burgeoning Labo physical build concept and Augmented Reality tech to put together a brilliant blend of toys and video games.

The concept is simple: Racers drive a real toy go-kart around their living room on a self-made circuit using the Switch console.

There’s an on-board camera on the toy allowing you a Mario’s eye view of your front room.

It connects up seamlessly to your console and projects that live video into the game background, with AR then filling out the screen with computer-generated rival racers, power ups to collect and booby traps to unstick you.

It all merges brilliantly into a wonderful playing experience for all the family to enjoy.

You’ll find yourself bounding round your front room in real-life while trying to beat five other virtual Koopaling racers on screen that aren’t really there.

It sounds bonkers but once you’re up and running it’s really amazing and puts your home in the heart of the Mario Kart action.

The room is transformed into ocean depths, sandy deserts and rainbow coloured kingdoms as the AR tech sprinkles a little Nintendo magic over real life and gives your property a classic Mario makeover.

I was set up out of the box within 10 minutes thanks to a quick-pairing QR code between machine and Switch.

And the kids loved every minute playing this technologically advanced game with me.

You get four cardboard gates to place around your room to make a race circuit with.

They’re just like the firm’s previous Labo cardboard toys-to-game packs, where in the past you’ve been able to do things like fishing on the Switch using a cardboard rod that connects up with your Joy Con controllers.

It’s cleverly done and the cardboard robust enough to not snap easily in your hands.

There’s also a couple of cardboard arrow markers as well to help guide you round the homemade track.

Each of these are designed to be recognised by the camera in-game and can be transformed by the software to give your room a bit of pizazz, such as turning the gates into booster checkpoints complete with computer generated arrows, or power-up gates where you can get a temporary speed boost, for example.

When you collect and use a speed boost, just like in previous Mario Kart games, you real-life kart will actually speed up.

Likewise, the game will insert baddies across the virtual course and if you bump into a Koopa on-screen it will stop you car on the spot temporarily in real-life.

It’s incredibly effective and works with very little latency.

As you drive around the room it’s surprising how slow the car is, because the game on-screen feels much faster and frantic, a testament to the developers’ work in building up virtual hazards and the break-neck feel of the race.

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The kart itself is well built and is charged up via USB. It takes about three and a half hours to charge and will last for 90minutes in 150CC racing.

The game software is free to download from Nintendo’s online store once you’ve spent £100-odd on the actual physical machine.

The whole thing is designed to be set up easily and intuitively and connected for me with ease, with only a slight break in display at the very furthest end of the room, so be aware the signal does have it’s limits.

If you’ve got the money for it, there’s a Luigi car too as well as the Mario kart, and you can race up to four-player in multiplayer if you’re willing to really splash out on four karts and four consoles.

Otherwise one player can play at a time if you are using one Nintendo Switch. In Time Trial mode, family and friends can take turns setting the best lap time on a course.

Home Circuit can be played in a variety of room sizes big and small. For smaller rooms or apartments, bosses recommend playing in a space that’s at least 3.5m x 3m in size.

It’s also designed for indoor only, so avoid taking it outside in gardens and be aware these machines aren’t really built for thick carpets.

Software wise, it feels a little bit more limited than full Mario Kart games but you do get to race yourself in Time Trials and there are 24 in-built courses in Grand Prix mode where the game will push out different scenarios, such as underwater or in a desert.

But of course these all overlap the front room course you design physically, so effectively it’s just new skins and effects over the same course each time.

You can give yourself an extra challenge in Mirror Mode, where the course and your home will be flipped horizontally on the game screen.

As time goes on and you get more cocky, you’ll unlock new cars, Mario skins and horns as well as higher speed races up to 250CC.

Overall, I came away feeling like I did when I first played tennis on the original Nintendo Wii console years ago.

That feeling of something genuinely evolutionary when we were able to play with motion controls for the first time agains nan on Christmas day.

And I suspect this Christmas, there will be many game fans trying this out for the first time and really getting a kick out of the use of augmented reality in a familiar family-friendly race game.

It’s not perfect, it feels like the start of a new genre rather than the definitive conquering of one.

In time I can imagine garden based versions, bigger and bigger tracks with loops, jumps and hills, and a raft of copycat games.

There are limitations and I question how long the novelty will truly last with my little kiddies.

But for something innovative and different in 2020, I think this is right up there.

And Nintendo will rightly have another stonking success on their hands in the run up to the festive period.


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