The toy industry has given us plenty of radio-controlled cars modeled after the Mario Kart franchisee. But the $100 Mario Kart Life: Home Circuitannounced last month, promises to be the first to integrate such a toy car with an augmented reality camera and companion Switch game experience developed by Velan Studios.
While we didn’t get hands-on time with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit nevertheless, we were able to participate in a recent livestream demo of the RC car/AR app combination ahead of its scheduled release on October 16. What we saw does not quite correspond to a full-fledged Mario Kart game, but it seems that it can add a lot of creativity and imaginative play possibilities to the standard RC car experience.
In your place…
The demo guided us through the Mario Kart Live installation process, which begins by using the camera on the Kart to scan a QR code found in the free downloadable Switch app (that app won’t work at all without the Kart). With that scan, the Kart and Switch are directly connected via Wi-Fi, without the need for a router or live internet connection.
When you put the Kart down, you get an over-the-shoulder view of what the camera sees on your Switch screen (either docked or in handheld mode, standard or Switch Lite). Nintendo won’t discuss details of this setup’s streaming resolution/frame rate, but a Nintendo representative said he didn’t see any latency between the Switch controls and the physical movements of the Kart itself.
Due to the positioning of the camera, you will not see the actual physical Kart from this view. Instead, you’ll see your Kart displayed as an animated 3D model at the bottom of the live-streamed camera view. This can lead to lively interactions, such as when Mario playfully grabs your attention by knocking on the “camera” glass.
Once the connection is established, set your course by simply driving around your room; wherever your kart goes, it follows the virtual track with a uniform width. The only physical requirement is four fold-out cardboard AR ports, each about three times the width of the Kart itself. You must use all four of these when designing your track (no more, no less), and the kart must roll under each lane in order, although you can return through one gate several times before moving on to the next.
You can make your course between gates as simple or complicated as you want by adding zigzags, loops, intersections or long straights to your heart’s content. But the gates are the only strict requirement when navigating the track later; the game itself offers no penalty for leaving the lane you have staked at any time.
However, you drive a physical kart, so you can place walls and barriers on the side of your virtual track to encourage or force players to drive the “correct” way. There is also a “smart steering” option for racers that helps keep the kart on track automatically.
“You’re playing a game and it’s up to you to make your own rules,” a Nintendo representative told Ars Technica. “However, in multiplayer you will definitely be called out [for cutting corners]†
Once your track is built, you can race through a simple Grand Prix mode that takes you through the base track three times, each with different environmental hazards and visual themes (Snow, Rain, Underwater, Lava, 8-bit, Rainbow Road, etc.) ). As you set up the road layout itself, in this mode the game automatically makes adjustments including boosts, item boxes, and coins (used to unlock cosmetic options, not increase your top speed). The tweak aims to make each race in the three-race series a little more difficult, with the usual Mario Kart score points for your speed and placement.
In Explore mode, you can add some more virtual customizations to the gates themselves, choosing from a variety of dangers or blessings as you drive under them. The most interesting of these was a Magikoopa effect, which reflects your camera view of the track (and thus the real world around it) until you run into it again. There is also a time trial mode that allows you to race against a ghost version of your best time and track the exact position of your kart in that race.
In single-player races, computer-controlled Koopalings (and Bowser Jr.) serve as computer-controlled opponents. this creature Mario Kart, those virtual opponents can influence your kart with a variety of items. This also means real-world effects on your physical Kart; a Red Shell or Piranha Plant gate will temporarily stop your Kart, while a Sandstorm or Magnet Gate will make your Kart drift briefly to the left or right. And yes, you can give your Kart a physical speed boost with a mushroom (or by holding a drift for the necessary time).
While the course customization options don’t seem deep enough to truly emulate a full-fledged one Mario Kart game, Mario Kart Live still looks like a fun way to bring the basic concepts of the series into the real world. We look forward to getting started with it some hands-on soon.
List image by Nintendo