Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit with Cats

I’ve always enjoyed playing fun racers like Mario Kart 64, Crash Team Racing, or Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. In 2020, Nintendo came up with a new idea—quite convenient since most people were at home due to Corona: a Mario Kart game that you could play right in your living room, “Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.” It was an AR game, Augmented Reality, where the game events are projected into the real world with a camera (or the other way around by bringing the real world into the game). Such features are common on smartphones, but it was something new on a console. Nevertheless, it was foreseeable that it might not be long-lasting due to the effort required to set it up, similar to Nintendo Labo, another DIY project for the Nintendo Switch that would likely be short-lived. However, the price contradicted this notion, as it has held up until today if you want to buy the game new: around €80. Quite steep for a game that you might only set up and play 2-3 times. So, a few years passed, but I still had the desire to try it out someday…

In 2023, the time had finally come. Enough people had bought the game, tested it a few times, and just wanted to get rid of it, so I was able to acquire the game for around €40 on classified ads. When it arrived by post, I was initially surprised by the size of the package. This was because the actual Mario Kart with the webcam seemed much larger in real life than one could assume from the photos. Additionally, the collapsible gates took up quite a bit of storage space. Oddly, there was no physical game in the packaging, no game case with a disc. You can only download it for free from the Nintendo eShop. While this might seem fine at first, I find it somewhat negatively implemented, especially coming from Nintendo. This is simply because Nintendo tends to close its stores for older consoles after about 10-15 years. This means you won’t be able to download the old games anymore. So, the game is practically rendered useless if Nintendo decides to close the Switch store at some point and the new consoles are not backward compatible.

Another reason why I wanted to try the game is that it’s just so much more fun if you have cats. The videos in 2020 about the game were the most interesting when you saw pets jumping around the kart. And that’s exactly what we wanted to test now.

First, we had to clear some space in the living room. Ideally, a track that goes through multiple rooms would be perfect, but we don’t have a suitable apartment for that. The bedroom is too “boring” and dangerous if a cat or the kart falls down the stairs. And the kitchen and bathroom are too narrow for a track with curves to turn. So, in the living room, we cleared a few things and moved the coffee table further into the middle so that the track could run around it. Overall, the track should simply form an “8”. Something more complex wasn’t really possible in the small space. I had already charged the kart beforehand so that we could start more or less right away.

For the recording, we used my Genki ShadowCast on the Switch. It’s a small device I funded on Kickstarter a few years ago to stream Switch games to friends, but it can also be used for recording. However, that alone would be a bit boring because you’d only see what’s in front of the kart (what the in-game webcam shows). So, in addition, we alternated (the person who wasn’t driving at the moment) filming the action from the outside with a smartphone.

The actual setup of the track was not difficult. We noticed that the set had seen some use because the cardboard of the gates was a bit warped here and there. The instructions on how to set up the items and then create the track virtually with the kart were only provided through the game on the Switch. It would have been nice if Nintendo had also created an illustrated manual in physical form for this purpose. Nevertheless, it was relatively easy to set up and configure everything. The only thing we missed, or rather forgot, was the point where it said to weigh down the gates (e.g., with bottles) so that they don’t slip away. As seen in the following video, the gates slipped a few times when the kart collided with them. But enough words, here’s the video. It includes the creation of the track and how we raced a total of 9 times.

I created the track virtually and drove races 1, 4, 5, 8, and 9. Nathalie, on the other hand, drove the remaining races 2, 3, 6, and 7. Some really funny moments occurred, like the beginning of race 2, where Yuri taps the kart with his paw several times, lap 3 of race 2, where Nathalie tunnels Yuri, the start of race 5, where Iva wanted to take a closer look at the kart, or lap 2 of race 6, where Yuri jumped over the third gate while the kart passed through that gate. It was really amusing to see the cats walking around in the game, as it felt like scripted events.

Overall, we had a lot of fun. I would almost say: the game was almost designed as a cat toy. Just driving around the track would be a bit boring. Sure, you could make it more exciting by expanding the track (but you also need a suitable apartment for that), but the cats bring a significant added value to the game that would otherwise be missing.