Last week, after many months of rumour and speculation, we were finally treated to the 35th Anniversary Super Mario announcements we'd been waiting for. As well as the expected remasters in the form of Super Mario 3D All-Stars and a Switch port of Super Mario 3D World (+ Bowser's Fury), there were several other juicy little announcements to moisten the brows of Mario fans.
While there's plenty to look forward to, for this writer there was one announcement which captured the excitement and promise of classic Nintendo better than anything else shown, and it's not even a Nintendo-developed project.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a 'mixed reality' game that combines real-life camera-equipped RC karts, cardboard circuit features and virtual gameplay elements visible only via your Switch to turn your home environment into a bespoke Mario Kart raceway. We've all seen those disappointing remote-controlled Mario karts before, but this is something else entirely. Controlled via your Switch in the style of a regular Mario Kart game, the effects of onscreen items are reflected in the RC karts; throw a virtual banana or shell at an opponent and their kart will temporarily slow or stop.
On the face of it developer Velan Studios has managed to combine RC cars, Mario, and a proper video game into perhaps the single coolest thing many six-year-olds will have ever seen. Our inner child was grinning like a loon at that trailer, a sure sign that Team NL's offices and households will be hosting yet more plastic-encased electronics before the year is out.
If you're playing alone, it'll be you against digital Koopalings, but if you've got up to three other friends (each equipped with the required hardware, of course), you'll be able to engage in four-player Mario Kart races around your living room or any other domestic space of your choosing.
Frankly, it sounds (and looks) amazing. However, we're also wary that the brilliant trailer promises an awful lot and there are still question marks hovering over Home Circuit and its prerequisites that have us wondering how well the game will work in practice.
Price is a big issue. For £99.99 in the UK, you get your choice of Mario or Luigi's kart, four cardboard gates to race through, a pair of cardboard arrow signboards and a USB-A to USB-C charging cable (the software itself is download-only).
In all honesty, this year isn't the best one in which to be launching a product like this. In many places, young people aren't able to head to each others' houses as easily as they were in a pre-pandemic world, so multiplayer Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is likely to occur only in homes where two family members own Switches, and again only if the inhabitants can afford at least £200 for a pair of the karts - the price of a Switch Lite, no less.
[the price is]a huge ask at the best of times, but especially in a year that's really putting the squeeze on the average household budget.
That's a huge ask at the best of times, but especially in a year that's really putting the squeeze on the average household budget. The kit requirements remind us of four-way multiplayer back in the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance days. Back then, you typically needed four friends to each have a Game Boy, a copy of the game and the link cables to get a multiplayer match going. Games like Four Swords Adventures on GameCube were brilliant, but only a fraction of the audience were able to assemble the requisite friends, hardware and software to get the full-fat true multiplayer experience.
Similarly, we see a lot of people getting one kart only this Christmas, and we hope that the single-player gameplay is engaging enough to keep your attention until the opportunity arises to play Home Circuit how it's surely meant to be played. Velan Studios' blog highlights the Koopalings as digital opponents, the game's "tight, easily accessible controls for that classic, beloved Mario Kart feel" as well as "items, obstacles, course themes and much more". The potential here is enormous.
We've got a ton of questions. You can customise the track with whatever objects you've got lying around the house, but how complex can these circuits get? Can the karts and the game handle inclines? Will there be more karts coming besides Mario and Luigi? Presumably you could set up an elaborate circuit with a bandstand of spectators and docked Switches on TV screens showing the onboard driver's eye view like a mini Formula 1 race, but could this work sufficiently well outside the house - in a park, for example? Will Twitch streams of virtual Mario Kart races be the next big thing this Holiday season? Underground gambling rings betting on whether Mario and Luigi can escape the cat this lap...
These ideas make our inner six-year-olds giggle in anticipation, but our more seasoned selves are caught up with the practicalities. How noisy is this thing going to be? What's the battery life like? And, crucially, will it be fun enough to warrant the considerable outlay required when we've already got Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sitting on our Switch?
We imagine those are questions many parents will be asking themselves over the coming weeks. As brilliant as Labo was, it's no doubt clogging up many a wardrobe now as the kids moved on to the next thing and the next. Will Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit be any different?
It's tough to say right now, although we've already placed our pre-orders. It's arguably easier for us to justify than the average consumer. We need it, you know, for work. Yep, for crucial research purposes. Let us know below if your older, wiser head has prevailed with a wait-and-see approach, or if--like us--you've given in to your inner child.