Mario Kart Live: Heimstrecke is out today. It’s the newest product in the Mario Kart franchise and the first to use augmented reality and toys-to-life to bring kart racing to life in your home.
I reviewed the game before it was released and found it absolutely adorable and my kids – especially my 10 year old – loved it.
You can read this review here. But I wanted to dig into the game’s pros and cons in a little more detail to help potential buyers (or gift givers) decide whether to buy it this holiday season. Let’s take a look.
# 1 – The camera is the star of the show.
Mario Kart Live: Heimstrecke is such a creative use of Nintendo’s hardware and software capabilities. The camera on the kart itself is the real star of the show. It captures the world directly in front of the car and transports it back to the Nintendo Switch screen. This gives you a wide view of your kitchen floor or wherever you end up playing.
The fact is that while you might think you will spend your time watching the physical kart drive around through the cardboard gates you set up, you will rarely take your eyes off the screen. You will see the world from Mario’s point of view and drive his little kart around your house or your driveway. It’s really remarkable how well it works and how simple it all is. It’s easy to set up a course in your home, but it’s amazing to see it come to life as a real Mario Kart race.
# 2 – It’s a real Mario Kart experience.
While this sounds like a gimmick, it really isn’t. The gameplay itself is exactly what you’d expect from a Mario Kart game, using the kart’s camera to create the scenery and the cardboard gates to create the parameters of the course.
In fact, with a few minor tweaks, this plays very similarly Mario Kart 8. You drift for boosts, you reach for dice to find items and can use them on opponents (AI or other players if you have two karts), and items like mushrooms give you a boost in speed. Speed increases in the game also accelerate the physical kart.
It’s funny. Seeing the kart move on the physical course you created looks kind of. . . Stump. It doesn’t move that fast. No other karts are visible. But if you look at the screen, the kart tears down the track. Other racers will drive by or take you out with red clams and bananas. Obstacles like blocks of ice and goombas shape your path, not to mention the physical objects in the course, from chairs to pegs to toys or other objects that you might want to include.
All of this makes for very fun races.
# 3 – It’s great for parties or gatherings.
As with VR, the best way to play an augmented reality (AR) game is with other people. I almost never break my Oculus Quest unless we meet up or the whole family is playing because it’s almost always more fun to play VR with friends and family. (This is my personal opinion and I know many others share it, but not everyone feels that way).
The same goes for party games (obviously) and I would qualify Mario Kart Live as a party game. It’s fun showing a family to your friends. It’s cool when people swap races and help set up tracks and establish themselves as obstacles on the tracks. It’s just one of those games that works best when there’s a group. And it’s definitely something that people will be impressed with because the hardware and software are really that cool.
# 4 – It will be a great gift for kids this holiday.
Back to the topic of gifts and the upcoming Christmas season, Mario Kart Live is really a great gift idea. I cannot imagine a young child being disappointed when they open this gift. You can choose Mario or Luigi and get the physical kart alongside the game. Pretty soon, a happy little boy or girl will set up a course made up of all of their other Christmas presents and the little kart will happily drive around the house while they clutch their Nintendo Switch. It will be a hit. Trust me.
Okay, now to …
# 1 – It’s a lot of money.
You can get Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for around $ 40 or $ 50 depending on where you look and if there are good sales. You will likely find it for less money on Black Friday.
Mario Kart Live: Heimstrecke costs $ 100 and while it’s just as cool and delightful as described above, it’s still a less rugged racing experience than the Mario Kart 8. The races are limited to fewer racers and are subject to the physical constraints in your room. There is no flying or jumping. It’s based on the cool AR stuff for variety and novelty, but it will never be as comprehensive as a more traditional game.
Plus, you’ll have to play physical karts to play multiplayer at home – which doubles the price. in the Mario Kart 8 You can play split-screen for four players as long as you have enough controllers.
I’m not saying it’s overpriced, mind you, just that it’s expensive and that’s a reasonable consideration. The problem with waiting for the price to drop is that this is Nintendo. Prices rarely drop sharply.
# 2 – You need adequate space.
You don’t need an absurdly large amount of space to set up courses, but you do need something. An overcrowded, overcrowded apartment, or an apartment with no hard flooring, is just not ideal. Ideally, you would have a huge living room with hardwood floors and lots of space between the furniture (or your own gym).
But you can do this job well with a smaller kitchen or living room, and in some ways the more obstacles there are, the better – up to a point.
Remember that if you have carpets most of the time or your space just isn’t that open, this may not be the game for you. It could be more frustration than it’s worth.
# 3 – It doesn’t work well in bright light.
If things get worse, bright sunlight will make the kart’s camera absolutely unusable. We tested the game in our driveway and it works fine in the shade, but as soon as the kart walks into a piece of sunlight you are blinded. This makes playing outdoors severely restricted. (At some point we set up a trash can in the driveway to provide more shade in a particularly sunny spot.)
However, if you have a driveway or an outside area with enough shade, you can play outside. We had fun:
Depending on your outdoor situation, this may or may not be an option.
# 4 – It’s likely to end up in a closet sooner rather than later.
I have a nagging suspicion that our copy of Mario Kart Live will soon collect dust. Once the novelty wears off and there is more effort than it’s worth setting up the gates, the interference suppression and all that, the gates will likely find their way into a closet, shed, garage shelf, or who knows where. The kart itself may stay out as a fun toy in its own right, and I’m sure we’ll bring the rest out from time to time, but like my VR headsets and other more time-consuming party-style equipment, this one is sure to hibernate.
Maybe that’s not the case for everyone, but it’s something to think about.
And that’s all people!
Hopefully these points will help you decide whether to buy or not Mario Kart Live: Heimstrecke for you or as a gift for a loved one. It really is a fun, novel, and incredibly creative little game. Whether it is worth the asking price remains to be seen.
You can read other reviewers’ attitudes towards the game over at Metacritic, where it currently stands at 74/100 (just below my 8/10 rating score).
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