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Going in-depth with Nintendos augmented reality Mario Kart RC car

  • Man, now I want a real-life hover-clown-car RC toy. Nintendo
  • This underwater stage even affects the sound design for the game. Nintendo
  • I believe this is the first Mario Kart game where you could say "Look out for that ottoman!" Nintendo
  • Retro chic. Nintendo
  • The virtual gate hazards can be arranged on the left, right, or center of the gate. Nintendo

The toy industry has given us plenty of radio-controlled cars that are modeled after the Mario Kart franchise. But the $100 Mario Kart Life: Home Circuit, announced last month, promises to be the first to integrate such a toy car with an augmented reality camera and attendant Switch game experience.

While we haven't gotten any hands-on time with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit yet, we were able to participate in a recent livestream demo of the RC car/AR app combo ahead of its planned October 16 release. What we saw doesn't quite match up to a full-fledged Mario Kart game, but it looks like it could add a lot of creativity and imaginative play opportunities to the standard RC car experience.

On your mark…

The demo walked us through the Mario Kart Live setup process, which starts off by using the camera on the Kart to scan a QR code found on the free downloadable Switch app (that app won't work at all without the Kart). With that scan, the Kart and Switch are connected directly via Wi-Fi, without the need for any router or live Internet connection.

Elbow room

How much space you need for Mario Kart Live largely depends on which speed class you choose to race, which also affects the physical speed of the Kart itself. At the lowest 50cc class, Nintendo says a "small bedroom" is enough space. For 150cc though, you'll want a room at least 10ft x 12ft, and you'll want even more for the fastest 200cc class.

Those spaces don't have to be empty, but you do need enough room for the Kart to navigate and for gate placement. The Karts themselves should be able drive on any "flat-ish" surface "as long as it's not 1970s shag carpet," a Nintendo representative told Ars. Small bumps are OK, but jumps or tall vertical rises could mess with the AR system.

Nintendo says the Wi-Fi connection can be maintained for about 30 feet between the Kart and the Switch, and it recommends a maximum play space of five meters squared for that reason. And while the Kart and game sound like they could technically work outside, the Nintendo rep said the company "does not advocate outside play" for either.

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 isn't discussing specifics of the streaming resolution/frame rate of this setup, but a Nintendo representative said he hadn't seen any latency between the Switch controls and the physical movements of the Kart itself.

The camera's positioning means you don't see the actual physical Kart from this view. Instead, you see your Kart represented as an animated 3D model at the bottom of the livestreamed camera view. This can lead to some lively interactions, like when Mario playfully gets your attention by knocking on the "camera's" glass.

Get set…

With the connection established, you set up your course by simply driving around your room; wherever your Kart goes, the virtual track will follow at a uniform width. The only physical requirement is four fold-out cardboard AR gates, each about three times the width of the Kart itself. You have to use all four of these in designing your course (no more, no less), and the Kart has to roll under each one in order, though you can loop back through a gate multiple times before moving to the next one.

You can make your course as simple or as complicated as you want between gates, adding zigzags, loops, intersections, or long straightaways to your heart's content. But the gates are the only strict requirement when navigating the course later; the game itself offers no penalty for driving off the course you lay out at any point.

Grab some friends

Mario Kart Live supports local multiplayer for up to four people. Each racer needs their own Kart, though, and there are only two racer designs currently (Mario anRead More – Source

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