I am deaf to the carnage my two boys brought into my life.
The oldest – the window destroyer – is the one in charge of the two. At least I can count on him to feel remorse if he accidentally jams Nintendo DS cartridges in my PlayStation 4 or wipes out my 200 hour rescue from Breath of the Wild.
The 4 year old is a completely different breed. A wild, warlike agent of chaos. At this early stage in his life, it is difficult to know if he has a single bit of regret for the calamity he brings into my life every hour and every day. But he’s doing a mean version of Let It Go. At full volume. In every waking minute of my life.
But back to Mario Kart.
Mario Kart Live is an augmented reality version of Mario Kart that turns your living room into a racing track. A well-placed camera allows gamers with a Nintendo Switch to control a real remote-controlled kart in their home, and the console fills the gaps on the screen. Bam, your living room is turning into a racetrack.
It’s a brilliant high concept, and the execution is very Nintendo: slick, approachable, and incredibly tactile. Build your own layouts in your house with your own furniture and turn this space into a literal Mario Kart track. Brilliant!
Just that it’s not great. Because I know my own children. I knew what to expect: anger, pain, destruction. Best case scenario: A living room with plastic garbage and Lego that I would no doubt step on.
Worst-case scenario: Too terrible to imagine. At some point, Mario would end up in the bathroom. It’s almost guaranteed.
Things should get messy.
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy Mario Kart Live was to set up.
After being traumatized by Nintendo Labo, which took about four hours to build and 30 seconds to destroy, I expected Mario Kart Live to be a thankless task at first. Especially with two young children in tow, sticky paws wrestle over who has to go first.
Not correct. We drove through our living room in the remote controlled Mario car within a few minutes.
Creating a track in Mario Kart Live is a relatively straightforward affair. You place four cardboard “gates” in different spots around your house, run a test run to create the race yourself and boom – you have a track. The software fills in the gaps and offers you opponents to run and items to pick up.
But you don’t even have to do that at first. In fact, my kids couldn’t give a fuck about making a track. They just wanted to drive around.
They crowded around the screen, cackling like hyenas, intrigued by the situation: the house they lived in, the kitchen table they spilled weet-bix on, the chocolate-stained couch they lazed on while they watched Bluey like zombies , had been turned into a giant playground and it was … weird.
For once, my children didn’t argue about the switch or try to separate it. You played … harmoniously?
In my experience, most augmented reality games are something like blergh and not at all convincing. Even Pokemon Go, the most successful augmented reality game of all time, is successful despite the AR features. Like many other players, I play Pokemon Go with AR mode turned off.
Mario Kart Live is different. The lifting of disbelief can be felt in Mario Kart Live. The line between reality and what is expanded is blurred, as I’ve rarely seen in games of this type. It’s absolutely fascinating.
Mario Kart Live sucks on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. It changes your perspective dramatically. Mario Kart Live places you two inches off the ground and lets you whiz around your own home like a hyperactive gerbil. It’s hard to explain how fun this is.
The dissonance is imperative. Your sofa is a skyscraper, the dining table stands for cumbersome columns on which you can navigate quickly. It sounds like an exaggeration, but Mario Kart gives you perspective on the rooms you took for granted, and it’s magical.
That explains the constant cackling of the children.
Things got stranger when we started making tracks.
We threw the gates generously in various places around the house, trying to create the skeleton of a com race. The game suggested we record the goals with a book or something heavy. We used other video game controllers because we couldn’t find any books, which definitely didn’t make me stare into space to ponder my parenting priorities
Attempts to create a route that would use my entire house, however, had range issues. The further the kart is from the switch, the more nervous and delayed the race becomes.
The wild card, of course, was my 4 year old, who was absolutely waiting for me to construct the perfect course to step over the gates and mess the software. My trail got mixed up, slipped in and out and changed shape.
Apart from technical issues, Mario Kart Live works. And it feels great.
It locks you into the “intermediate world”. Sat on your couch and stared at the Switch screen, immersed in this demimondial world. You are a tiny creature, shrunk to the size of a 2-inch figure, in a kart that races under your dining table at tremendous speed. Crazy moments are happening all around you. Explosions, banana peels, creatures driving floating hover vehicles.
Then you just look up with bleary eyes – wake up from the parallel universe invented by the Nintendo Switch – and watch this painfully slow “Mario Kart” made of plastic like a lobotomized snail over your living room floor.
On screen, it feels like you’re going 200 mph, but those little karting things are pretty slow in real life. For my children, who are drunk with power and take turns racing and using their own bodies to build gigantic bridges, it certainly doesn’t matter.
Mario Kart Live taught me to look at my world through a different, nightmarish lens.
It may be the first video game that allows me to see my 4-year-old from the perspective of the animals he always tries to clumsily pet, or the lizards he hunts in the garden.
In my world, my son is a little threat. Sure, he’ll accidentally hit me in the nuts, kick me in the nuts, or wake me up Stand on my nuts, but he’s small. A tiny creature.
But in the world of Mario Kart Live, he’s a Kaiju, a real-life Godzilla with the potential to instantly change any race. Sometimes with an awkwardly placed foot. Sometimes more conscious. A cackle in the hallway, a gigantic, sticky paw coming down from above, picking up the kart like an evil god … and locking it in the next bathroom.
The way of the Labo
Despite the thrill, I’m not 100% sure Mario Kart Live will stay.
With Labo, for example, my kids spent a morning building the cardboard structures and playing around with the games. You never mentioned it again. Not even. It still collects dust in our garage to this day. The most expensive box ever.
About an hour after setting up Mario Kart Live, my son picked up our iPad and loaded the goat simulator. Two minutes later, he asked if we could download Kick the Buddy, a godly free game that his friends are obsessed with.
Will Mario Kart Live go the way of the Labo?
It’s difficult to say. Just this morning my elder asked me if he could play Mario Kart Live after school. For me this is a sign that Mario Kart live is more than a gimmick.
The cycle reminds me of a VR headset. It makes just enough use to justify its existence but is hardly part of my weekly entertainment diet like Netflix or other Nintendo Switch games. I imagine I would pull it out when nephews and nieces visit us, but it’s hard to imagine the interest continuing for the weeks and months to come.
But for now, at least, Mario Kart Live is a welcome distraction. At the moment the windows are safe.