Welcome to the Mario Kart Tour Review. The premise is at once simple and wonderfully creative: Players pair a physical Kart—both Mario and Luigi versions are available—to their Nintendo Switch and then drive it like a remote control car.
You create your own tracks using cardboard gates and bumpers that the Kart can identify with its built-in camera. That same camera sends the display back to your Nintendo Switch, and blends the real world—aka your kitchen floor or living room—with the game.
So while it may appear as though you’re merely driving a cute Mario Kart around your kitchen, in the game itself you’ll be racing against opponents through various and varied terrains—ice tracks and jungles, even rainbow roads. It works like a charm.
It’s also kind of hilarious when you glance up from a frenetic race filled with zipping red shells and squid ink and chompers and flames and all the rest, and notice your little real world Kart all by itself driving calmly across the floor.
We took this little clip very early on with the game as we were still learning the ropes, but it’s still a good example of what to expect:
As I said, this isn’t a gimmick. I enjoy it quite a lot more than I ever did Nintendo’s other cardboard experiment, Labo. For one thing it’s very simple to put the Gates together, and set up a course using Gates and other obstacles. I found my kitchen had so many built-in obstacles I didn’t need to use any cones or cups or what-have-you—chairs and feet and the occasional curious dog all served nicely—but more open spaces provide more opportunities for innovation in track design.
The really great thing about this game is that it’s a full-fledged Mario Kart experience. You can play on 50cc all the way up to 200cc. You unlock new vehicle and player skins as you gather coins in matches. Racing is a lot like Mario Kart 8. The handling is surprisingly similar given that you’re driving a real Kart.
You can drift to get speed boosts and doing so, as well as using mushrooms, will give the real-world Kart a boost also. If you enjoy Mario Kart 8 you will absolutely enjoy this game as well, though you’ll have, depending on your space and creativity, way more opportunities to change up the tracks.
Tracks themselves are essentially just skins for whatever course you put together. The same physical course can have any number of software imprints, so racing through a Grand Prix you’ll be on the same physical course, with different augmented reality obstacles, music and so forth. Freezing ice blocks, roaming Goombas and any number of other software baddies join forces with chair legs and cupboard doors to transform your living space into a thrilling track.
Creating a course is incredibly simple. Simply set up your gates and whatever else you have laying around, select the course creation option, and then drive once around the track however you please. Once you’ve done this, a colorful track will appear on the screen, showing you where to drive in an actual race.
When it comes to course creation, your best bet is tile or wood flooring. The Kart will handle carpet decently, and some outdoor terrain, though this is no remote control monster truck. It won’t manage going over much of a lip, actually, so if there’s any kind of lip between rooms you’ll want to devise a ramp. Too much light can mess with the camera also, which makes outdoor play problematic—too bad, too, given many players will have limited indoor space.
Once the course is created you can select different races and then race against AI opponents or, if you have another Kart and another Switch, against other real opponents, too. I didn’t test multiplayer, but it’s there.
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It’s a shame that you need a second Switch/Kart bundle (the game costs $99 on its own). It would be cool if Nintendo included an option for a second player using a paired controller or a second Switch to play without a physical Kart.
Of course, you won’t have quite the spectacle of a traditional Mario Kart game. No jumps, for instance. No flying over huge gaps. But you will have the added spectacle of racing your Kart between your own legs or under your kitchen table or, well, whatever else you can cook up. Your home is the limit, for better or worse.
Crashing into both real-world physical items like chair legs and in-game obstacles will result in a loss of coins. It’s pretty crazy how well it works. Run your Kart into something and you really feel it in the game as Mario drives smack into whatever surface and coins go flying.
The crazy thing about this game is that it’s really mostly about the software and the ability of the Kart’s built-in camera to bring your home tracks to life on your Nintendo Switch. You really won’t notice the Kart much at all (until it bumps into your foot). All the action is happening on screen. Your house is just the scenery. The toy is just a vessel for the camera. You’ll be staring at the screen 99% of the time—seeing your home from the point of view of the Kart, not the Kart itself.
As with all physical items, this one comes with some downsides. The game is limited by terrain and light. The Kart can’t jump and its battery will die after an hour-and-a-half or so, and then take several hours to recharge (via USB-C). The physical nature of the game presents its own problems as well. Cardboard gates don’t need to be weighted down, but if you don’t and you run into one it’ll move. Just having big cardboard gates around can be a pain, though they do fold back up. And you’ll want to keep your floors clean and uncluttered (which, hey, that’s not a bad thing!)
These are the sort of limitations you’d expect, and they never really hampered my experience with the game, though I did find myself wishing I had an underground basketball court or secret bunker. Something with tons of space and limited light could be a track designer’s paradise. Ah well, I’ve been planning to replace all our carpets with wood flooring to match the dining room and living room. Once that’s done I can really have a go.
Minor setbacks aside, this is a very fun Mario Kart game in its own right. Not quite the feature-rich experience that Mario Kart 8 is, but a very fun, very clever game nonetheless. It’s delightful and will certainly be fun for all ages and a great party game for whenever you feel comfortable having parties again. There’s even a driving assist mode for very young (or, uh, very old) players which will help them navigate courses without having to do much more than accelerate and reverse. Fun for the whole family, in other words. Peak Nintendo.