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Mario rides in a physical kart, part of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Photo: Nintendo

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Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit looks like a magical mixed-reality trick

But is Nintendo’s next Mario Kart game more than just a clever spin on the franchise?

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The next Mario Kart will be playable on your Nintendo Switch and the floor of your living room. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, a new mixed-reality game coming to Switch on Oct. 16, blends a physical race kart that features a built-in camera with a digital game. It looks like a magical experience, letting you turn the floors of your home into custom racetracks that you can design yourself, or with family and friends, and race on them, Mario Kart-style.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit also looks like an expensive alternative to the incredibly robust Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that’s already available on Switch, and seems like it will require a lengthy setup to enjoy for short periods of time.

We previewed Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit during a video call with Nintendo on Wednesday, where representatives for the company walked us through course creation, gameplay, and what the mixed-reality game is and isn’t capable of.

Nintendo will sell two separate sets for Mario Kart Live: a Mario set and a Luigi set. Each $99.99 set comes with its own remote controlled kart, and to help define the game’s racetrack layouts, four numbered cardboard gates and two arrow sign boards. A USB charging cable is also included to charge the kart — Nintendo said the kart’s batteries will last about 90 minutes on a charge when played at 150cc speeds.

Mario points at Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings in a screenshot from Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Image: Nintendo

To set up a course, players are required to place all four gates — no more, no less — and “paint” the layout they want. In a cute touch, this is accomplished by course cameraman Lakitu splashing the tires of Mario or Luigi’s kart with pink paint. Players then drive through all four gates, in order from one to four, to illustrate the racetrack’s path. From there, Mario or Luigi can race against Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings, or against other local players. Mario Kart Live supports up to four players, each of whom must have their own kart and their own Switch — the game does not support online multiplayer.

In addition to drawing the layout of their tracks, players can also customize what each gate does and the theme of each track. Gates can be customized to bestow speed boosts or item boxes on players, but they can also include dangerous obstacles, like a Piranha Plant, a classic Super Mario Bros. fire bar, Thwomps, or Magikoopas. Races can be themed to look like underwater courses, and there are a variety of environments, including Rainbow Road and an 8-bit mode where the course is filled with pixelated Goombas. In one environment, blobs of lava burst forth from the ground, presenting a dangerous, kart-stopping obstacle.

A top-down photo of a course layout for Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Photo: Nintendo

There are a variety of what Nintendo calls mixed-reality effects that affect how the game’s physical kart behaves. Players can pick up mushrooms from item boxes that will give the car a boost of speed, or they can be hit by a red Koopa shell that will momentarily stop the car. Players can encounter sandstorms that will affect steering and Chain Chomps will pull the car in wild directions.

Like many Mario Kart games, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit will include four racing speeds: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and 200cc. Nintendo says players should expect to carve out a 10-foot by 12-foot space for a track built for 150cc speeds, with slower speeds needing less square footage on which to race.

As players race, they’ll also earn coins. That currency can be spent on cosmetics for Mario and Luigi, and the karts they race. Nintendo showed us a handful of costumes for Mario, including Cowboy Mario, Builder Mario from Super Mario Maker, and Knight Mario from Super Mario Odyssey. Unlockable karts include the Big Scoop construction vehicle and a kart that looks like one of Bowser’s airships.

A customization menu from Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Image: Nintendo

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is, at the very least, an impressive technical marvel. Seeing Mario race around real-world environments with familiar Mario Kart visuals overlaid onscreen is, at the risk of repeating myself, pretty magical.

Watching courses come to life after drawing them on the floor of your living room will no doubt be impressive to new players and kids, and it was amusing to see Mario race past the Nintendo employee in charge of our demo while he sat on a couch and played. There are also cute touches: Mario reaches back and taps the “glass” of the camera during setup and elicits a “tonk tonk” sound, a small touch that really sells the mixed-reality vibe. But courses are always flat and seem quite short, at least compared to many of the varied, lengthy racing environments of Mario Kart 8, and courses will need to be set up from scratch every time you play.

And at $99.99 for one car, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit gets pricey pretty quickly, especially if you’re hoping to recreate the thrill of Mario Kart multiplayer on the floor of your living room, kitchen, or bedroom (Nintendo does not recommend playing it outdoors). But for the Mario Kart enthusiast who has it all — with the exception of this particular mixed-reality experience — it might just be a great holiday gift.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’s release date. It will be released on Oct. 16.