A few years ago, Nintendo’s real-life-meets-video-game Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit turned my pandemic home into a theme park racecourse for my kids. Now, Mattel and Hot Wheels have created a new mixed-reality game for remote-controlled cars with Mario Kart Live developer Velan.
Hot Wheels Rift Rally, arriving March 14 for $130, is an RC car video game that races around on your real-world floor.
And just like Mario Kart Live, it’s a lot of fun.
You need a Nintendo Switch to play Mario Kart Live, but Hot Wheels Rift Rally works with iPhones, iPads and the PlayStation 4 and 5. It can cross-play between them, either locally or with others online.
I played with the Rift Rally for about an hour in New York. The concept is similar to Mario Kart Live: A camera-enabled RC car streams its point of view to your TV or Apple device. From there, you drive the car and see the real world augmented with all sorts of video game special effects and a glowing race track.
The twist with Rift Rally is that the car itself, a sort of futuristic compact race car called the “Chameleon Car,” can transform in-game into 140 different Hot Wheels cars. It works weirdly well. Even though the physical car drives around your home the same way, in-game you see a different car appear, along with different driving physics and speeds.
Much like Mario Kart Live, the camera-equipped car works along with four included gates that form marker waypoints for your real-world race track. These can get dropped anywhere, and then the car drives through them and anywhere else to “paint” a track. Once that’s done, augmented reality effects sprout up all around, along with virtual race car opponents, to make a race experience that’s in your actual home.
The experience, zooming through your real world and floor-level obstacles as if you’ve been shrunken down to toy size, feels like a car-based version of drone racing. Rift Rally’s mix of TV via PlayStation or iPhone/iPad controls flexes the experience out around your home in a similar way that the Switch’s Mario Kart Live could work on-Switch or with the TV dock.
Rift Rally has some key improvements over Mario Kart Live: It can work at larger and smaller scales. By also connecting with Wi-Fi networks instead of just your iPhone, iPad or PlayStation, the cars can work across larger home spaces. I drove my car all through a four-room apartment while sitting on a sofa, watching my race car zip under beds and around kitchen cabinets. Besides the race modes, there are also stunt modes that could be set up without all the big race gates, meaning you could possibly play around in a smaller corner of your home more easily. Still, these cars are big; much bigger than your everyday Hot Wheels car. They’re roughly the size of the Mario Kart Live cars, and run for about 2 hours on a charge.
Rift Rally works with up to four car racers at once in the same room, or has split-screen multiplayer with one real car and everyone else driving virtual ones that can collide with the RC car on the race track. But, like Mario Kart Live, the cars aren’t meant to be used outdoors unless they’re on a flat driveway. (They’re not made to handle debris, dirt or water.)
At $130 — or $150 for a “deluxe” version that also comes with an actual collector’s Hot Wheels car — this game is more expensive than Mario Kart Live, which cost $100 at launch. But if you don’t have a Nintendo Switch and want to try to shrink yourself down into a mixed-reality RC racing game, this looks like your best bet.