The Coolest Hi-Tech Toy of the Year
2020 is Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit ($99.99, requires Nintendo Switch, $299.99, sold separately)
Readers of this site know that I generally reluctant to recommend Nintendo because I have seen too many kids get "hooked" on the digital crack. I made a big exception for the Nintendo Wii, now long retired, because it encouraged kids to get up and move, a rarity back in the day of couch potatoes. (Today, for similar physical/digital cross-training-like activity I recommend the Oculus II.)
However, without a doubt, the coolest hi-tech toy of 2020 is Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, the best augmented reality implimentation I've seen. Out of the box you get a toy go-cart that is controlled by a Nintendo Switch (not included). You also get four cardboard gates, and a few other props. Unlike a regular RC vehicle, this very-real toy, is controlled and viewed through a video game. After setting the gates on your living room floor, you create a virtual track in the game by tracing a roadway while looking at the game screen. Where you draw is where the cars will race.
You play the game from the point of view of the driver of your Kart. A camera above his head shows you what he sees. The game collages that view with animated digital creations, your opponents, to make a real time cartoon that blurs the line between the real world and the digital one.
When it is time to play, your car goes up against virtual vehicles. Plus, if your friend has their own set, two carts can race against each other.
A caveat: First, the cart is designed for indoor use only.
Also, keep in mind that while the toy draws inspiration from the Mario Kart video games, it is not strictly speaking, a direct descendant of those games. It is more of a toy homage to Mario Kart than a recreation. The pace is slower, more gauged to your living room's reality. For that reason, some teens may find it too "young". School aged players, though, will delight in the magic of Mrio Kart Live: Home Circuit.
Sadly, the game seems to be in short supply as we get to the holiday season. I've listed the retail price of the one I purchased last month. I see it routinely jacked-up on-line, but am hopeful that new supplies will me lower prices as we get closer to Black Friday. Be careful of misleading product discriptions on Amazon. It is often difficult to tell if it is the Kart or the Kart and the switch being sold as a bundle. You don't want to overpay for the basic product, and worse, find out you have a worthless piece of plastic if you don't have the Switch needed to make it run.