Toy reviews are not uncommon on this blog, but when they take place they’re almost always about an action figure that I bought for myself. This post is the rare toy post that’s not about one of my toys, but about a toy that belongs to my son. That’s because this Christmas Santa brought my boy a whole bunch of Mario Kart branded Hot Wheels. Given that Mario appeals to me and the Mario Kart series of video games is one of the most popular in the world, it felt like a review was a worthy endeavor for this blog.
My son has mostly been in and out of Hot Wheels since he turned 2. My dad, who tried his best to make me a gearhead, has probably been responsible for the majority of the Hot Wheels my kid has received over the years. He drifted away though with his interests going in different directions, but the Mario Kart set seemed to catch his eye when it came time to make out a list for Santa this past year. This surprised me as I had seen this set over the summer and somewhat tried to get my son interested in it, but he paid it no mind. The main track looked interesting, and the Mario Kart racers looked great. He has some interest in Mario as it is, but the games still frustrate him given that he’s only four. I thought maybe it just wasn’t the right time, but things obviously changed. And since the only other item he was insistent upon receiving as a gift this year was a cheap little game called Dragon Snacks, Santa delivered when it came to Mario Kart.
Under the tree on Christmas morning was the main racetrack, the Mario Kart Circuit. It’s an oval design of two tracks for simultaneous racing. There’s a launcher to start and then motorized boosters before the second of two long curves. Two additional sets were also present, one based on avoiding a large piranha plant and a second where the obstacle is a massive thwomp enemy. Also joining the crew was nearly every single-carded racer including the likes of Peach, Bowser, and everyone’s favorite, Waluigi.
Leading up to Christmas I had read mixed things about this set. Some YouTube videos were watched, and I saw enough to convince me that my kid would probably enjoy it. We were able to convince him to give up his seldom used Paw Patrol toys freeing up considerable space in the house for these new toys. I assembled the sets and while the main track looks intimidating, I found it rather easy to setup. Four D batteries are required to power the boosters and I don’t know when I last had something that required D batteries before this thing. Stickers are needed to dress the set up and they suck as usual, but at least there aren’t a ton of them. The secondary sets are even simpler as they don’t require batteries. The piranha plant was a little tricky to assemble, but it went together fine. That set just uses gravity to work alongside a wind-up function while the thwomp set has an elastic-powered launcher.
The main track, Mario Circuit, shares a name with a track from the actual games, but it doesn’t really resemble anything aside from the fact that it’s a basic oval design. There’s a goomba in one place and Toad’s house is inside the track and that’s mostly it as far as the big attractions go. The track itself consists of four long curve track pieces connected by straight pieces. There’s a starting gate which features a lap counter function via the two flags protruding from it. You can even “lock” the counter so that when one racer completes all of its laps the opposing side locks forcing a crash. Two launchers kick things off and getting the cars to fire off properly requires more finesse than power. My kids find it hard to produce enough force, but if I try to hit it with what I’d consider is hard force the cars go flying off the track. I found it easy to get a feel for it, but the different sized cars present a challenge (more on that later). My kids choose to ignore the launcher and just feed them into the motorized portion and they seem content with that. While the cars are in motion and racing, the spectators can utilize the turtle shell buttons to try and bump their opponent off of the track. It’s surprisingly challenging, but plenty doable, and helps extend a race.
When my son found this under the tree, he started playing with it almost immediately. We had a lot of fun, until one of the long curves started to fail. I soon noticed that the groove under the track had begun to split. Soon enough, the piece wouldn’t even stay connected so after only a few minutes of play the two-track circuit was now a one-track circuit. To his credit, my son didn’t seem to let it bother him and I quickly fired off an email to Mattel. I received a response on the 27th, and had a replacement free of charge on the 30th. It was disappointing the track broke so quickly, but at least Mattel rectified the problem in short order.
The track contains room to store other racers, which is great because we have a lot. Coming with the set was Mario and Yoshi in standard karts. The thwomp track came with Luigi in a standard kart, and the plant with a second green Yoshi, but this time in the Mach 8 kart. I appreciate the new kart for Yoshi, but why did he have to be green again when there are so many other colors of Yoshi? The single carded vehicles include Peach in a standard kart, Toad in the Sneeker, Bowser in the Bad Wagon, Waluigi in the same Bad Wagon, Wario in standard kart, Koopa Troopa in the Circuit Special, and Blue Yoshi in a standard kart. Also available is a Tanooki Mario and Rosalina. There’s also a four-pack that features a Black Yoshi and there’s supposed to be another track with Donkey Kong. I’m sure there will be more to come as well.
All of the cars seem to work to some degree on the Mario Circuit track. The characters in standard karts seem to fare the best, with Toad and the Mach 8 vehicle working just a little worse. With standard carts, I had no trouble getting vehicles to hum around the track with little interruption. The heavier racers, like Bowser especially, are a tad trickier to get a successful launch out of. For whatever reason, the inside track in particular was a challenge and sometimes I’d just give up and start them off in the booster area. Koopa Troopa works all right in his elongated vehicle, but he’s practically unusable in the smaller sets as his vehicle gets hung-up on the turnarounds. Even though they don’t all work as well as each other, the vehicles are still worth having because they look great. The only one I’m not as into is Toad and that’s because Mattel didn’t paint his steering column and wheel leaving it flesh-colored, which just looks weird. And since the dimensions on these karts are essentially the same as other Hot Wheels, they should be usable in other sets.
The smaller sets are far less impressive than the main track. Of the two, the piranha plant one works the best. You simply wind-up the plant and watch him slowly spin and dive at the track in an effort to consume a racer. The cars are gravity fed, so you just wait for an opening and let them go. It’s very easy to get a racer past the obstacle, but my son seems to like it. The thwomp track is less enjoyable. You pull back on the golden mushroom and select from three different release points, with really only the first one being usable. When the racer is fired it hits a little flapper which causes the thwomp to fall at random. Sometimes they get by, and sometimes they don’t – it’s all predicated by chance.
The appeal of the smaller sets on their own is minimal, but the real draw is that the plant and thwomp can be incorporated into the Mario Circuit track set. Mattel’s instructional images put the thwomp just after the starting launcher and the plant just before the booster piece, while some promotional images (above) feature a different, but still long, layout. When added it certainly gives the track more personality, as my main complaint with it in its base form is that it needs a touch more Mario in terms of its visuals. Unfortunately, that’s really all they add to the track. Incorporating the two of them means adding considerable length to the circuit, and the boosters just don’t provide enough power for a longer track. The standard cart characters can basically only compete a lap or two before they just fall off, while the heavier racers can’t even pull that off. It’s really not even usable in this form, which is a shame since it’s a big piece of the appeal of the set.
The good news is, you can still find other ways to make this track work. Finding the wind-up feature of the plant a bit too annoying to use with the main track, my son and I opted to simply remove it. He likes that small set on its own, so he can play with it in that fashion. We kept the thwomp, but moved it to where the plant was. This meant we had to remove a corresponding piece of track to make it fit, but the end result is we added a fun obstacle with visual flair while keeping the track still usable. It worked well when tested on a hardwood floor, though once I moved the set to my son’s room and placed it on a thin foam mat (which is on a hardwood floor) the performance dipped. That could be a result of the playing surface, or the batteries may be weakening as the cars aren’t firing from the booster with the same velocity and after a few laps some are falling on the long curve immediately after it. I hope this thing isn’t going to suck batteries that fast as it’s barely been a week.
Overall I do mostly like the main Mario Circuit track. The other two I could take or leave. I like that the track attempts to make it a competitive race with a little chaos tossed in, and it has lots of space for other cars to be parked. There are supposed to be more sets released as well. I’ve seen images for a Mario Circuit Light which is the same track, but smaller. It has launchers with warp pipe adornments which I like, but not motorized boosters which I do not like. The listings at Target’s website reference a Chain Chomp Challenge set as well, but I have not seen any images for it. These things seem to sell well, so I assume it’s still coming. I do have concerns with the performance long-term. I had one track piece break and I’ll give Mattel the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s an isolated instance, but I’m concerned it could happen again. And if my batteries are already weakening that could be a problem. If I feel the need to, I’ll return to this review and update it accordingly. For now, I’ll continue playing with my son as I keep an eye out for new racers showing up at retail.
As a final note, these sets appear to be exclusive to Target for the time being, though it looks like Amazon may now be selling them as well. The Light version of the track might not be exclusive to anyone though and a four-pack of vehicles is coming to retail soon. My assumption is this brand will expand to other retailers in time, but it’s just that – an assumption. The small sets will run you around $19.99 while the larger track retails for $79.99. I have seen it on sale numerous times though for $69.99 so you probably don’t need to spend more than that if you wish to take the jump. Individual cars are $4.99.