If you want a simplified version of Mario Kart on your phone without carrying around your Nintendo Switch everywhere, Mario Kart Tour does its job. But it doesn’t excel at it.
The game is already off to the races, having been downloaded over 20 million times in the first day as players hop in to enjoy some good old Mario Kart. But once that download is complete, a lot of people were disappointed, myself included.
It wasn’t going to be Mario Kart 8 on mobile, but what we got is a watered-down version of the beloved kart racer. It’s heavy-handed in its desire for your money and doesn’t live up to the hype. Not only does the simplified gameplay not feel like Mario Kart, but the limited roster and gacha style layout also made me do a double-take.
The Gameplay Has No Weight
I said earlier that this game wasn’t going to be Mario Kart 8, and I expected it to be simple. But man, this doesn’t feel good.
Not being able to control your kart’s forward movement feels awkward, drifting isn’t smooth and looks weird, and none of the impacts have any weight behind them. Whether that be collisions with players or the wall or the item usage, it isn’t bad. It just doesn’t have the same polish and care I would expect from Nintendo and this series.
It does its job as a mobile game quite fine. Mario Kart Tour is easy to pick up and play with no extremely advanced mechanics to set the bar for entry too high. Each match is fast, and the presentation is decent, so casual fans and primarily mobile gamers will fit right in.
The main issue I have is with the feel of the game because the classic Mario Kart aura is gone. Just because the game has the music, some courses, and the characters don’t make it feel like a game that belongs in the series.
Instead, this feels like one of those well done Chinese titles that use the assets and try to recreate the original thing. However, it always feels off by a few notches. None of the charm and thrill I get from playing the console versions of the game carry over, which means I likely won’t be coming back too often.
Especially since you aren’t even playing against real people, just bots with generic names. Multiplayer is coming to the game at a later date. However I have already gotten burned by the game, so there isn’t a good chance it will draw my eyes again.
At Least It Looks Nice
Nintendo knows how to make its games look great, especially when all the assets were already there for them to reuse.
The tracks look good, the characters look great, and the overall Mario Kart aesthetic is as strong as ever. Even on the smaller screen, you can tell a lot of time went into optimizing the textures and models for this game.
The same goes for the menus and little flairs that pop up during the game. They all look about how I was expecting them to look, meaning basic with some nice touches that make them stand out from the typical layout. Nothing spectacular, but it isn’t going to hurt your eyes.
Overall, the game looks good and runs well, when it isn’t crashing or stuck on loading screens.
Nintendo’s Microtransaction Style Is Still Harmful
So both Apple and Google recently released services for $4.99 per month, Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass, respectively. These services provide users access to dozens of high-quality, premium games with a lessened presence of microtransactions. That means players can download as many of those titles as they want and not need to worry at all about paying more than the monthly fee.
Meanwhile, Nintendo did not learn from its mistakes with Dr. Mario World and instead, doubled down on the microtransaction heavy features in Mario Kart Tour.
Not only is there an in-game currency called rubies you use for various purposes in the game purchasing it with real money, but there is also the Gold Pass. It serves as a season pass for the game. This season pass gives players extra rewards, exclusive gold items, and unlocks an entirely new racing mode.
Locking the 200cc race mode behind a paywall is one thing. But then offering other microtransactions on top of that for a game makes it feel like an undercooked version of several other racers on the market really stings.
You will be spending a lot of your time in Mario Kart Tour trying to unlock new racers, karts, and equipment. That’s right. There isn’t even an open roster. The game uses gacha collector mechanics, forcing you to roll the dice on getting new characters as a reward.
This game is an example of how not to use this method, whereas a game like Teppen is the opposite and does it so well.
Teppen uses its Season Pass as a way to reward players who stick with the game and try new things during each ranked season, without locking rewards behind the paywall. It is an entirely optional purchase giving players some extra experience after each match and gives them a new challenge board on top of the free to play one.
And yes, Capcom’s card game does still feature microtransactions. But they are only for card packs, which you can earn through playing the game and are given away frequently. You can also purchase and craft individual cards with resources you receive in the game.
Mario Kart Tour locks items and a mode behind a season pass that is not worth the money at all and is a complete ripoff when something like Apple Arcade exists.
Nintendo seems to have fallen hard into the world of mobile scheming after Super Mario Run failed to be the success it wanted to see. The premium purchase type of game doesn’t turn the profit that gacha style titles like Fire Emblem Heroes or Dragalia Lost do.
Because of that, it seems like we are doomed to see Nintendo do this with every game coming out from its mobile team in the future. Sure the developers at least removed the stamina system from the closed demo, but that isn’t enough to offset the bad things that are still present.
If you are someone who enjoys mobile gaming, don’t waste your time playing Mario Kart Tour. It is a downgrade in every way and isn’t even the best kart racer available on mobile.
I would highly recommend subscribing to Apple Arcade and enjoying the dozens of incredible games showcased there. That subscription also includes Sonic Racing, which is just a better version of Mario Kart Tour as both titles stand now.