After a summer filled with hype for a new Mario Kart title, and dread that it being on mobile meant it'll be jam-packed full of microtransactions, Mario Kart Tour has finally arrived. It's the spinoff franchise's first foray into mobile, but not Nintendo's. It's clear that Nintendo has learned some lessons from its past mistakes on the platform, but still has a long way to go before it corrects all of them. While incredibly addictive, there are pitfalls.
Finding & Keeping The Casual Fan
Players familiar with the Mario Kart franchise will recognize a lot of what's on offer in Tour. As with any game from the franchise, it relies on Mario Kart games of the past, as well as bringing something new to the table to appeal to as big an audience as possible. Tracks from previous Mario Kart games feature heavily, except this time, we're racing through them portrait-style.
When it comes to what Mario Kart Tour is trying to be, it actually hits the nail right on the head. As a mobile game that is probably going to be downloaded millions of times, it needs to appeal to as many potential players as possible. Believe it or not, that probably includes a lot of people who aren't all that familiar with other Mario Kart games. Yes, the familiar characters and tracks will draw in franchise fans, but it's the casual, mobile game-playing crowd Nintendo really needs to not only attract, but keep once it has them.
It does that successfully in a number of ways. Firstly, two-lap races. Dropping one lap from Mario Kart's regular format might not seem like much, but it will make all the difference to the casual player with a short attention span. How easy the game is for the first couple of cups plays into this too. It was a relief to discover that the difficulty actually ramps up after playing for a little while.
As mentioned above, Nintendo also appears to have learned from past mistakes in the mobile world. Who remembers Super Mario Run? The mobile game that led us to believe it was free, only for all but the first few levels to be hidden behind a paywall. Mario Kart Tour does not do that. However, it is riddled with microtransactions. Coins, rubies, tickets... there are a lot of currencies to keep an eye on.
Where'd My Items Go?
Although hardened Mario Kart players will feel right at home playing Tour, there is a slight learning curve. The game does rely on a touch screen after all, although you can change that to tilt controls to make it feel more like the Wii and Switch versions of the game. Sticking to the touch screen controls isn't a bad thing though, and is extremely easy to get the hang of. Again, the game also needs to appeal to the casual player. Over-complicated controls will only drive them away.
Switching between tilt and touch controls isn't the only way in which players can customize the game to their liking. A quick trip to the settings menu offers a wealth of options to turn on and off. Manual Drift, Smart Steering, and a new element called Auto-Item. Upon picking up a new item, your racer will launch the ones he or she has been holding onto. That can get quite annoying for item hoarders.
Coins, Rubies, Tickets, & Microtransactions
Earlier this year, a few lucky players had the chance to play a beta version of the game. A fair few worries arose from that, most of which revolved around players having to pay to play. Some karts and characters having better attributes than others, and players willing to pay money having a higher chance of acquiring them. Sadly, there is an element of that. Nintendo is very open about it, though. Players spend rubies for a chance to launch the pipe which is where new karts, characters, and items emerge. The odds of each item appearing can be found in the app. However, that doesn't excuse the fact that players willing to spend the money on extra rubies have a higher chance of acquiring items that will give them an edge.
Close, But No Ci-Kart
Nintendo hasn't completely nailed down the mobile game format, but it is definitely getting there. Mario Kart Tour is its best attempt to date. Although there are countless microtransactions to come to grips with, and players who spend real money potentially gaining an advantage, its setup means the game is equally as enjoyable whether players spend money on it or not. Tour feels a little like Mario Kart meets Candy Crush meets Fortnite (thanks to the Gold Pass, which is similar to Fortnite's Battle Pass) and has managed to take both good and bad elements from all three worlds.
3.5 Out Of 5 Stars
Mario Kart Tour is available now for iOS and Android devices.