Mario Kart Tour is out now on Android and iOS, and while players may be excited to jump into races with their favorite Nintendo characters, they have much harsher feelings for the game’s microtransactions. The new game is the first mobile iteration of the Mario Kart series, which has had spectacular success across Nintendo’s consoles and handheld platforms since Super Mario Kart was released for SNES in 1992.
Nintendo has been investing more and more in mobile titles in recent years. Its first big success in that arena was 2016’s Super Mario Run. Rather than featuring microtransactions, Super Mario Run was available as a free trial and cost $10 to unlock the full version. Nintendo abandoned that monetization strategy shortly after, employing a more typical microtransaction structure for Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and Dr. Mario World with players paying to reset various cooldown timers or unlock characters. While all of these games have done well in terms of player counts and revenue, they’ve also led to increasing complaints about Nintendo's aggressive monetization.
Mario Kart Tour continues Nintendo’s mobile monetization trend, including microtransactions with gacha mechanics and a monthly pass that grants better item drops. The random nature of the rewards players get from the game means that players can’t directly buy anything they want - they can only try their luck on a random gacha roll or pay to play the game’s Coin Rush mode, which awards coins used to purchase additional characters. Mario Kart Tour's $4.99 per month Gold Pass grants additional rewards only available to subscribers, according to Nintendo, but still doesn’t come with any guarantees. The worst part may be that the Gold Pass is the only way to play Mario Kart Tour’s 200cc races, the fastest and possibly most fun part of the game. Players have already taken to Twitter to express frustration with the game's monetization shortly after its release.
The timing of Mario Kart Tour’s release almost couldn’t be worse for getting players to accept its heavy use of microtransactions. Just in the last week, two new subscriptions services, Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass, were detailed. Each carries a $4.99 per month price tag - the same as Mario Kart Tour’s Gold Pass - and includes hundreds of full games. While developers have raised serious concerns about Google Play Pass’s revenue split, it’s undoubtedly a better deal from a consumer perspective than spending the same amount of money on the mere chance of extra loot in a single game.
Nintendo isn’t doing anything new with Mario Kart Tour’s microtransactions. They’re all based on mechanics that have been part of game monetization for years now, but stacking so many different payment systems on top of each other is bound to rub people the wrong way, especially when an entire game mode is locked behind a paywall. In some ways, it makes Mario Kart Tour look like the worst of both worlds - a bridge between old-fashioned microtransactions, which are facing tough resistance, and the subscription-based model the industry seems to be heading toward.