Mario Kart Tour has the potential to be a fun addition to the series, but it doesn't take long for the microtransactions to spoil the experience.
Mario Kart Tour is Nintendo's latest venture into the mobile gaming market that involves cramming one of its beloved first-party franchises into a smartphone. Nintendo managed to make a functional and fun Mario Kart game for smartphones that doesn't require a controller to play, but its bright spots have been overshadowed by the same frustrating gacha mechanics that were used in games like Dr. Mario World.
The idea of Nintendo making a Mario Kart games for mobile phones might seem ridiculous at first, but it makes sense from a business standpoint, as Mario Kart has outsold some of Nintendo's biggest franchises, like Pokémon and Super Smash Bros. for years now. Mario Kart Tour has adapted the gameplay of the series to mobile phones by simplifying it. The player has different options for controls, which include steering left and right using the touchscreen or turning the phone itself using Gyro Handling. The controls in Mario Kart Tour take a lot of getting used to and the fans expecting the same level of precision that is present in the other games will be disappointed, but they are functional.
Mario Kart Tour follows the example of recent Mario Kart games by allowing the player to choose a driver, kart, and glider before each race. The player is given a single driver for free at the start of the game and the rest need to be unlocked with the loot box mechanics. The unique item feature from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is back, but the main reason to choose specific drivers is that each one has a different bonus when playing on specific track. If the player wants to race on the Yoshi Circuit, then picking Yoshi as the driver will net them three items per box, while the other characters will only get one or two item slots. A similar mechanic is used for the karts and gliders, with some giving more bonus points at the end of the race than others.
The gameplay of Mario Kart Tour is a watered-down version of the other Mario Kart games. There is currently only a single-player mode available at the time of writing and it consists of races against computer-controlled opponents. The races only have two laps each and the A.I. seems less harsh than it does in other Mario Kart games, which makes the game feel rather easy. It's a lot more difficult to crash into obstacles than it is in other Mario Kart games, to the point where everything feels as if it's coated in rubber. What makes the game even easier is the addition of an Item Ticket that can be used once per race to instantly fill the empty slots. If the player is racing as a driver with three item slots and they get three of the same item, then they enter Frenzy mode that lets them use as many of that item as they want, so a Red Shell Frenzy gives the player constant Red Shells for a few seconds that they can fire at will.
Mario Kart Tour would have been an enjoyable, but flawed entry into the series if it were not for the monetization aspects of the game. The currencies include rubies, which are purchased with real money or occasionally won through completing in-game challenges, and coins, which can be earned in paltry amounts in races. Rubies can be spent on Pipes (aka, the loot boxes) and they have a chance of unlocking drivers, karts, and gliders. The drop rates for Pipes in Mario Kart Tour can be as low as .3%, which means that people who want specific characters & items will be stuck unless they are very lucky or are willing to pay money for rubies. The coins can also be used to purchase specific items from a rotating list, but the player doesn't earn many coins by racing. The easiest way to get coins is to use the Coin Rush mode, but it costs rubies to enter a single race.
In order to be able to reach new tournaments and tracks in Mario Kart Tour, the player needs to earn Grand Stars to unlock them. The easiest way to earn Grand Stars is by getting a high score on each track, but coming in first place isn't always enough. The player will have an easier time getting a high score by entering the race with specific karts & gliders, encouraging the player to hit the Pipe or seek out coins. All of these currency requirements feel as if the game is subtly pressuring the player to spend money in order to hasten things along, in a similar manner to the microtransactions in Dr. Mario World. Mario Kart Tour might be improved when the multiplayer mode is launched, but the addition of things like multiple item slots, Item Tickets, and the Frenzy mode suggests that even that mode would be ruined by favoring the players who spent money on the game.
Mario Kart Tour has impressive graphics for a mobile game and the soundtrack is still as amazing as ever. The gameplay on its own is fun in short bursts, but it doesn't live up to the other entries in the series. It's entirely possible to enjoy Mario Kart Tour without spending a dime, but the game can never quite escape the sleazy shadow of its true nature - a loot box delivery system. The backlash against microtransactions in Mario Kart Tour has already begun and the game isn't quite addictive enough to warrant its monetization practices. It feels as if Mario Kart Tour will be remembered as one of Nintendo's ill-fated attempts to sell out to the mobile gaming grind market, rather than being a true entry in the series.
Mario Kart Tour is available now for Android and iOS devices.