Nintendo has seen great success bringing its properties to mobile devices over the past year, so there’s no question that they’re going to try to keep the wheels in motion. Most recently, these plans turned towards the Mario Kart franchise. Given the massive success of the series over the years, Mario Kart Tour has a lot to live up to in terms of quality. Unfortunately, despite a beautiful presentation and moments of genuine fun during races, aggressive monetization and the pay-to-win grind cause it to veer off the tracks.
Points for days
Mario Kart Tour is less about racing and more about style. The goal of each race isn’t inherently to come in first; it’s to pass a series of increasingly difficult score thresholds. Winning still nets you a ton of points, but you won’t be able to hit all your goals unless you drive skillfully.
During a race, drift boosting, effective item usage, and your ability to chain the two together are the keys to high scores. In some cases, like on the “T” track variants, this is rather easy. These tracks are full of jumps, allowing you to deftly chain boosts together. On other tracks, it can be rather difficult as you go through stretches where there’s not much you can do to maintain your combo.
In order to help with your score, you get a bonus based on your chosen racer and vehicle parts. In this regard, Mario Kart Tour encourages you to play with a variety of components instead of sticking to just one set. Each course also provides bonuses per component depending on how compatible they are with the track. You can certainly score high without these buffs, but since they’re freely available, you might as well take them, right?
Mario Kart Tour also helps your driving ability by giving you a small variety of control schemes and options to choose from. Each of these works well so the important thing is to find something you’re comfortable with. If experimentation is more your thing, you can switch up this style at will, even in the middle of a race.
A beautiful tracklist
Aesthetically, Mario Kart Tour knocks it out of the park. A lot of the courses are pulled from existing games in the franchise, and it’s a bit surreal to see how great these look on mobile. Of course, these tracks come along with their music tracks, and these are reproduced beautifully. Even the alternate versions of the included tracks are well crafted. The few new courses I’ve experienced thus far are great as well, and I’m hoping they’ll be included in future mainline entries. I just wish there were more to choose from.
So long, stamina
One of Mario Kart Tour‘s strongest points is how it handles extended play periods. In most mobile games, your ability to play is based on a stamina system. Once you run out of stamina, you either have to wait for it to recharge or pay to get an instant refill. Mario Kart Tour takes this system and twists it into something a bit more unique and compatible with long play sessions.
At the end of each race, the racer and pieces you’ve used will gain some experience. With enough experience, these pieces gain extra points that can then help you reach higher score thresholds. In exchange for being able to play indefinitely, however, these experience points dry up after a number of races, limiting the rate at which you can improve your characters.
A flat tire
Not everything about Mario Kart Tour is so great, however. In fact, there are quite a few areas in which the game comes up rather short. For one, the tracks are rather short. Each race consists of only two laps, so they feel like they end right after they begin. Each cup also ends on some sort of challenge, which is largely forgettable. I would’ve much rather had another race in its place.
The later stages in single-player mode are also time-locked, preventing you from progressing too far. While you can use an item to reduce this time, it’s rather easy to find yourself butting up against this artificial barrier. This also highlights a major problem in the current version — there’s no multiplayer mode. While multiplayer is planned to come at a later date, it’s inconceivable to me that Nintendo released a Mario Kart game without one of the most essential parts of the experience. Yet, here we are.
Money, money, money
As with most mobile games these days, Mario Kart Tour features a gacha system in which you can spend rubies to win random racers and vehicle parts. For what it’s worth, the rates on specific high-tier items are significantly better than in games such as Fire Emblem Heroes. However, each track has tier rankings for each racer and vehicle part, providing bonuses for crafting your craft with higher-tier components. Given that you mostly obtain racers and parts through the gacha mechanic, Mario Kart Tour often leans too far into pay-to-win territory.
What makes it even worse is the monthly membership. Though less of a pay-to-win mechanic than the gacha system, this membership unlocks the 200cc mode in addition to extra bonuses whenever you earn gifts. In particular, 200cc helps a lot with reaching score thresholds since you’re going faster, reducing the time it takes to get between chain-building aspects of the track. While not necessary to gain all the stars on each track, it certainly gives you a noticeable boost.
Close, but no cigar
Arguably, Mario Kart Tour has one of the biggest potential audiences of Nintendo’s mobile lineup, and that’s what makes its failures even more disappointing. There was so much potential to make a good Mario Kart mobile title, but short races, missing features, and aggressive monetization keep it from taking the gold.
Don’t get me wrong. When Mario Kart Tour flashes its moments of brilliance, you’ll have a bit of fun with it. As a free game, I think there’s little reason not to at least give it a shot. There’s always room for Nintendo to utilize steering assist and get this game back on track in future updates. But in its current state, it’d be difficult not to deem Mario Kart Tour the weakest of Nintendo’s current mobile offerings.