‘Mario Kart Tour’ Is A Car Crash Of A Mobile Cash-In
It's not that Mario Kart Tour is terrible. It's just that, I don't get it. I've sat for about an hour with the newly released mobile entry in Nintendo's long-running racing series, and I'm still no clearer on who Nintendo is targeting here. It just makes no sense.
Oh, wait. It's all about the money, isn't it. Obviously. Obviously. How could we have been so blind as to think that this pocket-sized, microtransactions-laden product was anything but a cynical cash-in on the popularity of the Mario Kart brand?
Don't be fooled, then, into thinking that Mario Kart Tour is a fun twist on an established format, in the same vein as Super Mario Run was in 2016. And yes, I appreciate that game was a premium release, highly priced for its marketplace, but you got what you paid for: a complete experience, free of pressure to spend a penny more.
The free-to-start (once you've signed into your Nintendo account) Mario Kart Tour, however, is a series of dodgy races that reward you poorly and regularly encourages you to spend real money on shiny rubies. These are needed to get your mitts on new racers, karts, gliders and more by firing 'The Pipe', which spits out a random prize each time. In-game coins can also be used to buy new stuff in the shop, removing the random element but items are time-restricted as 'Daily Selects' - at the time of writing only one new racer could be bought, Dry Bones.
And the rubies don't come cheap. Just 10 of them costs £5.99 - and each blast of The Pipe costs five rubies. That's a bad deal, guys. The more you spend, the better the exchange rate is - drop £64.99 in Mario Kart Tour and you'll unlock 135 rubies. But for that money you could buy Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch and have enough change to get a mate over and order pizza and pudding in for the pair of you.
Yes, you do unlock stuff as you play, by completing cups which are, in turn, revealed by earning 'Grand Stars' in earlier races. But it's slow going, and will frustrate those wanting to dive into a host of characters at the outset. Of course, you could log on and buy the New York Set right now, for the small sum of £19.99, bagging you 45 rubies and meaning you can play as Mario without the gacha odds being against you. Twenty quid, to definitely play as Mario, in Mario Kart. You can't make this stuff up.
Alternatively there's a Gold Pass, yours for £4.99 a month, can be purchased to provide greater benefits, including a 200CC mode for races. (Yes, the higher-speed setting is locked behind a paywall, brilliant.) But for that money you could be enjoying a whole ad-free, no-microtransactions month of Apple Arcade, which features some of the best new mobile games around, including Mini Motorways and Sayonara Wild Hearts. If I had an iPhone, I know which of the two options I'd be spending my money on.
But what about the racing itself, I hear you cry. Yeah, about that. It's... it works, just about. You slide your thumb - or thumbs, as using two is easier - to turn or power-slide around corners, swipe up or down to use projectiles, and tap on power-up items like mushrooms to activate them. A button at the bottom allows you to swing the camera around to see behind you, but close opponents will always be highlighted on the screen anyway; and there's no way you can fall off the edge of circuits, which is handy as the steering is about as far away from precise as any racer can be.
Ah, who am I kidding? The racing is bad. You don't go from nailing apexes with millimetre precision in MK8 to... whatever the hell this is. Sure you can string together a few neat corners, and build up combos as you hit boost pads, triggering score multipliers. But it's all so clunky, so free of feedback, and it's very easy to wind up wiggling down the road as your thumbs simply can't get Toad or Bowser or whoever to just drive in a straight line. Sheesh.
There's a smattering of courses from previous series entries, including Cheep Cheep Lagoon and Rock Rock Mountain from Mario Kart 7, and Mario Circuit 1 from the very first Super Mario Kart makes a reappearance. But nostalgia can only carry Mario Kart Tour so far. Multiplayer at launch might have made it a more appealing app to stick with, but with that functionality strictly "inbound!" right now, I don't envisage firing this up again while idly mucking about with my phone.
Mario Kart on the move is a good thing, a great thing - and that's why Mario Kart 7 and 8 are such hits on their respective platforms. MK8 is wedged inside my Switch as I type. But this? This ain't it, Nintendo. If you already love Mario Kart, chances are you're burying your face in one of those numbered games on your travels; and if not, is a freemium mobile game really likely to be your way in? If this was my first Mario Kart experience, it'd also be my last.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo