A Frustrating, Arbitrary Step Back For a Timeless Franchise
Mario Kart has been a long-standing mainstay for Nintendo since the days of the SNES. There’s at least one entry on every console Nintendo’s released dating back to 1992. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Mario Kart Tour makes its appearance with Nintendo’s increasing influence on the mobile games market. And it makes perfect sense. Every other accessible, broadly appealing franchise of Nintendo’s has a mobile adaptation. And they’ve all achieved varying degrees of relative success.
But those games, such as Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Pokemon GO are able to efficiently adapt their console ancestors due to their inherent gameplay styles. Generally slow, turn based, and not requiring quick reflexes and coordination. Mario Kart is the exact opposite. And the question presents itself. Can Mario Kart Tour succeed in translating the fast-paced, reflex-based gameplay of its console predecessors, and also tastefully introduce the aspects of mobile games that we’ve come to expect? No, not really. It can’t.
I’m Using Tilt Controls!
The controls in Mario Kart Tour are atrocious. However, I think that Nintendo knew that they would be a problem. You are given an assortment of toggle-able aids to make steering the kart easier. Each of these options brings about their own unfortunate set of drawbacks. Enabling manual drifting makes for the best method for racking up the most points and track wins, which unlocks additional tracks and gains the player in-game currency. However, this means that any means of conventional, non-drift steering are disabled.
Logically, enabling tilt controls should alleviate this problem. Practically, this works out about as well as tilt controls usually function. Frequent input delays often occur, leading to over-correction as you try to avoid the rapidly approaching brick wall. You will then end up smashing into another wall entirely. And this is all with smart steering enabled, which is meant to keep you on track at all times, as the problem was self-evident that the game would be nearly unplayable without it. Mario Kart Tour is certainly playable, albeit with an eternal struggle involving a core concept of the game: steering.
“Choose” Your Character
Mario Kart Tour hosts just about every character to make an appearance in the series. There’s plenty of incentive to play on and unlock them all. Each track assigns bonuses to specific characters. Should you want to access these bonuses, you need the character. And while there are no weight classes like in previous entries, inherent advantages exist based on the rarity of the drivers. As such, there’s a chance that new players are in for either a very easy time, or a very hard time. Additionally, the rate at which players acquire new drivers is scant.
Before the tutorial, I rolled for a character, and received everyone’s favorite screaming fungus, Toad. Upon completion, I was gifted another driver: Metal Mario. I would receive only these two drivers until I had already completed about 5 or 6 cups, by which point they leveled enough that I wouldn’t want to switch from them. Luckily for me, Metal Mario’s high-end rarity meant he had higher top speed than most other characters, making winning races a breeze. I assume that most other players don’t have such luck, however. And deciding between Toad’s incessant screeching, Metal Mario’s Lovecraftian gurgling, and the mute button leaves a bit to be desired in a game that’s meant to provide a wide variety of characters as a main draw.
Lonesome Rainbow Road
At first, I believed that Mario Kart Tour functioned as an online-only, multiplayer mobile game. All of your opponents have unique names in a variety of languages and alphabets. And the names themselves don’t seem unlike the typical fare you’d come to see in random matches online. There’s even a friends list within the game, presumably for interacting with other racers. Except none of them are actually players. They’re all bots; it’s all a trick.
If there wasn’t this whole facade, it wouldn’t be that weird. I’m just left a bit baffled. If there’s no multiplayer functionality, why can’t the game play without an internet connection? Are any of the names that I see real? Are the players I compete with on the weekly, global ranked leaderboards real? Am I real? Mario Kart Tour deliberately attempts to masquerade itself as a multiplayer game. But it’s not, and I have absolutely no idea why so much effort went into trying to convince the player otherwise.
Kicking the Tires
Mario Kart Tour really wants you to buy the premium currency, rubies. Like, a lot. There comes a point once leveling yourself up slows down where rubies go from difficult to obtain to plain difficult to find. Eventually, rubies will only come as challenge prizes or weekly leaderboard rewards, provided you place. And some challenges require specific characters that you can’t obtain unless you have the rubies to roll for more drivers, which just seems an arbitrary exercise to ensure reliance on the monetization mechanics.
Overall, the game itself feels arbitrary. This game was going to come out whether it was good or bad. It looks just like the Mario Kart that you know and love, but it only plays as close as they could achieve in a short period of development time. That is to say, Mario Kart Tour isn’t exactly a labor of love, but rather a labor, plain and simple.
Is it Hardcore?
Looks just like Mario Kart, doesn’t really play like Mario Kart. Frustrating controls and progress that almost necessitates the purchasing of premium currency mar this entry. Fine as a time waster up until progress stalls.