Mario Kart Tour Review: A global outing that certainly can’t be missed
Played On: Mobile
With Pokémon GO being such a success for Nintendo and showing that their iconic properties could be experienced and enjoyed on everyone’s smartphones. It was only a matter of time before we saw another one of their properties making their way on mobile – and who better else than Mario. Mario is no stranger to being on mobile with games like Super Mario Run, but instead of just having return for a mobile platformer, Nintendo decides to break out the karts and take the Mario Kart franchise global – literally. Mario Kart Tour is the newest iteration in the franchise that lets players not only race around classic tracks, but new ones inspired by real locations around the world.
When the game first came out, I was immediately hooked on the concept and since then, I’ve not only been playing like a madman, but have actually started to overcome some of the initial issues I had with the game as Nintendo has updated some of the features. The one main concern that I initially had for the game when it was announced was how the controls were going to work. Movement has always been a tough thing on mobile as touch screens aren’t the most reliable and things can get messy with an abundance of gameplay mechanics. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem for Tour as Nintendo made the smart move in having players accelerate automatically and, for the most part, using invisible walls to keep players on the track. Sure, the idea of pitfalls and turning too hard into sand or thick grass is pretty much gone, but it makes sense from a game developers’ perspective as constant crashing would probably end up just making the game crash.
Turning is also a little different here as players have the option to either turn by rotating their phone left and right or slide the finger at the bottom of the screen left or right. Personally, rotating the phone seems like a flawed method as it makes it harder to see, so I think it’s better to stick to sliding your finger as it actually responds very well. There were very few issues I ran into with it other than occasionally tapping one of the buttons at the very bottom of the screen and firing an item the wrong way because it can be a little touchy. Speaking of those buttons, at first, I wasn’t into the idea of the button that allows players to look behind them being at the bottom because accidentally tapping it can lead to annoying problems. However, with the most recent patch, Nintendo has put that button in a better position and replaced it with a drift button that makes that feature a little easier.
Drifting is also a little different on mobile as there’re two options for players to choose from – Automatic or Manual. With Automatic, players will automatically initiate drift by going into turns and can get up to two speed boosts. With Manual, though, players will have to initiate drift themselves, but can achieve a higher drift level that can earn them a better boost. This isn’t too different from the options that in more recent Mario Kart games and the game does a fair job reminding players that the option is available. As a whole, the pop-up notifications for the game aren’t that egregious, but the same can’t be said about the pop-ups for the gold pass subscription. At first there, were no ads for it, but recently they’ve been promoting the hell out of it to the point of total annoyance. It appears after everything you do, from completing cups to redeeming gifts, and the visuals of ad just look cheap.
Honestly, one of the issues I have with tour is how cheap looking it looks at face value. There’re times where it looks like one of those garbage casino slot machines and it looks terrible. Thankfully, though, that can’t be said about the gameplay visuals because they look great. The tracks, karts, and characters are greatly detailed and even look better than most of the other games in the series. Not to mention, the music is just as great as always and driving around some of the classic tracks is an absolute blast. However, the tracks that Tour has have left me a little mixed because of the lack of variety that’s offered when a new tour is introduced.
Each tour, or essentially each season, lasts about two weeks and generally comes with a themed track, characters, and karts based on the tour’s location. The rest of courses that players will be racing on throughout the season consist of classic tracks from previous games as well as variants of all the tracks. Basically, the variants are just either going reverse, which is basically mirror mode, or a remixed version of it. While the variants and selection of classic tracks are solid, racing on the same tracks over and over again makes the experience feel stale. Even as a new tour is introduced, the courses constantly repeat so it’s as like you’re not experiencing anything new at times.
I will say, though, while the starting roster of characters was incredibly slim at first as mainstream characters like Luigi and Wario weren’t even available at first, more characters have been steadily added with each new tour. While I do question the pace at which they initially released batches of characters because of how quickly they might run out, the roster now at least feels like a real roster. Even the idea of having themed versions of Mario, Peach, and other characters is great and is a nice way to expand the roster and make the themes more impactful. When Halloween rolled around, they actually implemented a theme for Luigi’s Mansion 3, so there’s definitely a possibility for other Nintendo franchises, like Animal Crossing, to make a timely appearance. Even the karts and gliders take this effect as well and Tour adds a whole new meaning to choices you make.
While Tour is just like any other kind of Mario Kart in that nabbing first place is the ultimate goal, there’s a new points system that changes the way players will approach races. Characters, karts, and gliders are now ranked before each race based on the course and cup players are in so players will want to make their selections carefully in order to earn more items from item boxes and point multipliers. Good choices could also earn players more points, which are earned by completing actions like jump off ramps and hitting other racers with items, so that they can earn Grand Stars. Earning these stars allows players access to new cups and gifts to earn new items. The new points system is actually one of my favorite aspects about Tour as it allows for a lot of replayability and sets new goals for racing other than coming in first. When the game first released, the balance in earning points and stars was definitely off and even while it’s still not perfect, the effort to make it more balanced shows.
The one thing that is key, though, to a great mobile game is pacing – making sure that players can have something new everyday and not leveling up characters or earning coins too fast. Tour has this down pat as players are always given new reasons to come back and play every day. From different sets of challenges that come with each tour to the rotating items and rewards that enter the shop, there’re plenty of reasons to come back. Not to mention, players will earn enough rewards each day to not even have to worry about or need the micro-transactions that are in place.
The one aspect that’s still strange and a little disappointing about Tour, though, is that the game that’s supposed to take Mario Kart on a global level on your smartphones is still a single-player experience. While they want you to think that you’re playing against other players as opposing racers are given names that seem like a person would create, you’re not. It actually annoyed me at first that they did this because it almost feels as if they are trying to pull the wool over players eyes that the game still doesn’t have online multiplayer, but it has grown on me. It’s kind of fun to see what names the game will come up with and there have been some that make me laugh. However, not having online multiplayer months after the game’s released feel like the full game isn’t really here so it’s disappointing to see that.
Tour is another strong addition to an already great franchise and offers a new kind of experience that’ll be hard for fans not to love. It’s fun as hell, innovative, and challenges players in new kinds of ways. So long as Nintendo continues to make updates, take the Mario and the rest of the crew to different locations around the world, and eventually add multiplayer, Mario Kart Tour could easily be one of the best Mario Kart games ever.