Hands-On: Mario Kart Tour

Nintendo seems to be getting more comfortable in the mobile gaming market. At first they just tested the waters with games like Miitomo and Super Mario Run, but now they have several games released and planned for smart devices. It’s obvious there is a lot of money to be made here, and with the success of Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, they aren’t going to stop creating new game any time soon. Their latest mobile outing is Mario Kart Tour and I had some quality time with the beta. The final game is still pending so we’ll score it once it’s officially available.

When people first heard about Mario Kart Tour, no one really knew what to expect. It was hard to gather what kind of game it was meant to be as all of the marketing for it was very ambiguous. It wasn’t even called a game, they referred to it as a service. So people speculated that it could just be a service that ties into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or future Mario Kart titles. Luckily we ended up with a full fledged version of prior installments. In some regards the title feels a lot like the 3DS game, except with upgraded visuals and the reliance on touch controls.

After viewing all of the Nintendo’s mobile games, they seem to have a specific way they want people to play them. For whatever reason, the developers insist on making their games playable with just one hand. This means all of their games are played in portrait mode instead of landscape, whereas pretty much every other racing game on mobile devices has you holding the screen horizontally. Many of the traditional Mario Kart controls are automatic, such as acceleration and drifting. You turn the kart by swiping left or right on the screen and depending on how hard you turn your kart will start to drift. When you pick up an item you can either tap the screen to use it or in the case of a Green Shell or other projectiles you can swipe down to throw it behind you. All of the traditional controls translate well to the single-handed configuration, and you can even turn on motion steering if you so choose.

As far as content goes the beta starts off strong. Right off the bat about half of the Mario Kart 8 roster is at your disposal. The kart customization is also strong, yet it only has about 1/10th of the parts from the console version (remember this is a beta and things will most likely be added down the road). Though make no mistake that you don’t start off with all of those unlocked, you’re going to have to earn that premium currency if you want to fill up your roster. Both characters and karts can be pulled randomly from warp pipes in the shop, with there being occasional promotions focusing on specific characters and karts. During the beta, the two focused characters were Metal Mario and Rosalina, and you can bet that this reviewer didn’t pull either of them. Thankfully premium currency isn’t the only way to obtain new rides. The shop also has occasional sales where you can spend coins collected during races to purchase karts. As of now, it’s unsure if characters will also be put on sale for coins.

Now the biggest concern people might have for this game is if it will be pay to win, and from what I have gathered its a bit of a mixed bag. The way the game is set up is that certain characters and karts give added bonuses depending on what stage you are on. Depending on the kart options you choose you can stock up to three items in a track, or you can get a boost in your speed. While this feels very pay to win, they try balancing it out so that even very common karts can give you high bonuses if you use them on their preferred stages. Both characters and karts are set on a tier system, from Common to Super Rare. But the good news is that the rarity of the characters/karts doesn’t give an unfair advantage in the races themselves, rather they are used for a point system. However, characters do have special skills and perks that you can unlock by collecting duplicate characters. These skills range from allowing you to have the chance to pick up an item specific to that character, similar to Mario Kart Double Dash, or just small little perks like collecting more coins per race.

When you complete a race you will be awarded points depending on how well you performed. Depending on how many points you earned in a race you will be rewarded with Stars, which after collecting a bunch will reward you with gifts such as premium in-game currency. How well you do in a race will also increase your player level, which will need to be raised in order to unlock some features in the game. While super rare characters and karts do help boost your overall score in a race, the points you earn is tied more into your skills. Hitting opponents with items, staying in the lead, and getting in first place all score you some nice points. Also, each race can be played between 50cc to 200cc, and depending on how fast you set the race you will get a nice added bonus in points due to the higher difficulty.

While the point system isn’t bad, it just doesn’t feel properly structured for a Mario Kart game. In this game, you have several different cups to choose from, about as many as in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. But here’s the catch. Many of the tracks in this game are reused in those cups. The point objective of the game makes each cup feel like levels rather than traditional Mario Kart cups. So more often than not you will be replaying the same track multiple times throughout different cups. This game also has a very lackluster track list, with roughly 12 tracks in total being in the beta. Those 12 tracks are reused throughout all 16 cups, which again just feels wrong given how Mario Kart has always set up its cups. With that many cups in the game, you would have expected to see far more than just 12 tracks. It’s highly likely that future updates of the game will include new tracks to race on, but the way it’s set up now just feels wrong.

Another issue with the game is its lack of game modes. Beyond racing through cups, there is a coin rush mode that you need tickets to play. All you do is race around a track that just happens to have far more coins than usual for you to collect. It would have been really cool to see the mission mode from Mario Kart DS make a return in this outing – a perfect fit for mobile. What is insulting is that hints of that mode appear in this game, but they are part of the cups. The final race in each cup isn’t a normal race, but instead a mission requiring you to complete an objective such as racing through rings or performing a certain action. It would have been so much better to reserve those missions for their own game mode, while the cups are reserved for normal races. Restricting missions to just one race per cup feels like a huge missed opportunity for an additional game mode.

Another oddly missing feature of this game is competitive play. When you play normal races the game makes you think that you are racing against real opponents, but in reality, you are just racing against A.I opponents. This isn’t a bad thing since it makes completing the cups much easier, but it does feel strange that there is no real multiplayer element to this game. No multiplayer matches, no new take on the battle mode, no adding friends, nothing. Granted, the final version of the game could include all of these things, but typically a beta is utilized to test network servers and online functions, which clearly wasn’t the case here.

The jury is still out on this one. I look forward to playing the finished product. What’s here was fun, but it was definitely not ready for prime time.

 

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