Mario Kart Tour's Microtransactions Feel Gross In A Post-Apple Arcade World

Mario Kart Tour is a fine racing game. The graphics are lovely. The simple touch controls are fine once you get used to them. It’s overflowing with colourful Nintendo brand polish. Mario Kart Tour is also a free-to-play game with a microtransaction-fuelled gacha collection mechanic and game options and rewards locked behind a paid monthly subscription. If that second part doesn’t bother you, you might have a good time with Nintendo’s latest mobile game.

“Nintendo games still don’t feel right on mobile,” wrote Gita Jackson in late 2017, commenting on the strange dissonance felt while playing games like Fire Emblem Heroes, Super Mario Run and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp after years playing the deeper console games in those series.

Two years later, after Dr. Mario World and now Mario Kart Tour, and that dissonance remains. Games we’ve spent years playing on Nintendo consoles feel weird on phones and tablets. Especially when a game like Mario Kart gets turned on its side.

In part, I mean that literally. What an odd choice, taking a game we’re used to playing in landscape mode and making it portrait. The narrow screen makes it more difficult to see competitors coming up alongside your racer. It’s not a great view on my iPad. It’s even worse on my skinnier iPhone. Having played the game for a couple of hours now, I still feel the urge to turn the whole thing around in my hands.

I’m used to holding down the accelerator button as I race through Mario Kart tracks. That’s not what happens in Mario Kart Tour. Karts move forward automatically. All I have to do is tap left or right to steer (there’s a gyroscope steering option but it’s rubbish). It takes a while to get a feel for how and when to start drifting, and different kart models have their own handling profiles, but after four or five races it’s not bad.

As alien as Mario Kart Tour can feel at first, it’s not really the gameplay or screen orientation that makes it feel like the awkward cousin of a proper Mario Kart game. It’s the structure. It’s collecting stars awarded for achieving high scores in races to unlock new circuits. It’s tracks where certain racers have distinct advantages over others. Musician Mario, one of the special racers available during the game’s New York City-themed opening event, has a special power that grants him two Bob-ombs instead of one when he collects that power-up. Looking at his racer page, we can see which courses grant him three items per power-up box.

Certain racers having a distinct advantage over others in certain situations isn’t great. The game’s gacha feature, in which players can spend in-game currency for a chance to unlock rare racers, means that players who pay more have a better chance at having the right racer, kart, and glider combo to get maximum bonus points on any course they play. That’s verging on pay-to-win, even though there’s no real-time multiplayer in the game — currently, players race against computer-controlled ghosts with real players’ names attached to them.

Mario Kart Tour isn’t quite as greedy as it was during beta. The test version of the game Ethan Gach played earlier this year had a stamina/energy metre, one of the most obnoxious free-to-play mechanics, as well as premium currency called green gems that offered players better rewards the more they purchased.

The launch version of the game lets you play all you want. The green gems are now rubies, and doesn’t seem to reward you for buying more of them. Instead, there’s a $7.99 monthly Gold Pass subscription that grants players better rewards for completing races (including extra rubies), exclusive vehicles and equipment, and access to more challenging 200cc races.

Is an optional monthly subscription better than earning rewards for buying currency? Not really. Especially when Mario Kart Tour launched just days after Apple Arcade, a subscription service with more than 70 high-quality, microtransaction-free games for the same $7.99 price. Apple Arcade is mobile gaming without all the bullshit. Mario Kart Tour is a Nintendo game with a big extra helping of bullshit.

According to app data website Apptopia, Mario Kart Tour shattered launch-day records yesterday, with more than 10.1 million installs across iOS and Android devices. The idea of a free Nintendo mobile game is an attractive prospect for many, many people. I wonder how long that will last.


Comments

    ive played about 8 hours and never once felt the need to spend a cent. ive done about 10 cups, all to 5 starts with minimum fuss. i win about 90% of the time, on 150cc. getting 5000 points on a race is super easy.

    i get you dont really have a chance to play who you want to, without RNG to unlock, or spend, which just gives you more RNG tries. i'd prefer just buying each character for a set fee.

    but, if you want to play mario kart on the go without all this stuff, mario kart 8 deluxe is the game for you. if you want to play this free game, you can. if you want to toss the devs, who clearly worked hard on this, a few bucks, go for it. just dont be so pissy about it for what it is. its not hiding. its very open, honest and upfront about its costs and fees, if you choose to use them.

    “Nintendo games still don’t feel right on mobile,”Which is funny because I've always felt that since around the late DS/early 3DS days an increasing number of Nintendo games have felt one microtransaction shy of being a mobile game. The saving grace was just that you never had to pay for the in-game version of microntransaction currency.

    Once Nintendo released a mobile game it was basically nature correcting itself.

    Not having the option to turn the device and play in landscape mode is honestly the game's biggest flaw.

    I don't think Nintendo wants its games to feel "right" on mobile devices otherwise there's less chance people will want to go out and buy a console to play the real thing. That's why we don't get a full Animal Crossing game, or Mario platformer or why Dr Mario plays differently etc.

    I am surprised it's as much of a Mario Kart game as it is I must admit, despite the janky controls. I do hope they bring some of the features of this Mario Kart game to MK9 if that ever becomes a thing, I'd love to see the crazy items return from Double Dash and character outfits etc.

    If you think about whenever I search Mario Kart Tour on my Android smartphone it only comes up with Super Mario Run Dr. Mario World and Nintendo Switch Online but no Mario Kart Tour.

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