Mario Kart Tour is a version of the famous Mario Kart series, only designed for mobile platforms. It runs on Android and iOS, but this review is from the view of playing it on a Samsung S8+ phone.
Most people know Mario Kart and despite being on a new platform, anyone who looks at this will think it is definitely Mario Kart. From the graphics to the soundtrack, it’s stayed on theme. That said, in this review, I’ll be taking a look at some of the big differences from the Mario Kart we all know and love.
This is a racing game, where you can select from several characters, karts and gliders and try and try to finish first in the race – or rather to get a high enough score. As with any other Mario Kart game, there are a number of cups to complete at a variety of speeds. Each one has four events – three races with two laps each and a minigame such as hitting twenty jumps, beating a giant racer or collecting items.
As you complete races and collect stars, more cups will unlock. You can also unlock gifts when you reach a certain amount of stars. These can include racers, cars, and gliders but are more often coins and level up items with the occasional rubies thrown in.
Each race has certain characters, karts, and gliders which come with a bonus specific to that course. Certain characters get three items instead of and can go into a special mode or certain equipment comes with bonuses to certain actions. While this does feel like it was done to make the focus on unlocking and leveling up everything, it was interesting as certain things were associated with certain items, like a glider which made it more likely to get red shells.
One big difference from other racing games is that the focus here is on the score, not position. Getting a high position certainly helps with your score – you get bonuses for position both when finishing a lap and when finishing the race. That said, the aim is to get a high score to collect stars. In the early races especially I’ve managed to collect all five stars for a race while coming third or fourth.
The characters, karts, and gliders can level up as you gain experience or use items. Leveling up directly increases the score gained and the highest scores are essentially locked to this no matter your skill level. I played this with a two week free trial of the gold pass but otherwise did not use any microtransactions. As I got to later cups, you could directly see my stars per race going down. Even using all the bonuses and getting first place had me getting three out of five stars. This is where microtransactions come in.
This game is actually free, but it includes microtransactions quite heavily. The game itself is still fun even without purchasing anything, but you can tell that it is designed to make money that way.
There are two currencies in the game, rubies, and coins. Rubies are one of the two currencies in the game. You can buy two things with rubies – attempts to get new unlocks on the warp pipe or access to a minigame to collect a high number of coins. If you receive an unlock you already have, it increases the level. Coins are the other currency in the game. These can be used in the shop to buy unlocks. The shop selection is random, but you do know what you are buying with the coins, unlike the rubies.
The microtransactions themselves can be very expensive too. There are two forms of this in the game – the gold pass and directly buying packs with characters and rubies in.
The gold pass is more reasonable I found. You pay a small amount per month and it gives you extra gifts as you progress through the game, extra badges (and stars for unlocking them) and 200cc races. 200cc races don’t actually give more points than 150cc, so it’s purely for fun. It’s still not great value, but it’s better than the other options.
The packs and rubies are extortionately expensive for what you get. To give some context, for the same price as a new AAA game, I can get a moderately rare character and 20 chances on the warp pipe. While it is down to luck, I personally had 20 chances on the warp pipe (luckily from rubies earned, not bought) and received one rare character, three moderately rare characters and the rest were nothing special.
I don’t feel like you need to pay to have fun, but there’s certainly a cap that is easily overcome with money. There are limited-time characters too, which realistically are only going to be possible to get with money or a lot of luck.
Moving onto the gameplay itself, it’s what you would expect from a Mario Kart game in many ways. There are some very well designed courses, all of the standard items to attack other racers with and plenty of things to help or hinder you.
Boosts are very important in this game and it is unlikely to succeed without mastering them. You can use a rocket start by holding down on ‘2’, drift to get a boost, hit boosters on the track or hit jumps which also give you a boost. There are some less obvious ones too, like hitting a train at an angle will give you a boost or landing on a Goomba head after gliding through the air.
Controls are where the game completely fails. There are two control methods, both manually turning the phone or more commonly using your finger to steer. It is possible to get used to the finger steering, but most people I have spoken to feel it is quite awkward. Even after a few weeks, I find it very inaccurate. It is very common to accidentally activate the items too, as this is done by touching the screen, while steering is done by moving your finger on the screen.
While on the negative, this is a common one of mobile games but it is worth mentioning – if you lose signal, there’s not much you can do. I’ve lost signal in the middle of a race before and it wouldn’t submit my score or let me continue playing until it gets signal again – it just hangs on the screen forever. As someone who mostly plays this on the bus in an area with a varying signal, this isn’t great.
One fun aspect is challenges. As well as completing races, you can get stars for fulfilling certain conditions. Most often things like hitting a certain number of racers with a particular weapon or getting accurate hits a certain number of times in a race. These give you badges to show off too.
Every so often, the game resets itself in a few ways. Firstly and most importantly, it removes all of the cups and replaces them with new ones. Many of the courses will be the same but in a different order and different difficulty. All progress will be lost, so going through the early courses can be a bit tedious. After leveling up enough, you can easily get through without winning. The game also resets ranking tournaments, which are essentially competing in one of the cups for a prize of some rubies – highest score wins. While it seems to be planned, there is no multiplayer.
In short, there are plenty of negatives with Mario Kart Tour. From the heavy microtransactions to the controls and reliance on a decent signal, it disappoints in many ways. With that said, I still enjoyed being able to play Mario Kart on the go and in very short bursts. It’s free so there’s no harm in trying, as long as you don’t fall into the trap of spending money on it.
Nook has been gaming since the Amstrad and DOS. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.