One of the most surprising elements of Mario Kart Tour is that it’s a huge celebration of the series’ past. Retro courses aren’t anything new and have been featured for over a decade, but this is the first title to be entirely comprised of them. From the classic Rainbow Road of the original Super Nintendo title to Rock Rock Mountain from Mario Kart 7, there’s no shortage of nostalgia to bask in. However, these aren’t mere nostalgic pulls but they are brilliantly included to remind players of the past and make them yearn for the frantic multiplayer fun that they had as kids.
Nintendo’s goals for mobile games have been spelled out since day one. The company is less interested in creating the most profitable mobile titles and dominating that space as much as it wants to use its mobile games to get lapsed players back into buying its hardware and software.
While it’s great if Mario Kart Tour players spend money on in-game currency, Nintendo wants users to pick up a Nintendo Switch and play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s a long-term strategy aimed at getting a wider market interested in their titles again rather than catering to its hardcore players, who already own a Switch and much of its first-party catalog of games.
This end goal influences every part of Mario Kart Tour‘s design, but it doesn’t mean it’s just an advertisement. It succeeds in being a great standalone product thanks to its familiar yet different gameplay. This is still very much Mario Kart at its core, as players are racing around on familiar tracks, throwing koopa shells at enemies, and cursing over blue shells.
However, there are enough changes that make it feel distinct. The touchscreen driving is unlike any other entry and the races are shorter, so there’s less drama to be had. Plus, rather than playing with your friends locally or online, you’re going up against the ghosts of other players. It’s still an excellent time, but it’s definitely not the same experience you get from a regular entry.
Mario Kart Tour reminds you of why the series is so great
One of the biggest advantages that Mario Kart Tour has is that it leverages the 27 years of history that the series has to offer. Playing each of the mobile title’s individual cups is like a trip through memory lane as you’ll see Mario Circuit from Super Mario Kart then remember how awesome Bowser Castle 1 is from Super Circuit. These aren’t just tried and tested course designs though, they also come packed with years worth of memories. Every game in the series was played and adored by millions, and it’s hard not to smile a bit when seeing Kalimari Desert from Mario Kart 64. This isn’t an experience that sprinkles in some nostalgia, it’s soaked deep within it.
These retro courses are all key to Nintendo accomplishing its main goal, which is getting Mario Kart Tour players to pick up Mario Kart 8. Not only is that packed with over 20 retro courses of its own, but it has an equal amount of newly designed ones that take advantage of the anti-gravity mechanics and glider. A batch of new courses would have been awesome to see, but it would not have helped accomplished its overall mission. For this to be successful, the mobile offering had to serve as a Mario Kart supplement rather than a successor. That differentiator might be small in practice, but its importance is paramount.
One way that Tour serves as a supplemental experience is through it bringing back one of Mario Kart DS‘ best features. The DS title was the only Mario Kart to have a mission mode, which tasked the player with a number of different goals. These ranged from battling Super Mario 64 DS bosses to breaking boxes scattered around a level. These were fun ways to interact with familiar locales in a new way. Tour brings that idea back as a part of the last event for each cup, and it helps differentiate the mobile title from the current crop of console games. Some of these challenges force the player to avoid foes while others teach them important mechanics such as drifting and getting a boost to start the race.
Delivering a different experience is key for mobile
Overall, Mario Kart Tour is very different from the rest of the series as it focuses purely on playing solo. This is a bold decision since Mario Kart is synonymous with multiplayer play sessions and has been marketed as a title that you play with friends. However, it manages to pull it off by being a unique Mario Kart experience that focuses on unlockables and progression. With plenty of reasons to keep coming back, this is a mobile title that will keep players occupied during their work breaks for months rather than days.
Despite how great Mario Kart Tour is due to its differences, it’s still similar enough to where it makes players want to play multiplayer Mario Kart. This isn’t a mobile title satisfying an itch, but rather one that plants a rash that can only be soothed by playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe races and battles with friends. It’s a brilliant product that doesn’t only achieve Nintendo’s main goal, but also delivers in providing a satisfying game in its own right. It’s just that it fulfills this feeling in a very different way from its console brethren and that distinction is key.
It’s an exciting time to be a fan of Mario Kart even if it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see a new console installment anytime soon due to how well Mario Kart 8 Deluxe continues to sell. By adding in some new features and bringing back some great forgotten ones from the past, Mario Kart Tour shows that there is still plenty to iterate upon and that the racing series can be more than just a fun time with friends. It just hides all of its brilliance under a layer of nostalgia, one that is tantalizing enough to keep players coming back for more.