Mario Kart Tour looks like the best Nintendo mobile game yet

Mario Kart Tour has been such a mystery since Nintendo has been surprisingly tight-lipped about their upcoming mobile release. Thankfully, the recently released beta test on Android answered a lot of questions and alleviated many of my fears surrounding it. While Nintendo is still being restrictive about images and videos from the beta (which is why all the images here are from other Mario Kart games), four hours of playtime has revealed that this latest entry in the long-running series holds up the legacy from its console counterparts quite well.

But quite a few changes have been made to fit the arcade racer on to mobile phones. The biggest aspect to get used to is that it has touch-based controls. That might seem like a horrible idea, and I definitely had reservations when I started, but it actually works pretty well.

The player automatically accelerates (which was also an option in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) and then steers their kart by moving their thumb to the left or right. It’s surprisingly solid thanks to a slight correction that automatically occurs, and it allows players to focus on turns and firing items at opponents. Laps have also been shortened from the typical three down to two, which gives the races a snappier pace that is perfect for bathroom breaks and commutes.

A lot of the initial discussion surrounding the beta has been upon its gacha mechanics and the title’s microtransactions. Nintendo has been historically pretty good at monetizing its mobile offerings to make them not overly exploitative and it’s been blown out of proportion so far. The grind really isn’t that bad and after just a few hours, I already have seven of the racer’s 30 characters unlocked.

You unlock the currency used to unlock new drivers pretty regularly by leveling up and finishing goals, and it hasn’t felt unfair at all. If anything, you get pushed to try out characters other than your favorites thanks to its design. While I’d rather use Waluigi all the time because I’m a degenerate, I’m still having plenty of fun with Peach, Yoshi, Dry Bones, and Larry and it’s great that the game gets you to move outside of your comfort zone.

Mario Kart Tour Preview | A new yet familiar experience

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There are several new additions to the Mario Kart formula and that includes special skills unique to each character. The game doesn’t do a great job of explaining how these activate, but there are some unique ones such as Peach gaining a protective heart and Bowser tossing his gigantic shell at enemies. These new items help keep races feeling fresh, which includes the new giant mushroom, from the New Super Mario Bros. series, that makes the user huge and they can bump their way to first place. These are all enjoyable additions that keep the gameplay the same at its core while also making Tour feel like its own entry.

The cup structure is also another unique aspect for this mobile entry. Rather than the traditional grand prix that crown a winner via points after four races, players instead try to collect grand stars in each individual event. These are earned from getting points while racing rather than just coming in first place, although winning nets you more points. This is a nice change of pace and it ties into the ranking both your character and their gear has.

The progression is one of Mario Kart Tour‘s best features. Each character, glider, and kart brings in more points per race every time you use them. For example, my Peach now sits at 496 rather than 400. This ties into each character being better at certain courses and the game definitely rewards you for switching characters and using them over time. There is an energy mechanic in the form of hearts that are used to race, but it’s pretty generous and I’ve yet to hit any sort of wall. This is clearly an experience built for the long haul, one to be played each day in short sessions rather than marathoned.

Mario Kart Tour Preview | Making up for Mario Kart 8‘s weak solo experience

nintendo's best mobile game

While a mobile title, this is the best single-player Mario Kart in well over a decade. A large part is due to it borrowing a page from the playbook of Mario Kart DS and including non-race missions. These range from having to complete a lap while dodging a ton of enemies on the map to hitting all of the rings that have been added to an area. It’s not clear if they’ll get as crazy as in the DS title, which had full-blown boss battles, but the potential is limitless here since Nintendo can keep adding cups over time. There are currently 16 of them and fully completing all of them provides a healthy challenge.

But there are a few worries, despite Tour‘s general quality. The publisher hasn’t always been the best with post-launch support and this is a title that begs to be added to and expanded over time. As long as the roster of characters and karts continues to grow over time then this will likely have a healthy spot in my mobile rotation for a long time to come. It’s just hard to be certain of it since Nintendo can be so hit or miss with a lot of things that seem like common sense to everyone else.

Despite only being a handful hours into Mario Kart Tour, it’s quite impressive for a game that Nintendo seems to be uncertain about. Not only does it look and play great, but it provides a distinct solo experience that the console version of Mario Kart lacks. It’s a promising start and one to watch for as it races closer to the finish line.