Mario Kart Tour makes a terrible first impression. Taking players on a whirlwind tour of mobile gaming’s worst habits, money-making strategies are present at every turn. There’s a $4.99 monthly subscription service, woefully overpriced $19.99 “sets” containing high-tier items, and randomized loot draws with frustratingly low odds of gaining anything worthwhile. However, after spending 10+ hours with it, scraping beneath Tour‘s various monetization efforts reveals an addictive and surprisingly innovative Mario Kart spin-off for iPhone and Android devices, one which makes several tremendous changes to the series’ formula that deserve to be included in future mainline entries.
Mario Kart Tour takes all of the Mario Kart staples and successfully transfers them to iOS and Android. There’s a reasonable variety of courses taken from across the series’ history, from Mario Kart: Double Dash‘s Dino Dino Jungle to Super Mario Kart‘s Mario Circuit 1, with the addition of one new track at the time of writing in the form of New York Minute. It retains the look of Mario Kart 8, impressively downsized for mobile, with only minor details having been switched out in its transition to the small screen.
The biggest departure is its controls. which take some getting used to. You turn by swiping the screen, with its recommended setting forcing you into a drift whenever you do so. This can make navigating particularly narrow courses difficult, and I spent my first moments careening into the edges of each track. Forgivingly, you can’t stray out of bounds, so veering off the course isn’t too debilitating.
Controlling your karts on mobile can prove to be a headache, but after you become accustomed to its near-constant drifting, it’s beneficial to Tour‘s new combo system. Allowing players to combine multiple actions in order to receive more points, combos force you to think on how to approach each bend, when to throw your items, and even when to overtake your rivals. More-or-less every action in the game can be added to your combo, from drifting through to boosting and gliding. Pulling off combo moves grant you bonus points, which are used to earn more of the five golden stars available on each track. These stars are then used to unlock new Cups or gift boxes containing a couple of prizes.
Mario Kart Tour Review | Combo breaker
Combos give you an additional incentive during races aside from reaching 1st place. By pulling off huge, ‘Fantastic’ combo strings, you can rake in enough bonus points to the point where you don’t even need to top the podium in order to earn all of a track’s stars. However, stringing together these combos can often come at the expense of your positioning — I’ve been so preoccupied with increasing a combo string that I’ve finished in 6th, yet have still managed to come away with all five stars regardless.
This gives Mario Kart Tour a much-needed layer of depth, as not only are you trying to beat the other racers, but you’re also looking to maximize the number of points you can earn by combining drifts, speed boosts, and item usage. It makes you consider more than just reaching 1st place, and in later cups finishing at the top of the leaderboard alone won’t be enough to net you all the stars you need. Combos are by far the highlight of the game, and I hope that Nintendo sees fit to add them to Mario Kart 9, whenever it releases.
Outside of combos, Mario Kart Tour has also added ‘favored courses’ for its drivers, karts, and gliders. This allows players to gain advantages such as additional item boxes or increased bonus points if they select the correct setup for each course. This means that if you team the correct racer with the correct vehicle, you can gain an advantage before the race has even started.
However, this also means that stats are non-existent in Tour. Bowser is just as nimble as Baby Mario, acceleration is the same across the board, and no kart handles differently to any other. It’s an unusual change, but one that also ensures that all drivers and vehicles — even the ultra-rare ones — are more-or-less on a level playing field.
Mario Kart Tour Review | Major microtransactions
The only key difference between drivers and vehicles are the bonuses they provide. Each driver has their own special move, from Yoshi throwing out an egg that chases down opponents to Donkey Kong dropping a giant banana. Some special moves are much better than others, though the top-tier moves aren’t limited to rare drivers. In fact, rare racers such as Peachette and Musician Mario possess phenomenally underpowered special moves. Karts and gliders also give you advantages such as increased boost and more coins, though there isn’t a huge discrepancy between common and rare racers and vehicles.
But Mario Kart Tour has other ways to convince you to part with your cash, chief among them its monthly gold pass. This pass supplies you with additional items each time you open a gift box, some of which contain rare karts and drivers. It also features the 200cc mode, which significantly ramps up the speed and is by far the game’s most enjoyable difficulty setting. This cc class also awards with players with more points, so that it’s locked behind a paywall is hugely disappointing.
Tour is currently single-player only, with multiplayer set to be added in a future update, but I found racing against bots in 200cc to be rewarding enough. Considering that multiplayer is Mario Kart‘s bread and butter, I’m surprised by how much I got out of this mobile entry racing against the CPU. In 200cc, the difficulty level is ramped up considerably, making racing much more compelling than in its 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc modes.
I’ve been taking advantage of the gold pass’ two-week free trial, but after it expires I won’t be paying a monthly subscription fee for a lone mobile game. As a result, I imagine that’ll be the point when I stop playing Mario Kart Tour. Unfortunately, I just can’t see myself reinvesting time into the game after I lose access to 200cc, considering that I’d be forced to revert to a less challenging difficulty setting.
Mario Kart Tour Review | The Final Verdict
Mario Kart Tour makes some great changes that deserve to be a mainstay of the series from here on out. Combos force players to focus on more than just the final result of each race, challenges provide a variety of objectives outside of the winners’ podium, and favored courses provides additional incentives for unlocking new karts and drivers. However, its microtransactions are thoroughly unreasonable, and locking its best mode behind a monthly paywall blights an otherwise fun mobile game. This is some of the most fast-paced, frenetic Mario Kart action ever, but only to those who subscribe to its gold pass. For everyone else, this is still a surprisingly inventive spin-off, but one that also feels undermined by greed.