Mario Kart Tour comes to mobile — and it’s kinda disappointing

By

Mario Kart Tour adds new characters, Tokyo Tour course
There's stuff to like. But some banana peels too.
Photo: Nintendo

It’s been a long time coming, but Mario Kart Tour has finally raced (well, maybe dawdled) into the App Store.

The free-to-play kart racing game is available to download now, although currently you can only play a New York City-based course. Other courses will roll out at a later date.

So what did we make of it? Read on for Cult of Mac’s first impressions.

Mario Kart Tour: It’s what you’d expect

The first thing to say is that, no, this isn’t going to give the brilliant Mario Kart 8 on Switch a run for its money. If the Switch version of Mario Kart is an amazing vacation, then this is looking at someone’s vacation snaps. Sure, you get a sense of the whole thing, but it’s not really the same at all.

Graphically, the game is about what you’d expect from Nintendo. The courses are colorful and there are some neat graphical flourishes. The characters and karts are well-rendered and attractive, too. The sound is okay, if not spectacular.

 

My biggest early complaint is the control system. To its credit, Nintendo has taken the time to tweak its games to embrace mobile gaming. Rather than trying to port full games experience that requires a controller over to iOS, they have built their titles around what works well with a touchscreen. That’s why the more explorative elements of Super Mario were taken away to make Super Mario Run an endless runner.

Princess Peach checks to see if there's a better game behind her.
Princess Peach checks to see if there’s a better game behind her.
Photo: Cult of Mac/Nintendo

In the case of Mario Kart Tour, you get two modes of control: a simpler directional control scheme and a more complex drift option.

In both, you slide your fingers across the screen to turn. A long press before the race gives you a speed boost. Tapping unleashes stored items like shells and banana peels. Unfortunately, it feels fiddly. Racing games are all about speed and control, and that’s something you just don’t get. It feels slower than its console siblings, and you don’t feel like you’re truly in control of your kart.

As an extra nod to the mobile form factor, the game takes place in portrait mode. There’s no landscape mode, which means you don’t get to fully revel in the glorious vistas the game has to offer. Some of the stages seem to have been designed to embrace this, with tall skyscrapers in the New York Tour and plenty of jumps. But it still feels claustrophobic.

You beg to be able to turn your iOS device sideways and enjoy playing it unencumbered.

Get your wallet out!

Mario's been a plumber, a doctor and a tennis player. Now he's a money shark, too.
Mario’s been a plumber, a doctor and a tennis player. Now he’s a money shark, too.
Screenshot Cult of Mac/Nintendo

Upon my first play, in-app purchases don’t seem too intrusive. However, they’re definitely a big part of it. You win assorted gems for winning matches and these can be used to unlock certain things. But if you’re going to unlock everything you’ll need to splash some cash.

It’s a shame, because Nintendo seemed keen on the premium model with Super Mario Run. Then that game failed to rake in as much as Nintendo hoped and it went all-in on IAP. You can still play Mario Kart Tour without spending money, but you’ll not be getting the most out of a game that, frankly, already feels a bit compromised.

All in all, Mario Kart Tour feels like, well, what you’d expect it to feel like. All your favorite characters are there. There are some snazzy new tracks and some old favorites. It’s got the typical Nintendo gloss. But it feels like a watered-down mobile version of its console siblings.

It’s the updated version of one of those old Tiger Electronics handheld video games from the early 1990s. Okay, there’s cheap fun to be had, but you never thought it was a viable alternative to a trip to the arcade.

Mario Kart Tour: The initial verdict

I’ll keep playing Mario Kart Tour. I’ve been a fan of the series since the SNES days and it’s a gaming experience that improves with each play. But I don’t think anyone is going to be raving about this one. This will probably wind up as a briefly enjoyable footnote in the Mario Kart series.

Through its history, Nintendo has embraced all kinds of different form factors. The Game Boy. The Wii. The crazy-like-a-fox controller of the N64. The merging of mobile and traditional console with the Switch.

But there’s no joy at creating a dedicated mobile game here; just a few compromised nods to the format. It feels like what it probably is: A company that doesn’t want to make mobile games that knows it has to make mobile games. That’s disappointing.

Consider this a fun racer with a few too many slippy banana peels along the way.

Price: Free (with in-app purchases)

Download: App Store (iOS)