Capsule Review: Mario Kart Tour

A familiar kart racer adapted for enjoyable mobile gameplay and exploitative freemium monetization.

Much of the Mario Kart core is here but the controls are streamlined and the focus and structure have been changed to support shorter play sessions and encourage in-app spending.

When racing, karts automatically drive forward as though the gas is permanently held down. The player can steer and drift by dragging to the sides and can use collected items by tapping. The player is still rewarded for placing well, but this is now a secondary goal - what really matters is getting a high score. Points are earned many different ways, including using items, jumping off ramps, and performing mini-turbos from extended drifts - the biggest single point bonus comes from winning first place, but it’s very possible to place worse and still get a great score. The focus is less on finding the optimal path through the course and more in timing your steers, drifts, and items to maximize your score. This ends up working very well for mobile, since the decreased fidelity of control can easily create scenarios where you lose the race for reasons that feel unfair and the point system makes this less of a binary fail state.

The structure around the races is very different from traditional Mario Kart, with some of the changes making better use of the bite-size sessions that mobile play enables (shorter races, making some progress regardless of your performance, rotating missions, etc.) while others are clearly to better position the exploitative gacha-based monetization. The biggest tweak here is that instead of different drivers/karts/gliders having different stats, they have different favored tracks on which they grant significant bonuses. For example, using a driver on a track they don’t favor means you get one item per item box, while using a driver who has that track as a favored track means you get two, and using one who has it as a favorite track means you get three. These advantages have huge impacts on how many points you can feasibly get on a given track - and of course, drivers/karts/gliders are portioned out randomly and the fastest way to get a bunch is through gacha using the game’s premium currency.

It’s completely possible to just use what you have and gradually unlock drivers/karts/gliders through the freebies the game doles out (mostly as engagement rewards such as a daily login bonus) without spending any money, which is how I played. And if you do this, the racing itself can still be an entertaining bite-sized gaming experience on the go. But I can only recommend this if you’re confident that you can withstand the game’s constant attempts to manipulate you into spending money into an effectively bottomless ecosystem.

I Stopped Playing When: After a few weeks of daily play, the gradual treadmill of unlocks slowed down and it became abundantly clear that what defined my score was no longer my skill level but just whether or not I had the appropriate drivers/karts/gliders to get the top bonuses on the current tracks. The gameplay became a lot less compelling when it was so obviously just a skinnerbox and my interest tapered off.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.