Mario Kart Tour iOS – Review

The legendary kart-racing franchise pulls on to the iOS starting grid.

With the launch of each new generation of iOS hardware, the promise of a home-console experience at your fingertips draws ever closer. Over the last few years, as the experience blurred, I’ve spent more time playing games on my iPhone and iPad than on my consoles. After years of statements to the contrary, Nintendo entered the mobile market and their output has been mixed at best. Mario Run was great and showed how you could bring the core gameplay of the franchise to a new format unscathed. Can Nintendo work the same magic on arguably its second-biggest franchise, Mario Kart?

Let’s start with the positives, of which there are many. This game really does feel like Mario Kart. The touchscreen controls are initially a little awkward, but with some practice become instinctive and responsive. Much like Mario Run, the concept for the game is the ability to play one handed, hence the seemingly ill-fitting portrait viewpoint. Again, like the controls, within a few plays this vertical camera view becomes less and less obtrusive, even feeling familiar and ultimately fresh. Mario Kart Tour follows the traditions of the core game well.

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The comic style power-up-based racing instantly catches your attention and locks on. Amiably backing up the core play style is a solid mix of drivers, karts, and tracks, with an online multiplayer mode still to come. Essentially this is Mario Kart, and early thoughts are that it’s great. The gameplay, visuals, sound, and design are instantly familiar to fans, and form the basis of a potentially excellent mobile interpretation of Nintendo’s console classic.

The tour element of the title is an interesting inclusion, as the racer has 14 days on each location to claim victory, beat the challenges and unlock as many rewards as possible before moving on to a new location and new tracks. Working your way through the tours, cups, climbing the CC speed ranks, upgrading your driver and kart while honing your skills offers everything fans expect.

Much like a red shell up the exhaust pipe, the game draws to a halt when the stark reality that very little of the above actually matters as much as it did in the older entries to the series. Track knowledge, karting skills, and all the factors that used to relate to success have been usurped in favour of in-app purchases and loot boxes. Winning is equally based on bank balance and not how well you play the game.

Yet, the pressure on the credit card doesn’t stop there. You can also purchase a subscription to a monthly Gold Pass, which unlocks the 200cc mode, some new characters, power ups, and some bonus Rubies to purchase more of those horrible loot crates. For those willing to try, you can grind up your coin totals and skill ratings, but without the benefits of the higher-grade characters and karts. Complete victory is achievable if you’re willing to put in the time and hope luck plays a part. These factors alone make grinding a real grind.

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For those not willing to splash the cash, the correct choice of driver, kart and glider actually adds an additional level of strategy to the game. Making the right choice, combining the benefits of each element can massively improve your lap times and scores. Albeit you may have to save up those free coins for a very long time before you can make the required purchase. It may be a very long route in comparison to the instant unlock an in-app purchase can bring, but at least there’s a free diversion for racers to take.

Alas, unlike Mario Run, which was purchased via a single one-time payment that unleashed a fantastic game, Nintendo has used the standard monetisation model (albeit 100% turbo charged). The pay-to-play in-app purchases used here instantly slam on the brakes and stubbornly refuse to release them unless you’re willing to pay and then pay again.

As a huge fan of the franchise, Mario Kart Tour is a hard game not to really enjoy; it’s Mario Kart! Equally, it’s a very difficult game to fully embrace, unless you are willing to pay. By the time you reach the finish line, the overwhelming feeling isn’t one of total disappointment thanks to the classic gameplay and the regular free updates and content. Yet, it’s hard to shake the feelings of what might have been, as this is really good but not as fantastic as expectations would have you believe.

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Mario Kart Tour iOS
  • Overall
4

Summary

Almost smothered of its massive potential by the insistence to build an equally massive pay wall around every additional element of the gameplay, that said, it’s still Mario Kart in your pocket!

+ It’s Mario Kart on iOS
+ Great visuals and sounds
– Grind or pay, you decide!
– Oh No! Not Loot boxes!

Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. Working for international publications in both print and online, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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