MARIO KART TOUR IS A PAY TO WIN HOT MESS
By JAY TEE
Nintendo are given a free pass on the regular for wonky decision making that other big publishers would be skewered for. Switch’s dreadful voice chat, disappointing backwards compatibility, that flimsy kickstand that refuses to function; complaints that are all justified, and yet, they’re either too stubborn or simply tone deaf to the issues that they somehow push ahead regardless. When it came to dipping a toe into the murky waters of mobile, they seemed to be making a decent start. Nothing too egregious, and with IP that folks actually care about. Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, Dr. Mario… for the most part, they’ve done… alright.
Until Mario Kart Tour. This latest conversion of a previously exclusive franchise has had the rockiest of starts. Server issues on launch day, and woeful touch screen controls left an immediately sour taste. But look beneath the surface and you’ll find a game cynically embracing the very worst attributes of the mobile / free to start market. There’s in app purchases, which you’d expect, but they’ve also committed the cardinal sin of multiplayer titles by attributing specific abilities to certain characters, which in turn makes them more effective depending on which track you’re racing on.
It’s the very definition of pay to win, as unlocking additional racers is primarily tied to premium purchases. A cute warp pipe animation doesn’t hide the random, loot box nature of this process, and depending on the luck of the draw, you may end up with a character or kart that will be more effective than those being used by other players. You can also get more items per item box depending on which character you’re using on a particular track. It’s bafflingly stupid and the kind of mechanic that has never made its way into a mainline Mario Kart title. Yes, I’m well aware that in recent console entries you can select a frame, tyres, and a glider which can affect your stats, but that was for tuning (acceleration vs. top speed etc…). Tour’s implementation is game breaking.
And we haven’t even mentioned the Gold Pass, a recurring subscription that grants you access to 200cc races, and additional cosmetics. It costs £4.99 a month. Nintendo Switch Online (with it’s library of NES and SNES games, including real Mario Kart) is cheaper. Apple Arcade is the same price. And that gives you access to over 100 games. The Gold Pass is a flagrant, abhorrently priced offering that shamelessly attempts to milk its player base. Mario Kart 8’s substantial DLC packages were competitively priced, and packed to the brim with content. Why they couldn’t have adopted a similar model here is beyond me. Nintendo have totally dropped the ball, and Mario Kart Tour is a total misfire.
The artwork is great. The graphics are impressive. And the tracks are well designed. Shame about everything else.