Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo’s latest venture into the mobile game market, is surprisingly great. A quick jolt of instant gratification, it’s been a welcome addition to my commute. A more stripped back version of the kart racer, it gives you just enough control to feel like you’re doing something, but not enough to be constantly crashing into walls. Honestly? It adapts the racing series to phones almost as well as it could have been done.
Now, it probably surprises you to hear that, because the game has a bit of an image problem right now. So why all the negative press? Well it’s simple: Nintendo couldn’t help but pull a Nintendo with the launch.
There was a fair amount of hype leading up to Mario Kart Tour. The Mario Kart series is a favorite of hardcore and casual gamers alike. We all have fond memories of playing Mario Kart DS at sleepovers or on the way to a school trip as kids, and now with us all being adults with nine-to-fives, you have an audience of players looking for a convenient way to race their mates.
But Nintendo—being Nintendo—decided to launch the game without the most basic feature: multiplayer. And they knew how odd this was, so they tried to hide this by giving the opponents fake usernames. At the time of writing, there is no word on when we will get this feature, the game simply says it will be in a “future update.”
Okay. We’re playing against bots for now. That can be forgiven, especially since the game is a load fun to play regardless. That can’t be what all the fuss is about right?” No, it gets worse, and ever more bizarre. Feel like the game is too slow for you? Wish you had a golden kart to show off to your mates when multiplayer is out? Good news! For just uh… $60 a year, that could all be yours.
You read that correctly. In a move many are labeling out of touch, you can get the “Gold Pass.” It’s been pointed out how this is the same price as Google’s Play Pass or Apple Arcade, which both grant you access to many games. But what I think is more interesting is how this is $12 more than the most expensive payment plan for the Nintendo Switch’s online subscription. You can bag yourself hours of online multiplayer on titles such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Splatoon 2 and, funnily enough, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe—and all for $3.99 a month, or $20 a year, a whole $40 cheaper than this mobile game’s subscription.
Perhaps even more perplexing is just how unnecessary it is. The Gold Pass gives you the faster 200cc mode and more stars and rubies (microcurrencies) when completing a task, skipping some of the grind to unlock new cups. I’m an avid player, and in the several hours put into the game, not once have I remotely wanted what the Gold Pass has to offer. It’s like Nintendo slapped it in just to throw us all off. Sure, you’ll be unlocking characters and cups quicker, but you’re still playing on the same few tracks which endlessly loop, so what’s the point? Who is this for?
Alas, it is hard to have the same restraint when it comes to the third gaming sin in Mario Kart Tour: the dreaded microtransactions.
Unsurprisingly, Mario Kart Tour has microcurrencies, three of them to be exact. Coins buy characters, karts, and cosmetics. Rubies are spent on “the pipe,” a lootbox which randomly pumps out racers and items. Then finally, there’s stars, which unlock cups. Oh, and you can also straight-up use real money to buy item packs. And just like the Gold Pass, these are not price-scaled logically.
For example, take the “New York Set.” This bags you 45 rubies (ten spins on the pipe), Mario as a racer, and five star tickets, which gives you items in a race. This comes at a grand total of $20. So let’s recap: that’s 10 lootboxes, five item boxes and some plumber, all for the same price of Switch online for a year.
I get it. The game’s free, they have to make the money somewhere. But Nintendo isn’t an indie developer, so when you couple this with that $5 a month subscription, you have to admit that the optics aren’t great. With gamers more and more aware of shady and manipulative business practices to get more money of the player, especially in free-to-play mobile games, it was a curious decision at best for Nintendo to try them out themselves.
So where does this leave us? Despite all of this, Nintendo’s pulled it off, breaking records with 20 million day-one downloads. This sounds like a lot to celebrate, but I don’t think they should pull out the champagne (I’m sorry, vacation juice) just yet. Like I said earlier, Mario Kart already has a lot of good will from casual gamers, arguably more so than Pokemon had in the run up to Pokemon GO!. Everyone from toddlers to fifty-somethings has had a race before, so it isn’t surprising that it’s had so many downloads—but I truly believe this won’t last.
The game is solid, but the microcurrencies will confuse older and younger fans. These aren’t people that play a lot of games, and a lot of this will go over their heads. And as for the avid gamers who do pick this up, these attempts to get money out of us are already unpopular. They could get away with one of these things because we know the money has to come from somewhere, but not three different currencies, lootboxes, a subscription, and $20 packs. It’s too much and too daunting. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind putting some money into the the game, if only it felt justified.
Nintendo could go into damage control to fix their reputation quite easily. They have a wealth of Mario Kart content they can keep adding to the game, and the price of subscriptions and item packs could be lowered. This wouldn’t just bring in players, but most importantly, keep them coming back everyday.
Do I recommend the game? I do. But this opinion of mine will be drowned out by the negativity if things don’t change fast. I’m not sure why Nintendo thought this would be a good launch, in truth I thought they might have just tried to push this out, make some money from it, and abandon it. But really? Along with Smash Ultimate’s online, Nintendo’s launch of paid online, and their refusal to re-release their classic games, this is just another entry into the ever growing list of “What were you thinking Nintendo!?”