Thoughts on the game from a serious player.
Mario Kart Tour really surprised me when it was released on mobile devices last September. I hadn't paid much attention to the mobile version of the Kart Racer much before its release. That said, upon giving the game a shot it really blew me away.
You see, for years Mario Kart has been stuck in a rut. Each iteration would release with the same basic game skeleton, maybe advanced forward slightly, and then add in some minor gimmick to the entire premise. Mario Kart 8, while graphically impressive and fun, still has the same issues.
Now, Mario Kart Tour has managed to really flip the series formula around. Sure, you can still play for first place, but now there is an Excite Truck / Excitebots scoring element added to the mix. This is all tied to player skill, grinding out higher points for each kart part and character, and yes, some gacha elements that seem more fair than most people would realize at a glance.
Additionally, the annoying classic Mario Kart Mirror Mode tracks have been eliminated and replaced with something far better. There are four versions of each track in Mario Kart Tour. The Standard version you’re probably familiar with. Reverse, or R, version of the track will let players race the course in reverse. The T, or Trick version, which adds all sorts of crazy elements like ramps, boost markers, and more. And finally a mix of Reverse and Trick known as R/T.
I’ve been playing the game like crazy and enjoying the biweekly updates, known as Tours, that add new tracks, wacky fun characters, and other features. I’ve put enough time into the game to hit the max Player Level of 99 and have really pulled ahead of the competition in some aspects. At max level, I get a significant boost to my points for placing in first compared to much lower level players, and the penalty of losing some player experience for quitting a race or performing poorly is virtually removed.
This allows me to really focus on the core of the game. The daily tasks, like getting the max part experience, working on completing the biweekly tours, and of course the ever important weekly Ranked Cups. You see, each week in Mario Kart Tour you face off against 19 other players who are all competing for the best combined top score in one Cup, which consists of three playable courses. What place you get amongst the 19 other racers determines important rewards, which will allow players to pull for more items in the gacha style environment. These important rewards include Coins, that are used to buy items from the daily shop, Point Boost Tickets, which allow players to make their already obtained items worth more when picked, and Rubys, the important premium currency used to mainly pull for more characters and karts.
One of the biggest factors in determining score is having the skill to keep your combos up during a race, but also some luck for getting what’s known as Frenzies. Frenzies give you invincibility during a race for a brief time as well as infinite use of a random item. The good news for someone at max level like me is I can just quit a race at any time if I don’t think it’s going well during these Ranked Cups and not suffer the usual penalty of losing experience. This makes the luck portion of the Ranked Cups more bearable. Getting to the max Player Level is a long and tedious grind, but not impossible. Luckily, there are rewards along the way.
Mario Kart Tour isn’t infallible, though. There are a few gameplay issues that need some work. Ranked Cups may rely a bit too much on the luck element of Frenzies, both in frequency and the item type that comes up. The players everyone goes against seem to vary widely in skill and ability even though the game is supposed to place every player in tiers based on previous results in Ranked Cups. The premium currency and other real world cash offers outside of the Gold Pass (which is something all people putting any time into the game should get) are outrageously overpriced and shouldn’t be purchased.
Finally, the online Multiplayer Mode, which was briefly previewed in a Beta Test form, was super lacking. Not only were there no rewards for competing against other players, almost everyone used the best characters and kart parts in each race. This not only made the character variety boring, but it meant that everyone was earning three items per Item Box and had a good chance to earn Frenzies that would litter the track with even more items. In short, it was a total disaster.
To fix some of these issues I hope the team behind the game makes some changes. I propose that the weekly Ranked Cups only let players in your tier compete against you as this doesn’t seem to be the case at the present time. Then I suggest instead of making it a competition with 20 random players, make it so players in different score percentiles get rewarded and moved up a tier if necessary at the end of the week. This would create a much more balanced game and make whales face off against one another after the new ranking system starts to settle.
The online multiplayer needs to be revamped in ways that might have to change vastly from the core gameplay. Maybe remove Frenzies and make it so that good characters only get two items on their preferred track instead of three. Mediocre characters can then get one item per item block and low tier characters get none. Additionally, it might be good to reward character diversity in this mode in some way: add a new set of Challenges associated with this mode, and actually reward players for choosing to compete here.
As stated earlier, the Gold Pass is a great value for people actually playing the game. For only $5 a month, players can get access to more rewards and they are usually very meaningful and helpful. That said, I think it would be wise for the developers to implement a Platinum Pass for $10 a month that adds even more to this package. I know many people will scoff at this, but the current Gold Pass deal is really necessary if you intend to play the game and at the current rate would run someone $60 a year. That’s really not that much money to spend if you’re dedicated to playing the game on a daily basis. For People who are really into it $120 a year also isn’t a deal breaker especially if you get even more useful rewards.
The prices for additional Rubies can stay the same to milk the whales (I know this is a damn business that needs to generate results), but there should also be some more decent deals for the more thrifty players. They did this once with a cheap deal on the 2020 Glider Package during the New Year’s event. However, I feel in many ways the gacha elements feel like a trading card game. I probably would consider dropping a few extra bucks now and then per Tour if I could get one or two Fire 10 pulls from the pipe for a cheap price. Then if I want more, sure make me pay up. This will also help advance serious players at a more fair pace since at max level, it becomes much harder to earn Rubies at a regular rate.
As a side note for those who are scoffing at the gacha element in Mario Kart Tour. I’ve only paid for the cheap Gold Pass and the affordable 2020 Glider package. In total I’ve spent about $23 on the game and have a very healthy roster of characters and kart parts to choose from. It’s really not that bad if you stick with the game, but it will obviously be a bit overwhelming if you’re just starting out. However, that’s why you’d be placed in low competitive tiers. It works out!
Finally, the game needs to start allowing players to trade in Point Boost Tickets for Level Boost Tickets. People who have been playing from the start are getting to the point where Point Boost Tickets are becoming less and less valuable since we have almost all our items at max point values. Let me do something productive with them like trade a stack in for a Level Boost ticket to keep the Point Boost Tickets relevant.
Even though Mario Kart Tour has a few rough edges, it still excites me as a player. It’s doing some things better than any Mario Kart game has done before. The item management and collection system is entertaining, the biweekly updates exciting, and the new track varieties exhilarating.
I don’t see myself turning my back on Mario Kart Tour anytime soon. At its core, it’s still a Mario Kart game that controls and feels true to the franchise. It’s easily the best Nintendo mobile game in my book and one where more people should just swallow their anti-moble/gatcha game pride to check out. It’s a Mario Kart game that is evolving the series in many positive ways and I hope many of these changes make it to Mario Kart 9, whenever that inevitably happens.