When I pulled my phone out of my pocket the other day to play a little bit more of the Mario Kart Tour Beta (MKT) to better inform this review, I opened my games folder and could not bring myself to open the app. Instead, I tapped on Hole.io and spent a few minutes devouring a few small civilizations.
MKT is precisely what you’d expect from a Mario Kart game. It looks as good or better than any other Nintendo karting adventure, baring Mario Kart 8. It has all of the fan favorites of the Mario cast including a few randoms to really fill out its hefty roster. There are plenty of retro tracks in the game. The mobile game even has features new to the Mario Kart franchise. So, “why?” you may ask. Why couldn’t I bring myself to play the game? It wasn’t the fact that my progress in MKT was about to be deleted nor that I had spent enough time that day playing MKT already; I simply did not want to play with Mario and company because Mario Kart Tour is a boring game.
Heresy! I hear you cry. How could I say anything Mario Kart isn’t fun!? Some of you may figure I must be a hater of Nintendo. Of that I must briefly object, I am more likely a Nintendo fanboy and have never owned a non-Nintendo console or lived in a house where a non-Nintendo console was owned. The Mario series is my favorite video game 3D platformer series, and I would argue that Mario Kart 64 was better than Diddy Kong Racing.
Yet, despite all of that here I stand telling you that Mario Kart Tour is a boring game. Many of the reviews already out there about the game complain about its gotcha mechanics, pay to play game structure, or that you could not play against non-computer opponents (in the beta at least). None of these bothered me because they are what I expect from the lessons consumers taught Big N by not buying Super Mario Run and, instead, spending exorbitant amounts of money in Fire Emblem Heroes. No, I found the gameplay itself overly simplistic and straightforward.
For the not yet informed MKT is a new phone app by Nintendo bringing Mario Kart to pockets everywhere on devices everyone has, the first time the IP has been available on any platform not directly manufactured by Big N itself. To summarize the game: You touch the screen to go, moving your finger left and right to steer, and tap to use your items.
I don’t understand why Nintendo thinks people only want to play mobile games with one hand… Given some of their console decisions, you would be hard pressed to convince me that this is a disability accessibility decision. These controls are so simple and make the experience feel limiting. You can customize these controls slightly, but only in ways that make the experience worse: gyro controls require extreme phone tilting and are nauseating on Mario Kart’s many u-bend turns especially with the game’s terrible visibility (more on that later), and manual drifting makes every turn adrift unless you are using the previously mentioned dreadful gyro controls.
This isn’t where the control issues end. Despite the game telling you that you need to touch the screen to go, this is not true, and your character always has their virtual foot on the pedal. You might wonder how you reverse in this situation. Never fear, the game developers figured this out and created invisible barriers that do not allow you to drive off the track or ever put yourself in any situation that might require reversing. This also makes using Mario Kart’s many short cuts impossible without a mushroom. Even when you can access them, the experience is jarring because the game is terrible at recognizing that is what you mean to do.
This combination of no off tracking and auto-pilot driving makes it so that the game can actually play itself. I tested this on a few rounds, and although this strategy got me fewer first places than I would get on this extremely easy game, it still generally put me at or near the lead. Even if taking the self-driving approach landed me in last place, the rewards for completing the race were still nearly as good as if I had played myself and gotten first place – rendering all of my recent victories hollow.
I would be remiss not to mention the game’s one form of difficulty: portrait gameplay. The entire game plays with the phone upright giving players no visibility, especially around turns. This makes it feel cheap when you run into an obstacle. With no reasonable way for you to see incoming obstacles, it doesn’t feel funny and zany to run into them like it usually is in Mario Kart games. Instead, it just feels unfair – which is not fun. The upright view also makes it difficult to enjoy the game’s beautiful visuals because you usually can only see the sky and (maybe) some of the upcoming track.
Should you download Mario Kart Tour when it comes out for everyone at a yet to be announced date? Probably not. There are better free racing game apps out there. Also, with the Switch being portable, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe remains the best way to enjoy Mario and the gang’s crazy Karting shenanigans on the go.