Nintendo's long-awaited Mario Kart Tour went live via the game's first (and perhaps only) beta earlier this morning and it is without a doubt Nintendo's best mobile game yet. It's an excellent example of mobile gaming done right and showcases that even a company like Nintendo, who previously had no interest in the mobile gaming market prior to just a couple of years ago, is capable of producing quality mobile games.
The beta has only been live for close to a day, so there hasn't been a whole lot of time to dive into what it includes in its entirety, but it's immediately noticeable that the game feels very polished even in a beta status. Score one for Nintendo, because betas are usually more about spotting bugs and getting feedback then fixing those bugs, and so far there doesn't seem to be any bugs.
As for the feedback, Nintendo is sure to get an earful at the end of the beta play test period once most of the people who were selected to participate have had a chance to experience all or most of what the beta version of the game has to offer. There's a lot of it, too.
For starters, the beta, and likely the full version of the game once it launches officially for everyone and not just testers, has 16 different cups to race in each with four circuits, and it's possible that there will be even more cups added at or after launch.
Some of those circuits are aimed at showing you how to use the game controls and utilize its various features, like performing a rocket boost at the start of the race, which you can do by tapping on the screen during the timer countdown from "2" and holding down on it until it says "GO." This simple task of onboarding players feels like it's too often overlooked or taken for granted as many mobile games don't do a very good job of acquainting players with all of the controls.
Speaking of controls these are also another thing to pay attention to here as they're incredibly easy to get used to. Just like Super Mario Run, Mario Kart Tour uses an automatic system to move, in this case for the throttle of your kart meaning you won't have to hold your finger down on an accelerator.
Instead, you only need to tap the screen to control the direction of your racer by dragging your finger in the designated area on-screen from left to right and vice versa. This makes it super simple to play the game with one hand, which, seems to be Nintendo's goal for most of its mobile games.
Though Mario Kart Tour is by no means meant to replace the nostalgia or quality that can be found in console versions of the franchise's titles, there are quite a few elements in MKT that can be found in other Mario Kart games. Power-ups are of course still a thing and you can easily deploy them either in front or behind you as you race.
You'll even find a plethora of the power-us that have been introduced over the years, including the iconic red and green shells, the banana peels, the mushroom speed boost, the squid ink to blind you, and even the dreaded blue shell from which there is no escape.
There are also elements included which you won't find in other Mario Kart titles, like micro transactions, which are certainly going to be a sore spot for many as people will fear that Nintendo will try to force players to spend money. So far it doesn't seem to be an issue and it certainly doesn't feel like Nintendo is nickel and diming anyone, and even in other games where it offers IAPs they don't seem to be excessive.
What might be a bigger issue is the timer system that's in place. Like so many mobile titles out there, Mario Kart Tour has a timer system that will allow you to play for only so long before you need to give the game a rest and let the timer reset.
In Mario Kart Tour these are called Exchange Hearts and they're restored over a period of time, which admittedly doesn't seem to take too long just yet but that could always change the further into the game you get, and you don't have a lot of hearts to begin with.
Where it might become more of a problem for some is the ability to purchase new Exchange Hearts with in-game currency called Emeralds, which as you guessed it will probably cost real money, though you're prohibited from buying them during the beta.
It's entirely possible that players will be able to obtain these through regular gameplay as well but there's no telling how often these will come along through gameplay if you can acquire them without having to buy them at all.
There are timers on some of the racing cups too. For example, certain cups won't be accessible until a specific amount of time has passed. If there's one element of the game that could be considered pretty negative, it's this. The game is fun. You won't want to stop playing it, and yet you'll have to until the timer is up. These timers are longer as well, so for the beta at least, there won't be anything players can do except wait.
Micro transactions aside the game has other kinds of features that you can usually find in mobile titles such as daily login bonuses and the ability to claim rewards based on the more times you login, some of which will be currency which you can use to buy other various in-game items. There's also multiple ways to acquire new drivers, karts, and gliders.
Though these things can be acquired just by racing and winning more often, Nintendo has implemented a feature that lets you "fire off the pipe." Using the pipe players can choose to spend some of their in-game currency, such as Emeralds, and launch something into the air.
Following a short graphic animation what you win can be a new kart, a new driver, or a new glider so Nintendo is making it possible to get special in-game items just by playing, and that's a reward system that should be rewarded with positive feedback on the user's part.
As of right now Mario Kart Tour looks and feels like a finished game even though it's obviously not. Nintendo most certainly has other modes planned that aren't available in the beta and that it hasn't shared any information on, and those will more than likely be a big part of the game's success once players complete every cup and collect every driver, kart, and glider that are available in the game.
You will want to try and collect all of these items too, as certain drivers, karts, and gliders will give you special boosts. For example, certain drivers will open an extra item slot so you can carry two or three power-up items if you're the type that likes to horde them until the perfect moment to pop one off. On the same token, certain karts will give you a speed boost and certain gliders will give you a boost to your item and luck, meaning you'll have more luck with getting the best power-ups.
That said, Nintendo makes it clear with helpful in-game tips that these boosts are somewhat tailored to specific circuits, and it advises the player to "choose wisely" to give them an edge over the competition so there is incentive to play more so you can unlock more stuff.
Now, giving Mario Kart Tour the "best mobile game Nintendo has ever put out" tag seems like some high praise, and to be honest, it really is. It's worth remembering though that Nintendo doesn't have that many mobile games out there under its own brand. There's Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Dragalia Lost, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and that's really it, so Mario Kart Tour doesn't have a lot to contend with just yet which also makes being the "best mobile" from Nintendo a bar that isn't too high to cross.
Truly, though, anyone who grew up playing Mario Kart games and has continued to play them over the years should find this to be not only engaging, but rather enjoyable whether they're able to dump an hour into the game in one sitting or just fifteen minutes during a work commute. So far there's nothing game-breaking, and that's one of the most important factors. If the game is already this good in the beta, then there's high hopes for the full game.
Beyond that, it feels good to have some mystery left in the whole equation. Nintendo could have made everything available in the beta to give people a little taste of everything, but that's not what it's doing. It's simply giving you some of the most fun parts, getting you excited (hopefully), and easily building some hype for the other stuff that's still to come.
What's more is that the beta play test will be fairly long, lasting a little over two weeks, giving players a chance to really dig into everything that is there although it's worth keeping in mind that Nintendo does have the capability to end the beta early should it see fit.
Considering all of this, Mario Kart Tour is just the bite-sized representation of a classic video game that fans should be excited about. Nintendo is not only doing a good job of getting gamers excited to play Mario Kart Tour more often, but playing Mario Kart Tour seems to drive interest in playing other Mario Kart games, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch. Whether intentionally or not, Nintendo has created a mobile game that is succeeding in building up excitement to play games from the same franchise on other platforms, and that's a win.
That's not to say that Mario Kart Tour isn't without its hiccups. If the timers become too aggressive or the micro transactions become something that players will have to rely too heavily on, then Nintendo could end up bombing it with this game, and that would be bad as Mario Kart is probably one of the most fun franchises to the masses. If you weren't selected for the beta you'll still have a bit of a wait to get your hands on the game, but it is due to launch this Summer so the wait shouldn't be that long.