The next Nintendo mobile game, Mario Kart Tour, is officially out, but only in closed beta in the US and Japan and only on Android. Players and news outlets have already reported it’s a faithful 3D racing experience…with microtransactions and multiple in-game currencies.
That’s right – it’s free to play, at least in this beta version. It’s important to remember that the game may change based on feedback, especially its monetization, though Nintendo doesn’t shy away from the roulette-style “gacha” item buying, which appears again in Mario Kart Tour.
But the gameplay at least seems fun, and appropriately simplified for mobile, which, yes, means it's played vertically. Characters automatically drive forward while you drag your finger on the screen left and right to turn. Some items (like invincibility stars) are automatically used if you pick them up, others are activated just by touching the screen, according to Kotaku.
As in the latest Mario Kart games, players pick a driver, kart and glider, then they’re matched against seven other players online. Maps are a mix from the entire series: the initial Toad Cup features courses from SNES, 3DS and GameCube versions of Mario Kart.
And then there’s the in-game item economy. In a word: collecting. In a few words: very easily-monetizable collecting.
Not surprised, but hope for more
There are three currencies (of a sort) in the mobile game. The first, and most anodyne, are Grand Stars – you get these when you finish races or challenges, Stars unlock gifts, which might have the second and more important currency, green gems.
Five gems gets you one item straight from a warp pipe – this is where you’ll get new drivers, karts and gliders to expand your collection. Each gets particular bonuses on different maps, with rarer ones granted advantages on more maps, at least what we’ve seen thus far. You can see where this gacha train is choo-chooing to.
If you played Nintendo’s other wildly profitable mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes, you know how the company has used this in the past: lure players into paying for more and more rolls of the dice to get the characters/items they crave (and it works: the playerbase spent $500 million on the free-to-play game in the two years after its February 2017 launch, per Sensor Tower). It seems like Nintendo is setting up to do the same with Mario Kart Tour.
Players can already buy gems. They can’t buy the third currency, gold coins – which are awarded based on performances or found mid-race – but you can spend gems to enter coin-collecting mini-races.
Oh, and there’s a heart-based stamina bar (like the “energy” in other F2P games) that diminishes over time, and when you run out, you can’t play. You can wait until they refill naturally…or pay gems to get back on the track.
We’ll see how the game plays, as even a little F2P Mario Kart action is better than nothing, and look to what Nintendo may change before the game’s full release date (which is still TBD).
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