This is Mario Kart 9 whether you like it or not
After the release of Mario Kart 8 for Wii U in 2014 we had to wait 5 years for Mario Kart Tour as the next entry in the Mario Kart series. I'd wager that most people don't consider this mobile entry to be "real" Mario Kart and therefore not worthy of the number 9, but it is worthy (mostly) and it's time that you accept it. In February's Nintendo Direct, Nintendo actually showed Mario Kart Tour in the list of all Mario Kart games which suspiciously doesn't include the Mario Kart arcade titles. Are we supposed to just pretend that Don-Chan from Taiko Drum Master was never in Mario Kart? What about Pacman from the game Pacman? Shout out to the 3 of you who understood that reference... Anyway we're going to be waiting until at least 2024 for the next console Mario Kart game, so you might as well check out Mario Kart Tour in the meantime.
Actually I was there Gandalf. I was there in 2019 for the release of Mario Kart Tour, developed by DeNA and Nintendo. I played this game for the first year before burning out, occasionally checking in every few months after that. The biggest thing that Mario Kart Tour does to differentiate itself from previous entries is that it's actually a live-service game. While it has other key changes to the Mario Kart formula, this means that the game is constantly receiving new content. Would you consider Mario in a new hat to be "content"?
Mario Kart could absolutely explode (in a good way) as a live-service game and although Nintendo doesn't publicly state the revenue from this game, it's consistently in the top 200 highest grossing iOS games (closer to 200 than the top 10). Mario Kart Tour brings a lot of positive changes to the formula, but at the same time it has some mobile game specific setbacks too. Do the positives outweigh those setbacks? Well your mileage may vary.
I'm using touch controls!
Let's take a shortcut - Mario Kart Tour does two main things that propel the series to new heights.
1.) A constant feed of new content. Mario Kart Tour features "tours" which are 2-week sets of courses/challenges for you to complete. Each tour introduces a new race track, whether it be pulling from previous Mario Kart games or occasionally introducing courses that are entirely new. Most of the brand new courses are based on real-world locations, and it's really cool to feel like you're driving through cities all over the world. When you're not racing in New York City, Tokyo, Paris, etc. you'll be riding along courses that are pulled from all over previous Mario Kart games. Actually a good percentage of the courses are straight out of Mario Kart 7, and you can tell this game's initial build was based on Mario Kart 7 as well. There are also reverse tracks where you literally race in the opposite direction (which I can't believe is a first for the series) and trick courses where the race is filled with extra ramps and jumps.
You'll be racing against AI opponents with real player usernames, which can occasionally lead to some non-family friendly interactions. The game does also include an actual multiplayer mode where you race against actual humans, but that's kept separate from the single player tour content.
Since the game's launch in 2019 Nintendo and DeNA have done a good job making each tour feel somewhat unique, although I will say that the courses don't feel super fresh with this game's emphasis on grinding. You'll need to grind some courses because each week includes a ranked challenge where you compete against others of your skill level. However you're not competing for best time like in previous Mario Kart games. No you're here to do tricks baby.
2.) Mario Kart Tour introduces a trick scoring system. While a few of the most recent Mario Kart games included the ability to do tricks for an extra speed boost, Mario Kart Tour now puts a score against your abilities. The basic idea is that you need to chain tricks together, which in addition to jumping off ramps includes hitting other players and collecting coins. The more tricks that you can chain together, the higher your score will exponentially raise. As a concept, I think this is a fantastic addition to the Mario Kart formula and I hope to see it expanded upon in the future. It's like combining Mario Kart with Tony Hawk, which sounds like a winning combination. The higher level your character/kart/glider, the better your score multipliers will become. And how do you level up your characters? Well this is where the money gets involved...
Don't get me wrong - I like gacha games, and I actually think Mario Kart is one of the fairer ones out there. Each tour features new characters and kart parts, which you can "pull" out of a pipe by spending Mario Kart Tour's second currency of "rubies". The thrill of pulling is fun, especially when you get a gold pipe meaning you're guaranteed at least one of this game's 5-star units called "high ends". Just like many other gacha games, you can level up your characters/karts/gliders by collecting multiple copies of them. Leveling up means that you can score higher trick combos, which means that this game is essentially what the Internet calls "pay to win". And that's unfortunate.
The whales (big spenders) of Mario Kart Tour will end up higher in the weekly rankings, and it's a crappy feeling when you literally can't win in your weekly bracket because someone spent the money to obtain a higher level character. There are also weekly "deals" where you can buy 1 or 2 pipe pulls that come with specific high end characters. Why buy a brand new copy of Mario Kart 7 for $40 when you can get a jpeg of Captain Toad for $40? Captain Toad was a fun game.
I'm not going to dive too deep into the gacha system, but I was fine simply losing a few weekly shots at 1st place in ranked mode so that I could be matched against lower level players in the next week. This game also includes an optional $5 monthly subscription. Mario Kart Tour makes it completely clear that your $5 per month is a stupidly good deal in terms of the in-game items you're getting, but it also locks a few key features like being able to drive at 200cc speed behind the "gold subscription". You can technically string tricks together more easily at the higher speed of 200cc, so the $5 subscription leaves a bad taste in your mouth whether you choose to buy it or not.
For my part, I find it somewhat difficult to ignore all of the ways in which Mario Kart Tour is trying to get you to spend money BUT it's entirely possible to play this game for free and that's what I did for a long time. I even found that if you're patient as a F2P player and save up for gacha pipes that you're most interested in, you can guarantee specific characters as long as they're separated by a few tours in-between.
Mario Kart Tour has a fairly expensi- I mean expansive roster, but at the same time it's sort of not very expansive at all.
Does this game have Waluigi in it?
Here's a list of the high end drivers that I've obtained, keeping in mind that I did play this game for the first year before feeling burnt out AND I can't even fit them all in this screenshot... And this is just the "high end" list of characters. I'm not even showing you the list of karts or gliders.
There are only so many characters in the Mushroom Kingdom, and I can't tell you how many variants of Mario this game has because I can't count higher than 10 on my fingers. I'm not even terribly interested in pulling for all the variants, well obviously I needed vampire Waluigi, but Mario Kart Tour is designed so that specific characters favor each course. And with tons of course variants between normal/reverse/trick versions it's not uncommon to find yourself in a position where you'd perform better if only you could obtain a specific character from the gacha pipe.
Once again however, you have to get into the mindset of not needing every character and not always winning your weekly ranking. Otherwise you'll either go crazy or spend money. DeNA clearly knows what they're doing.
Mario Kart Tour is a good game, but not without problems specific to being on mobile phones. For every positive change it makes to the formula with its live-service weekly content and the trick system, it also has an unfortunate pricing system that is designed to prey on whales.
I actually enjoy grindy games where I can turn my brain off and just have something to do. I played this game for a long time, and now I still return once in a while to see what's new. As long as you can train yourself to ignore the many ways that this game tries to take your money, and I'd argue it's easier to do that here than in gacha games from other companies, then you'll have a good time. If anything Mario Kart Tour is a fantastic distraction while we wait for Mario Kart 10. The last main-line console Mario Kart game was released in 2014 so we should see a new entry any day now... Wait hold on... Instead of releasing a new Mario Kart game they're just porting all of the Mario Kart Tour tracks to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe?!?
Weekly content keeps the game fresh, mostly
Trick system feels like Mario Kart x Tony Hawk in all the right ways
Gacha system is constantly trying to get you to spend money