Mario Kart Tour is a fun nostalgia trip and excellent time waster, but it suffers from the microtransaction plague that dominates the mobile gaming market.
I’m not saying I spent six hours playing Mario Kart Tour after downloading it yesterday, but I’m not NOT saying that either. I grew up on Mario Kart so hearing all the familiar sounds and experiencing the game mechanics was an extremely fun way to spend an evening. I can’t wait for the multiplayer button to become active so that I can test the bonds of friendship on the track. Only true friendships survive red shell attacks on the final curve towards the finish line.
But the game isn’t perfect, and it’s largely due to the potential for microtransactions to give players with a larger disposable income an unfair advantage in regards to game mechanics. While this isn’t exclusively a mobile gaming thing (let’s all remember Star Wars: Battlefront for a hot second), it’s definitely become an issue for most of the popular mobile games like Pokemon Go. It’s hard to hold a gym when the people who you’re competing against seem to have a maxed out items bag and you’re struggling to earn 50 coins a day.
As the multiplayer aspect of this game hasn’t opened, it’s hard to say just how detrimental this will be, but seeing all the stuff I’m missing out on by not spending cash doesn’t bode well. The “Gold Pass” rewards are particularly troubling. If you subscribe to a Gold Pass for $4.99 per month you unlock all sorts of bonus items. While $5 a month may not seem like much, it’s more expensive than the D23 discount for Disney+, which is going to have far more content (the regular Disney+ price will be just $2 more per month, however).
To be perfectly clear, I’m in favor of game designers being paid fairly for their work. I don’t want all games to be free. These artists and programmers work hard and I want to support them. But microtransactions and monthly subscriptions can sometimes cause problems. There’s an imbalance between those that can afford perks that get them ahead in the game, and the rest of us schlubs who have to work for it. People can buy their way to the top and that’s just no fun. But charging for a game itself also leaves a lot of people out, I suppose, as the download cost means many won’t have it at all. It’s a tough situation to be in and I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m fairly sure microtransactions aren’t the way.
Right now, though, as a single player game it’s generally quite fun. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been so consumed by it yesterday. Competing against the robots isn’t terribly challenging, but trying to beat your own score and earn all the stars you can get to unlock the next tracks is the key appeal of Mario Kart Tour. I’m attempting to get five stars on every track possible before the next tour opens up and that alone is a massive time suck. I can’t get past three stars on the Dino Dino Jungle track in the Daisy Cup no matter how hard I try. By the time multiplayer comes around, my skill level will be fairly high because I’m trying over and over again to beat myself. My competitive itch is being scratched fairly well at the moment, but I still want more.
Even if you come in first place, you may not earn the maximum amount of stars for a track and that’s enough to drive a competitive person deep into a hyperfixation. Certain move sets give you points boosts, as do certain character, kart, or kite selections in each track. Playing Daisy in the Daisy Cup gives you some extra points, for example. And choosing more difficult paths, like jumping over ramps instead of a smooth surface, also results in rewards. It’s possible to come in first place and only earn three stars, or come in second, but max out at five stars. It’s not just being ahead that’s important here, but challenging yourself with many different aspects of the game.
As you progress, new characters, karts, and gliders become unlocked. Hopefully this doesn’t become another thing that becomes hindered due to microtransactions, but it’s too early to tell just how difficult the main characters will be to unlock. At the moment I have Daisy, Toad, Koopa Troopa, and Dry Bowser, which is a pretty good spread for the amount of time I’ve played the game. I long for Yoshi, though, and I’m sure Princess Peach, Mario, and Luigi are also a bit further down the line.
Mario Kart Tour is also set up to pace the entire player community at about the same speed. I made it to the very end of what’s currently available and have to wait for them to release more. No amount of microtransactions can get around that sort of block, so in that regard everyone is equal. I’m curious to see if it’ll be an endless stream of tracks, if they’ll rotate different tracks in and out, or if there will actually be an end in sight like how Pokemon Go maxes out at Level 40. From the description of the game, it sounds like it might be one of the first two options.
Mario Kart Tour is off to an incredible start, though, despite the moaning about microtransactions. It beat Pokemon Go‘s record for the most mobile downloads for a game, surpassing 20 million downloads on day one. Right now we’re all just sort of spinning our wheels, brushing up on our skills, and waiting until we can put them to the test against each other. Once that happens, the real fun begins.
Right now you can compete with your friends via a leader board. The ability to friend people needs to be unlocked, but it’s fairly early in the game so you can get your competitive fix can get satisfied early on. Whether or not you’ll be able to play with your friends long distance or if it’ll have a proximity factor remains to be seen, but as this isn’t a VR game I would hope I could ping my friends from around the world so we can annoy the hell out of each other on the track. And if you think I’m not working frantically to have the highest score among my friends, you don’t know me too well. I expect many more hours going exclusively to this goal in my very near future.
Are you playing Mario Kart Tour? Are you using microtransactions? Tell us more!
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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