Initial screenshots, gameplay footage, and other pertinent mechanics of Mario Kart Tour, such as how microtransactions and lottery draws work, have just leaked, and it shows Nintendo and mobile partner DeNA have a ton of work cut out for them, still.
The game has just got underway in its home country of Japan, so it's no surprise it took no time at all before details could find their way online. A beta for Android users is also live in the United States as of this writing. Those who don't want to be spoiled ahead of the game's release should not read further or look at all the leaked images. Otherwise, read on to look what Nintendo and DeNA has in store for the first mobile iteration of Mario Kart.
Mario Kart Tour
So how does the mobile adaptation hold up to the main series? For the most part, it's a faithful reincarnation, though noticeably stripped-down and less detailed than other Mario Kart entries fans have come to know and love. But the worst offender is the litany of microtransactions, lottery systems, and pay-to-win mechanics mobile games are infamous for.
Mario Kart Tour features tracks players have already encountered in previous games. The tutorial circuit, for example, consists of Choco Island 2 from the SNES release, Toad Circuit from the 3DS release, and Dino Dino Jungle from the GameCube version. Each track, however, seems shorter than its console counterpart, as Kotaku notes. Otherwise, they're very similar, down to the look, feel, and soundtrack.
But unlike on those titles, the player navigates through courses in portrait mode, making the periphery less visible. Peripheral vision is one of the most important aspects in a Mario Kart race — it helps players gauge how far or near opponents are, see if there are items on their path and promptly avoid them, and so on. This field of view becomes a blind spot on Mario Kart Tour.
Controls are pretty straightforward: players steer by dragging their finger to the left or right of the character. If they remove their finger, the racer just goes straight. Drifting is still possible — just turn late, and aggressively. Doing that for a few seconds will give the driver a quick speed boost, similar to how it works in the rest of the games.
Mario Kart Tour Microtransactions
Ars Technica has published a detailed explanation on how Mario Kart Tour's microtransaction mechanics work, and they're not for the faint of heart. The first major detail is that there's no current way to use real money in the game's beta.
Mario Kart Tour has a "Timers" system. A player can only start race using a currency called "Hearts." Each race costs a single Heart, and the default meter maxes out at five Hearts. It takes roughly 12 minutes before a single Heart refills completely. To buy more hearts, players can either wait or spend a different currency called "Emerald." Emeralds can either be earned in-game or, perhaps eventually, paid for with real-word money.
Whereas the progression system on main Mario Kart titles sees the player unlocking more items, characters, tracks, and other things the more they race, Mario Kart Tour employs timers. Ars Technica noted that it had to wait a full hour before unlocking the Toadette Cup despite having completed all the requirements needed to do so. Right now, there's no way to pay Emeralds to speed this up, but it's safe to assume that'll change in the final, stable release.
Mario Kart Tour also has loot boxes. Each costs five Emeralds, lending the player a single, random unlock of a mascot character, kart, or a "glider" accessory. In other words, a lottery.
Mario Kart Tour Release Date
Obviously, Mario Kart Tour is still technically in beta, meaning a ton of things could change as it moves forward with development. But as early as now, it's clear that even Nintendo isn't immune from the trappings of the microtransaction ecosystem made widespread by the free-to-play business model.
At best, Mario Kart Tour "presents the very core idea of Mario Kart pretty clearly, and its simple touch controls are just good enough to show total novices why the series might be a blast to play on traditional consoles," according to Ars Technica.
But will fans warm up to its pay-to-win schemes? Time, as always, will tell.