Mario Kart Tour — 4Q2020 issue

Mobile Mario Kart still stuck at start­ing line

Grow­ing up as a gamer, there was always a series I could count on to pro­vide a lot of enjoy­ment: Mario Kart. High qual­ity, fun rac­ing ensued as did a famil­iar­ity with the sys­tem that made up rac­ing in the Mush­room King­dom. But as time has marched on, there are dark clouds over the king­dom and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily Bowser’s fault for the fool­ish­ness for once; it’s Nintendo’s greed.

Mario Kart in mobile form has always been a safe bet for the Nin­tendo rac­ing fan. Being able to race with your favorite Mario char­ac­ters and take it on the go? Where do I sign up? But Mario Kart Tour, the lat­est mobile prop­erty for the gam­ing giant, is not a fun tour … er, trip. It’s Mario Kart for the SNES dumbed and watered down with gatcha ele­ments tacked on for good measure.

Mario Kart Tour takes the usual Mario Kart for­mula and adds things like gatcha pulls to unlock spe­cial char­ac­ters, karts and glid­ers, usu­ally in the high-end cat­e­gory, as well as level up your estab­lished ros­ter. The gatcha pulls are obnox­ious because it’s depen­dent on luck of the draw using real money to fund the pulls. The real money — that you’re pulling out of your wal­let — is spent in the form of rubies, which allow you to pull from pipes pos­si­bly con­tain­ing the high-end items in batches of one pull for five rubies or 10 pulls for 45 rubies. Though the rubies are mod­er­ately priced, it’s the fact that you must buy the rubies or com­plete some­times ridicu­lous chal­lenges to get rubies that makes it beyond the pale.

And, just as infu­ri­at­ingly, there’s the character/kart/glider sys­tem that’s tied to the stages cho­sen for each tour. Each level has three or four spe­cific char­ac­ters that are favored on this track. Usu­ally, the char­ac­ters that are favored are the fla­vor of the tour; that is, a char­ac­ter or vari­a­tion cre­ated espe­cially for the spe­cific tour. As always, they are high-end and exceed­ingly hard to acquire. Because this is tied into the pipe pulls, it’s also a cash grab designed to pull in the most ded­i­cated who have the most money and time to spend fid­dling around with a mobile game. These “whales,” as they are called in online cir­cles, keep this cash grab going and endorse this con­tin­ued behav­ior from Nin­tendo, which, in all hon­esty, is atrocious.

In addi­tion to the tool-like single-player mode, there is the mul­ti­player mode from hell. I wish I could some­how con­vey the trash-like qual­i­ties of mul­ti­player in words, but I’m at a loss with­out get­ting an FCC fine for pro­fan­ity. The mul­ti­player plays like garbage and ignores any sort of mechan­ics that Tour attempts to cre­ate in the single-player cam­paign. It is utter chaos in every match and those lucky enough to do well have to be doing that with sheer luck. It can’t be from actual skill and good mechan­ics, because Tour is miss­ing the mark in both areas.

The mechan­ics, lack­ing in skill and refine­ment, are a seri­ous prob­lem. Now, I’m cog­nizant of the fact that this is a mobile game, so we’re not talk­ing pre­ci­sion like a main entry would have. How­ever, this is rough even for a mobile game. Often, drift­ing is dif­fi­cult and ultra mini-turbos are next to impos­si­ble. Given that I’ve mas­tered the drift­ing fea­ture in Mario Kart with every entry start­ing from the Nin­tendo 64 days, I shouldn’t have this much trou­ble main­tain­ing a drift. The combo sys­tem, while inter­est­ing and a great fea­ture, is not refined as well as it should be. There should be a meter that shows me the length of time between combo actions and how much time I have left if you’re going to tell me that I have a time limit on those actions. Some­times, com­bos drop inex­plic­a­bly, ruin­ing a run at a chal­lenge that requires a cer­tain number.

Equally prob­lem­atic are the weapons sys­tem and the AI level. I tend to race com­fort­ably on 100cc, but I will race on 150cc and 200cc (with a pur­chased Gold Pass) if I’m work­ing on improv­ing scores in the bi-weekly ranked cups. In the months since I’ve begun play­ing, I’ve noticed the aggres­sion of the computer-controlled karts steadily creep­ing up, which is a prob­lem. It’s mostly notice­able on the weekly favored track, which quickly gets infu­ri­at­ing when you’re try­ing to main­tain a rank­ing and the com­puter is hell bent on keep­ing you from achiev­ing this goal. The weapons sys­tem plays a large part in this because it’s nearly impos­si­ble some­times to receive your character’s spe­cific weapon or a frenzy or even a use­ful frenzy despite your char­ac­ter more than likely being a high level.

Also low­er­ing Tour’s fun fac­tor is the char­ac­ter sys­tem. As in other games in the series, there are a vari­ety of char­ac­ters from the Mush­room King­dom and Nin­tendo in gen­eral that can be and have been added to the ros­ter. The sheer vari­ety is great but the need to unlock and pay for these vari­eties is the prob­lem. It’s greedy as hell that you have to buy rubies to pos­si­bly unlock a char­ac­ter to do well in the fea­tured tour track or mag­i­cally come up with the ways to earn them, which are far and few in between. Basi­cally, Nin­tendo wants you to spend money and they’re not afraid to pimp out Mario Kart to achieve this goal, so they’ll nickel and dime you constantly.

And I hope you love a lot of the tracks already pulled into Tour because track vari­ety is lack­ing. There are a lot of not-fun tracks that seem to be repeated quite often. That decreases the enjoy­ment of rac­ing because you know you aren’t going to want to mess around with a cup that has an obnox­ious track (I’m glar­ing at you, 3DS Rain­bow Road).

Visu­ally, Tour is fine. It looks like Mario Kart and has all the ele­ments of the rac­ing god we’ve come to know and love. As a mat­ter of fact, the game looks like a bet­ter ver­sion of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, just below Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. Those oft-repeated tracks are gor­geous recre­ations of old faith­ful favorites from the SNES, Nin­tendo 64 and Game Boy Advance titles with a few new cities of the world tracks thrown in the mix. In the begin­ning there were a lot of dif­fer­ent city tracks, but because of the pan­demic, work on the tour has been kept to already estab­lished tracks from the series that can quickly be con­verted for use in Tour.

Musi­cally, Mario Kart is known as hav­ing a banger sound­track for every game. Tour doesn’t slouch in that depart­ment with the new tracks, but it does mess up with some of the older tracks. I’m not quite sure how a game can get one part of the sound­track right but mess up the other parts, but Tour some­how man­ages to do it. Any of the new tracks that were cre­ated for Tour are excel­lent. The menu themes are excel­lent, as well, with new tunes mixed in with remixed favorites from pre­vi­ous games. But then you get to an older track, let’s say Koopa Troopa Beach from the SNES. It does not sound the same as the orig­i­nal ver­sion at all. The pitch sounds off by a few notes, as if some­one recre­ated it for Tour and kind of, sort of remem­bered the way the orig­i­nal sounded. Rain­bow Road from the SNES has the same prob­lem. It sort of resem­bles the orig­i­nal tunes but also … not really. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to get from tour to tour, so I don’t nec­es­sar­ily get my hopes up in terms of music qual­ity when I see an older track announced.

All my prob­lems with Mario Kart Tour are fix­able, but that’s up to Nin­tendo to work on and decide if it’s worth it this far in. With increas­ing fre­quency, how­ever, I find myself say­ing this might be the part of the Tour that’s my last stop.

Mario Kart 64 — 1Q2016 issue

Mario Kart’s grow­ing pains

Mario Kart has always been an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence. Com­bin­ing go-karting and Mario has and is a recipe for suc­cess for Nin­tendo, quite hon­estly. And, by the time Nin­tendo got around to mak­ing the sequel to the smash hit Super Mario Kart, they knew they had a sure­fire mas­sive hit on their hands.
Mario Kart 64 takes every­thing you loved about the first game and immea­sur­ably increases it. The Mario char­ac­ters, the tracks, the secrets; every­thing about Mario Kart 64 is bet­ter than the orig­i­nal in every respect. Dri­ving has improved with bet­ter steer­ing qual­i­ties for all char­ac­ters includ­ing the bonafied intro­duc­tion of pow­er­s­lid­ing. Mas­ter­ing pow­er­s­lid­ing means a world of dif­fer­ence in race times, espe­cially when you have brag­ging rights at stake. Old mechan­ics, such as the weight class con­cept, are still present but it seems every­one has a bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion with respect to how a class really con­trols. The light­weights feel like, well, light­weights. The heavy­weights actu­ally feel like they’re heavy to han­dle.
While I’m an admit­ted long-term Mario Kart afi­cionado, I have to admit that if you’re going to get into Mario Kart, this is the title to do so with. It’s not hard to pick up MK64 and grasp the mechan­ics. It’s also easy to play with friends who under­stand the nuances of Mario Kart so that you’re not left behind for very long. And it’s the play­ing with oth­ers that makes this one of the best party games ever cre­ated. MK64 has Bat­tle Mode as its ace in the hole and it makes it one of the first quin­tes­sen­tial party games, along­side Gold­en­eye, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party.
With all that it has going for it, how­ever, there a few minor draw­backs. First, if rub­ber band AI both­ers you, this is not the game for you. MK64’s AI is one of the worst offend­ers of the rub­ber band­ing prac­tice and it gets worse as you go through the sin­gle player race cam­paign. Com­bine that with the pun­ish­ing dif­fi­culty of 100cc and 150cc races and you have a frus­trat­ing, controller-throwing mess. Sec­ond, this is the sec­ond game after Mario 64 where Mario char­ac­ters are vocal­ized. I promise you will get tired of hear­ing char­ac­ters say their favorite phrase long before you fin­ish any of the modes. It gets old quickly and makes one wish they could turn the sound off, except that you’ll real­ize quickly that the sound­track is actu­ally great. This, how­ever, is the game that turned me against Mario char­ac­ters talk­ing.
Mario Kart 64 is polar­iz­ing to some play­ers: Some think it’s one of the great­est kart rac­ing games ever made while oth­ers hate it. I tend to be in the mid­dle; it’s a great entry in the kart rac­ing genre, but there are some fairly major quirks with how it plays to throw a wrench into things. I like to think that the fun and the qual­ity asso­ci­ated with Mario Kart boosts it out of the mid­dle of the pack.