Mario Kart Tour Needs to Course Correct on Course Correction
A lot has been written about Mario Kart Tour, and a lot of it has been unfair. In my time with the beta, I personally found the game generous with in-game currency for a free-to-play title, as well as generous with its hearts, the currency you need to expend to take part in races.
What I haven't heard a lot of dialogue about is the way in which the game actually controls.
Generally, Mario Kart Tour is an incredible mobile port of the Mario Kart series. Visually, it's almost on par with the current Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch, with tracks, karts, and drivers faithfully recreated. Courses are just how you remember them, and there's actually a pretty wide variety on display.
The problem lies with the way in which you actually traverse the courses.
Obviously, the tried-and-true Mario Kart control scheme had to be tweaked so it would work on mobile devices. What the devs came up with was actually pretty ingenious; it's like OutRun or Cruis'n USA, the game now operates on rails, with the kart accelerating automatically with the player primarily focused on cornering and item usage. This allows the game to be controlled with just one finger, sliding left and right to drift and boost, and tapping to use items.
In theory, it should work really well, but in practice, things fall apart a little bit.
You see, in addition to being somewhat of an on-rails experience, Mario Kart Tour includes a certain amount of course correction to assist players in making turns, and staying on track. You can mitigate this by changing your control setting to manual, but it never completely goes away.
The huge problem this introduces is that now, for whatever reason, you can't go off-road or fall off the track. Unfortunately, it makes high-level play almost impossible.
If you have a mushroom in tow, you can't go off-road to cut a corner closer. In Dino Dino Jungle, specifically, there's a shortcut that is almost impossible to take in Mario Kart Tour because there are invisible walls that block you from taking that path unless you take a very specific line.
Risk and Reward
Image source Giphy
The frustrating thing is that the fact that everything else about Mario Kart Tour works, and the inability to take shortcuts makes it really difficult to use actual driving skill to get back in the race after being hit by an item. The game's balance is off, especially for series veterans who know how to take advantage of a mushroom in order to skip a huge portion of the course and get back in front.
A ton of the excitement found in the Mario Kart series comes from traversing those high-risk shortcuts, knowing that one wrong move will send you careening off a cliff and out of contention for first place. On the other hand, success can solidify a lead, or complete a comeback. There's a ton of tension in those key seconds when a player must decide whether to go for that risky shortcut or play it safe. That aspect is sorely missed in Mario Kart Tour.
And though it's not a huge deal in the beta since the game is a purely single-player experience, if the game launches without the key risk-reward gameplay hooks of Mario Kart, it doesn't bode well for the game's continued success. The game stayed fresh for me throughout the beta, but I can't vouch for anything past those two weeks.
At the end of the day, I can understand microtransactions. I can understand a vitality meter. I can even understand the decision to give course-specific boosts to characters, karts, and gliders.
I can't understand the decision to remove a key element of what makes Mario Kart so special, so frenetic, and so stressful. The change seems so small, but its effects ripple throughout the game in increasingly disappointing ways. If the game launches without fixing it, many serious karting fans will be very disappointed.