Mario Kart Tour is a fine racing game. The graphics are lovely. The simple touch controls are fine once you get used to them. It’s overflowing with colorful Nintendo brand polish. Mario Kart Tour is also a free-to-play game with a microtransaction-fueled gacha collection mechanic and game options and rewards locked behind a paid monthly subscription. If that second part doesn’t bother you, you might have a good time with Nintendo’s latest mobile game.
“Nintendo games still don’t feel right on mobile,” wrote Gita Jackson in late 2017, commenting on the strange dissonance felt while playing games like Fire Emblem Heroes, Super Mario Run, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp after years playing the deeper console games in those series. Two years later, after Dr. Mario World and now Mario Kart Tour, and that dissonance remains. Games we’ve spent years playing on Nintendo consoles feel weird on phones and tablets. Especially when a game like Mario Kart gets turned on its side.
In part, I mean that literally. What an odd choice, taking a game we’re used to playing in landscape mode and making it portrait. The narrow screen makes it more difficult to see competitors coming up alongside your racer. It’s not a great view on my iPad. It’s even worse on my skinnier iPhone. Having played the game for a couple of hours now, I still feel the urge to turn the whole thing around in my hands.
I’m used to holding down the accelerator button as I race through Mario Kart tracks. That’s not what happens in Mario Kart Tour. Karts move forward automatically. All I have to do is tap left or right to steer (there’s a gyroscope steering option but it’s rubbish). It takes a while to get a feel for how and when to start drifting, and different kart models have their own handling profiles, but after four or five races it’s not bad.
As alien as Mario Kart Tour can feel at first, it’s not really the gameplay or screen orientation that makes it feel like the awkward cousin of a proper Mario Kart game. It’s the structure. It’s collecting stars awarded for achieving high scores in races to unlock new circuits. It’s tracks where certain racers have distinct advantages over others. Musician Mario, one of the special racers available during the game’s New York City-themed opening event, has a special power that grants him two Bob-ombs instead of one when he collects that power-up. Looking at his racer page, we can see which courses grant him three items per power-up box.
Certain racers having a distinct advantage over others in certain situations isn’t great. The game’s gacha feature, in which players can spend in-game currency for a chance to unlock rare racers, means that players who pay more have a better chance at having the right racer, kart, and glider combo to get maximum bonus points on any course they play. That’s verging on pay-to-win, even though there’s no real-time multiplayer in the game—currently, players race against computer-controlled ghosts with real players’ names attached to them.
Mario Kart Tour isn’t quite as greedy as it was during beta. The test version of the game Ethan Gach played earlier this year had a stamina/energy meter, one of the most obnoxious free-to-play mechanics, as well as premium currency called green gems that offered players better rewards the more they purchased. The launch version of the game lets you play all you want. The green gems are now rubies, and doesn’t seem to reward you for buying more of them. Instead, there’s a $4.99 monthly Gold Pass subscription that grants players better rewards for completing races (including extra rubies), exclusive vehicles and equipment, and access to more challenging 200cc races.
Is an optional monthly subscription better than earning rewards for buying currency? Not really. Especially when Mario Kart Tour launched just days after Apple Arcade, a subscription service with more than 70 high-quality, microtransaction-free games for the same $4.99 price. Apple Arcade is mobile gaming without all the bullshit. Mario Kart Tour is a Nintendo game with a big extra helping of bullshit.
According to app data website Apptopia, Mario Kart Tour shattered launch-day records yesterday, with more than 10.1 million installs across iOS and Android devices. The idea of a free Nintendo mobile game is an attractive prospect for many, many people. I wonder how long that will last.
Mario Kart Tour is available today on iOS and Android, bringing some portable kart action to phones and other devices. If you want to enjoy tough races with a faster pace, though, it turns out you’ll need to shell out some money.
Mario Kart games have always had different racing tiers. This usually means starting with the slower 50cc races before moving up to higher-speed races. In Mario Kart Tour, the 200cc tier is actually locked behind a subscription service that costs $4.99 a month. The 50, 100, and 150cc tiers are unlocked from the start. Nintendo outlined the program in a press release this morning:
Players can sign up for a free two-week trial subscription to the Mario Kart Tour Gold Pass by tapping the Gold Pass purchase button in-game. With the Mario Kart Tour Gold Pass subscription, players can unlock the extra-fast 200cc mode, obtain additional in-game rewards from racing and gain access to bonus goals exclusive to Gold Pass holders. Once the two-week free trial period ends, it will convert to a monthly subscription for $4.99/month, unless canceled.
A free trial is nice, but asking for a subscription to unlock additional game modes might be ambitious. Mario Kart Touralready has microtransactions that allow players to buy an in-game currency to spend on randomly acquired things like different drivers and kart parts. Nintendo’s mobile games have been hit or miss, with successes like Fire Emblem Heroes and stumbles like Dr. Mario World. It’s not surprising to see experiments in monetization, but it’s also hard to imagine anyone but the most hardcore players paying a monthly fee for speedier races.
After years of wishing and hoping, Nintendo finally added a selection of Super Nintendo games to its Switch online service. Which of the 20 classics should you play first? We had Kotaku’s resident old men, Chris Kohler and Mike Fahey, Statler and Waldorf together a ranked list.
20. Super Soccer
Chris Kohler: I played this for a minute.
Mike Fahey: Same. I played for a minute, got two fouls, felt very American.
Chris: The opposing team got the ball, started running it toward my goal, and I realized all too late that I had no idea what buttons did what.
Fahey: Which is exactly how real soccer works.
19. Super Tennis
Fahey: I do understand tennis. This is definitely tennis.
Chris: Yes. This one I got the ball over the net a couple times.
Fahey: I appreciate the use of Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphics to turn the court around once per match.
Chris: That’s a model of restraint.
18. Brawl Brothers
Chris: There are a lot of great side-scrolling beat-em-ups on the SNES. This is not one of them.
Fahey: It reminded me of several good ones, so much so that I had it higher in my list. Then I played it again.
Chris: It’s not much to look at, the controls are stiff… it doesn’t have the personality of a Final Fight. Where’s Final Fight? Oh, it’s on the Capcom Beat-Em-Up Bundle. Where’s Final Fight 2, then?
Fahey: In the hearts of little children everywhere.
17. Super E.D.F. Earth Defense Force
Fahey: Talk about a misleading title.
Chris: Yeah, if you were thinking this was going to be about killing giant ants, I have bad news.
Fahey: That a game could make me feel bad about a lack of spiders is an amazing feat.
Chris: It is a competent side-scrolling shooter. Again, though, not much personality.
Fahey: We’ll get to good games soon, I swear.
Chris: We’re there now!
Fahey: This is certainly a game that people love a great deal. I still love its look, if not its feel.
Chris: Yeah, F-Zero never really grabbed me. Not sure why.
Fahey: I liked the Gamecube version much better. Until the virtual console gets Gamecube games, we have this.
15. Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics
Fahey: Here is a game I did not remember enjoying, but I’m having fun with it now. Maybe I’m growing up?
Chris: Maybe you appreciate the slow-paced leisurely island lifestyle more now that you’re a parent.
While the original was a straightforward port of the arcade game, this is a console exclusive with more adventurey elements. It’s fun although it’s not quite as exciting as the first one.
Fahey: Or dinosaurs. My kids love those dinosaurs. Either I am older and more mature or I am projecting. Either way, mildly better than those other four.
14. Stunt Race FX
Chris: I had never played this back in the day but I’m fascinated with how they pulled off a polygonal racer on the SNES.
Fahey: It was too slow for me back when it came out, and I was too shallow to appreciate the technical achievement. Now I gawk at it in wonder.
Chris: It has charm. The cars have eyes.
Fahey: Proper headlight eyes, none of this Pixar windshield eyes BS.
Chris: 10 FPS means you have time to appreciate each frame as it goes by.
13. Star Fox
Fahey: Is this the one with the furries?
Chris: ‘Tis. And I think again the personality of the characters and the design helps smooth over the fact that as an early polygonal game, it’s pretty choppy.
Fahey: I do love the characters. And I remember being blown away by what the Super FX chip could do. They basically installed an extra GPU inside the game cartridge. That’s amazing.
12. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
Chris: They keep re-releasing this and I keep playing the first minute of it only to realize the only way I’m going to get past the first minute is to make mastering this game a second career.
Fahey: I just choked on a delicious beverage. This is another game that was much higher on my list until I played it. Still love the look and the terrain morphing.
Chris: Yeah, the music, the graphics, the tech is all so beautiful! It is an appealing game. And then everything about it is designed to murder you relentlessly. I’m too old for this.
Fahey: It will always be the fastest I’ve ever gotten naked. Can’t take that away.
Fahey: You’d think there’d be more non-sim games about casually flying. Aren’t we humans always dreaming about this stuff?
Chris: It’s just this side of being a glorified $60 tech demo for the SNES’ sprite rotating and scaling ability, and yet it’s still super fun. You’re right, the “casual flight” genre is not particularly robust.
Fahey: I am surprised we aren’t playing the latest Pilotwings game on our Switches right now. This will have to do.
10. Kirby’s Dream Land 3
Chris: I forgot to play this. This is good, right?
Fahey: As a fan of everything Kirby, it is indeed good. It’s still too early a game for Kirby to transform into different forms based on which powers he’s using, but the mechanics are all present and accounted for.
Chris: OK. I assumed.
Fahey: KIRBY FOR LIFE!
9. Demon’s Crest
Fahey: Look at us in the single digits, and with a Ghouls ‘n Ghosts spin-off no less.
Chris: It’s all the beautiful animation, art design, music, etc. from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts except you actually have a life bar and mobility and half a chance of winning. This is a very good action game with RPG elements.
Fahey: I remember peeing a little when the dragon peeked through the bars during the game’s opening sequence. In my defense, I was just a young boy of *checks release date* err, 21. Maybe I was drunk.
8. Super Puyo Puyo 2
Chris: It’s Puyo Puyo, which is a good thing.
Fahey: What I love most about Super Puyo Puyo, aside from its Puyo Puyo-ness, is it opens with an anti-AIDS message.
Chris: I saw that! That’s awesome. This particular edition is well-liked for having four-player support. At this point I’m sure you have four Switch controllers.
Fahey: And some of them work!
7. Breath of Fire
Fahey: It’s no Chrono Trigger. It’s none of the Final Fantasies. If I had to pick a turn-based Super Nintendo role-playing game that was not either of those, this would easily be fourth or fifth on my list.
Chris: And yet, where are the Chrono Triggers and Final Fantasies? Certainly not here. So it falls to plucky Breath of Fire to fill the void. I mean, it’s pretty good though.
Fahey: Oh yes, I will happily take Breath of Fire any day. Hell, it’s time for a new, non-free-to-play mobile sequel. I’m sure Capcom is totally on top of that.
6. Super Mario Kart
Chris: When I read the words “Super Mario Kart,” the soundtrack just starts playing in my head immediately.
Fahey: My trigger fingers starts me a-hopping. It’s like F-Zero for people with taste.
Chris: I wish it had four-player balloon battle mode, but I’ll just have to live without it.
Fahey: One day there will be a Mario Kart game with that mode, Chris. One day.
5. Kirby’s Dream Course
Fahey: Now we are talking. For all of the excellent platformers and free-to-play four-player Switch battle games out there, Kirby as a golf ball is the most charming Kirby of them all.
Chris: Oh man, this is still the best golf game ever. So clever. You know, a prototype of the unreleased pre-Kirby version of this, called Special Tee Shot, was just dumped. Would be cool if Nintendo put the final version of it on this service.
Fahey: Maybe they will include it in the modern version of Kirby’s Dream Course secretly being developed inside my head.
4. Super Mario World
Chris: I remember when this came out on the Wii U and it was like, ah, finally, a game to play on my Wii U.
Switch has a few more games though.
Fahey: A couple, yes.
This one was tough for me. I feel like Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario Land are constantly duking it out inside my head.
Chris: Yeah, this one is still a fantastic Mario game, but in the fullness of time you can see that it’s not quite as ambitious as Yoshi’s Island.
We’re splitting hairs at this point though.
Fahey: And spitting eggs.
3. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Fahey: In the battle between more Mario and something cool and new, cool and new won.
Chris: We’re deep into “masterpiece” territory now. Playing it again, you can see that the art design still looks fantastic. And that music!
Fahey: It’s ageless, like you.
Chris: Yoshi’s Island will be here after we are all gone.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
Chris: I think this is still the best old-school formula Zelda. Prove me wrong.
Fahey: Do I have to?
Fahey: I would go as far as saying that A Link to the Past is my favorite Legend of Zelda game. The modern 3D stuff has its own flavor. I like 2D better.
Chris: You don’t need to qualify this with “Well, you see, at the time this was released…” — it just holds up. You could put this on a cartridge and sell it (although I’ll glady take it as part of a super cheap yearly subscription instead)!
1. Super Metroid
Fahey: The closest thing we had to a huge disagreement on placement in the rankings, solved by ten minutes of playing this legendary game.
Chris: It is the best Metroid. If you’ve played any other Metroid game and thought, oh, this is cool, but you haven’t played this—this is better.
Mario Kart Wii remains the best-selling game in the series, and despite being over a decade old, players are still discovering new secrets hidden deep inside its 32 courses. Just last week, three new shortcuts were discovered, continuing the race to try and find one for every course in the game.
Prior to July 11, there were only 18 known Ultra Shortcuts in Mario Kart Wii. While the game is full of all sorts of shortcuts, Ultra Shortcuts are defined by speedrunners as glitches that allow players to skip more than 50 percent of a lap. While Ultra Shortcuts aren’t unique to Mario Kart Wii, it has by far the most of them out of any game in the series. New ones are still discovered occasionally—twoothers were found earlier this year—but the discovery of three new ones within 24 hours is unheard of. FlaminFunky, a Mario Kart Wii enthusiast, recently documented how the new Ultra Shortcuts work on YouTube. All the new shortcuts were found in tool-assisted speedruns (TAS).
The first is on N64 Bowser’s Castle and was discovered by a player called speedrunner MKWLuke. It requires the player to move a little bit up the track at the beginning of the race before turning around and using their starting mushroom speed boosts to perform a rapid-fire hop into a rapid-fire hop ejection. A complex maneuver, it requires a pixel-perfect speedboost over the edge as Funky Kong pops a wheelie and is so precise it can only be completed using a TAS.
With this maneuver, it’s possible to clip off the right side of the track far enough into the back lava for the game to spawn the racer prior to the start of the race. The player then falls into the laval behind where they respawn to start even further back, at which point the game will register them as having moved forward rather than backward, counting the next time they cross the finish line as one completed lap.
The second, found by a player called Catfish, is on GBA Shy Guy Beach. It requires waiting three minutes for a bomb to drop just ahead of the finish line, making it viable only in the final lap. By turning around and speed boosting over top of it right before it explodes, it’s possible to get enough air and go far enough into the surrounding ocean to again trick the game into respawning the player behind the finish line. Moving across it then counts as a full lap.
The third Ultra Shortcut was discovered on Koopa Cape by BlazeMSX. This one also requires the combination of a rapid-fire hop and ejection, this time to clear the gap directly in front of the start of Koopa Cape while going in reverse. If they’re performed at the right time, it’s possible to clip into the side of the track directly behind the gap and ride through it until it gives way to a hidden waterfall. After dropping into the water, the game sends Lakitu to retrieve the player and respawn them back on the track, where crossing the finishing line will be registered as a completed lap.
Both the N64 Bowser’s Castle and Koopa Cape Ultra Shortcuts currently rely on glitches that can only be exploited using a TAS, but they do bring the game that much closer to the holy grail of every course having some sort of major skip inside of it.
“I think that the speedrunners and TAS programmers continue to stick with this game because Mario Kart Wii is a game that is unlike all the rest,” FlaminFunky told Kotaku in an email. “The unique mechanics and crazy glitches are a trait of Mario Kart Wii that’s mostly unique [among] Mario Kart games (although Mario Kart 64 can be similar at times) and it drives them to create and achieve new things over 11 years after the game came out.”
According to FlaminFunky, one of the next likeliest candidates for a shortcut breakthrough is GBA Bowser’s Castle. A player by the name of TAS Snoop discovered a skip for the first checkpoint on that track, leading other players to search for others that could be exploited to make a 15-second lap possible, at least for computers. Even if humans can’t pull it off, though, it’ll bring the game closer to its ultimate destiny in the eyes of some of its most hardcore players.
The various Rainbow Road tracks that have appeared in every Mario Kart game are some of the most famous tracks in the entire franchise. They each are unique in their own ways and have attracted a large number of talented speedrunners, all hoping to set the fastest time. YouTuber Summoning Salt has put together a wonderfully detailed documentary going over each version of Rainbow Road and how different speedruns strategies and rivalries formed and changed over the years.
Since 1992, hundreds of speedrunners have set faster and faster times using their skill and a combination of various techniques, bugs, and shortcuts. And or each version of the famous and colorful track players needed to figure out new ways to shave seconds and milliseconds off their records.
For example, one of the most popular Mario Kart games, Mario Kart 64, is surrounded by rails. To find shortcuts and score faster times, players had to figure out points in the track where perfectly timed boosts and turns could allow them to leap over the guardrails and onto different parts of the track. One of the most famous skips on this version of Rainbow Road is known as the “Spiral Jump” and can shave off 10 seconds off your final time.
In one game players had to do some hardware modding. This happened in Super Mario Kart for the SNES, the first game in the series. Players found that the bottom of the D-Pad had small rubber nubs which prevented two directions being pressed at once. If these nubs were shaved down, players could boost in the game more effectively. This modification of the controller was considered fair and in fact, was seen as a way to level the playing field. The idea is that over time these nubs would naturally rub off, meaning some players might have an advantage over players using newer or lesser-used controllers. Though for purists there are leaderboards that track times completed using non-modded controllers.
In fact, nearly every version of Rainbow Road has multiple leaderboards, often splitting up runs that used shortcuts and runs that didn’t. Other leaderboards are split between country and version.
Even if you don’t play Mario Kart, Summoning Salt does a great job adding tension and drama into some of the runs and really explaining things in a way players unfamiliar with speedrunningwill understand.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
This weekend I learned the key to not sucking ass at Mario Kart: relaxing your hands.
My general stance on competitive multiplayer games is that I play them to have fun with friends, and therefore I can’t be stressed about whether or not I’m good at them. That was again the case this Sunday when I was playing Mario Kart with my boyfriend. He’s a lot better at Mario Kart than me, but I couldn’t be bothered by that—I was having a nice time with someone I love. Still, getting last place a couple times in a row was kinda demoralizing.
As I shook out my tense hands after each race, I noticed that my boyfriend wasn’t partaking in the same post-race ritual. Suddenly, something became really clear to me. I was gripping my Joy Con like I wanted to kill it.
I’m a naturally tense person, which makes sense because I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve always gripped my controller tighter in tense moments, or steered with my controller during driving games, as if twisting my arms around would help me make those tight turns. My boyfriend is more of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, and since he was doing so well, I decided to take after him. I took a deep breath, stretched out my hands, and tried to grip the Joy Con firmly, but loosely.
I had this same exact issue back when I played violin in middle school. In order to play well, you need to use a grip that’s controlled, not tight or stiff. This became a huge issue for me. I was so nervous about not doing well in high-pressure moments that I’d choke out my violin, and then I’d play like garbage.
At least I had that experience to draw on while trying to figure out how to hold my controller. (We were playing on a single Switch, one horizontal Joy Con each.) Keeping my fingers over the shoulder buttons, I put my left thumb on top of the joystick and tried to use my other thumb as a counter balance. I was surprised by how natural it felt to hold the Joy Con this way. I often joke that they’re the only controller made for my tiny hands, but this was the first time that holding it horizontally didn’t make me feel like I was trying to eat the kernels off a piece of baby corn.
It worked. After switching up my grip, I won my first race. My boyfriend still beat me overall, but hey! First place.
I try not to care about winning or losing too much when I’m just playing video games with friends. It keeps me from getting so frustrated that I don’t have fun, and also opens up a space for me to experiment with the way that I play. Sometimes it leads to torturous Smash modes, and sometimes it leads to me getting better at a game. My boyfriend better watch out the next time we play Mario Kart. I’m coming for his ass.
I’ve always wondered why Mario Kart races—in recent years, anyway—have been capped at 12 racers when the hardware could surely handle more. Looking at this madness, it’s probably to preserve everyone’s sanity.
After messing around with Mario Kart Wii for a long time, MrBean35000vr has managed to get a modified version of the game running at 30fps with 24 racers, each of them unique and free to drive around wrecking as much shit as possible.
It’s not ready for public release yet, as there’s still testing to be done, but MrBean35000vr has detailed how he’s got a lot of this working here, with information on how he’s handled item distribution (“23rd/24th receive what 12th would normally get, 21st/22nd get what 11th would, etc”) and the challenges in getting items up and running while maintaining a workable framerate.
The thought of doing this at Baby Park has me sweating.