Mario Kart is one of Nintendo's strongest franchise with titles available for nearly every Nintendo console and handheld released in the past two decades and over 100 million copies sold — but Nintendo is eyeing a much larger potential audience by bringing Mario Kart to mobile phones.

When Mario Kart Tour was first announced more than a year ago, the online reactions were a mixed bag. Some folks were rightfully hyped up about the prospect of playing Mario Kart on their phone, while others were worried about how a free-to-play Mario Kart app might be bogged down with micro-transactions.

Now that closed Android beta for Mario Kart Tour has begun, we're starting to see screenshots and video clips leak out from brazen beta testers breaking the rules of the beta. Along with those leaks, we've rounded up some other impressions from around the tech news industry to get a sense for what Nintendo has brought to the table.

What you need to know

  • Mario Kart Tour is a free-to-play kart racer that's currently being beta tested in Japan and the US.
  • Familiar gameplay is fun and charming and all your favorite Mario Kart characters, carts, and courses included — although most things are hidden in the game's loot box-style rewards system.
  • Designed to be played with simplified, one-handed controls — similar to Super Mario Run.

Mario Kart Tour beta early impressions

Since I haven't had a chance to check out the beta first-hand, I've looked around for any brazen testers willing to post some gameplay footage. The above video was supplied by TonesqueTech and offers an unedited look at playing through the first three tracks. Mario Kart Tour is designed to play holding your phone in one hand, with auto-acceleration and swipe controls for turning. The core gameplay remains intact, with item boxes randomly delivering you power-ups on the track, and there appears to be a complete roster of returning characters to unlock and play as.

Ethan Gach from Kotaku writes that while the gameplay is fun and does a good job of adapting the franchise for smartphones the current state of the rewards system bogs the game down:

To unlock additional circuits you collect Grand Stars by completing races and other challenges. Earning stars is also how you unlock gifts, some of which contain green gems, Mario Kart Tour's premium currency. This is where things start to get weighed down with overlapping in-game currencies. For five gems you get to "pull" on a green pipe that shoots out a new driver, kart, or glider, each of a different rarity. My first pull got me Morton, one of the Bowser minions. Currently, the in-game shop, which doesn't allow you to buy gems yet, is advertising Metal Mario.

Nintendo has found massive success using the free-to-play with in-app purchases model with Fire Emblem Heroes reportedly generating close to $500 million in revenue on its own, so the prospects of milking a premiere franchise like Mario Kart with the same model is an obvious move. Nothing we've seen or read so far is set in stone, as is the nature of beta testing. The Verge mentions in their early look the beta that along with the stars, green gem, and coin currency systems, the game also includes a stamina system using hearts that deplete every 15 minutes and can evidently be refilled with in-app purchases.

Having only seen second-hand gameplay footage and first impressions from other game journalists, it honestly feels like Mario Kart Tour is shaping up to be a Dry Bones shell of what a Mario Kart game is supposed to be. Seems like the loot box system will have you mindlessly swiping through each race just grinding to earn enough coins or gems to get another chance at unlocking the one character you actually want to play as. These gameplay limitations feel especially weird given that this is the same franchise that let up to eight people wirelessly connect using just one cartridge with the Nintendo DS.

Of course, I'm trying not to pass judgment on a game that's still in the early beta-testing phase. The game is expected to see a wide release sometime this summer, and hopefully by then we'll have a clearer look at the gameplay modes and mechanics — because if the core gameplay is fun and holds up to the series reputation, the nostalgia-factor alone might make Mario Kart Tour one of the biggest games of 2019.

Get the most out of your Android gaming experience

SteelSeries Stratus Duo ($60 at Amazon)

A great Bluetooth controller for use with Android games that offer gamepad support that also includes a wireless USB dongle for gaming on PCs. Highly recommended!

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