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Mario Kart Tour Is an Insult to Today's Smartphones

Mario Kart Tour
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Mario Kart Tour is easily the most anticipated mobile game of the fall. Launching Sept. 25, it may be one of the first titles people download to their iPhone 11 or Galaxy Note 10.

But I won't be one of them.

On the plus side, Mario Kart Tour certainly won't get stale. The free-to-play game, which is coming to Android and iOS, will feature a rotating list of kart race courses that the company will swap out every two weeks. And you'll be able to upgrade to new characters, tracks and car parts if you're willing to pay extra.

Like Super Mario Run, though, Nintendo has designed Mario Kart Tour to be an exclusively portrait mode affair. Yes, there are benefits to playing a game that's optimized for one-handed use. As Nintendo notes in the game's description, "with just one finger, you can steer and drift with ease" and "sling devastating items as you for the gold."

That's nice, but a vertical-only title like this is a waste of really good hardware. What's the point of a ginormous 6.5-inch or 6.8-inch big-screen phone with an OLED display that's bursting with colors when you can only see a narrow sliver of the track at a time? It's like being forced to stare at a sliced-up multi-player view when you're just playing against the computer.

The biggest shame is that Nintendo says that the courses are inspired by real-world cities in addition to classic Mario Kart courses. So why not give players a wider canvas to enjoy those courses? Or at least a landscape mode option?

What's the point of a ginormous 6.5-inch or 6.8-inch big-screen phone with an OLED display that's bursting with colors when you can only see a narrow sliver of the track at a time?

Here's another problem. At least based on Nintendo's description, it doesn't look like there will be a real-time multiplayer option. You will be able compare your high scores with other players around the world but you won't be able to directly challenge them.

It's easy to understand why Nintendo doesn't want to deliver a full-fledged experience on phones. A Mario Kart Tour that looked more immersive and had more advanced controls would encroach on the Nintendo Switch and new Nintendo Switch Lite. But there are simply those of us who aren't going to invest in a separate mobile console to play games on the go (even though I have bought a Switch for my son).

Maybe Mario Kart Tour will wind up being fun, but as someone who has enjoyed playing titles like Asphalt 9: Legends, right now Nintendo's effort feels entirely too lite at this highly advanced stage of smartphone development. This continued false dichotomy between the Switch and phone games will keep me parked in the pit stop.