Mario Kart Tour is out now, bringing the beloved kart racing franchise to mobile devices. But its monetization hooks are an odd and aggressive mixture of bad free-to-play habits, which may sour some players on the game.
As we've known from previous announcements, the game features "gacha" style mechanics similar to most of Nintendo's other mobile F2P titles. That means a certain type of currency--in this case, Rubies--can be exchanged for a randomized item. Those can be racers, karts, or parachutes. When equipped, each can provide you with an advantage in a race if you happen to own it, which encourages you to spin the wheel and get as many different items as you can. And naturally, special events like the currently running Pauline Spotlight increase the odds of unlocking particular racers.
None of this is unusual. Games ranging from Fire Emblem Heroes to the recently released Pokemon Masters use a similar model. And like those games, you can earn the currency slowly or purchase it in bulk for real money. In the case of Mario Kart Tour, ruby bundles come in several tiers ranging from 3 ($2) to 135 ($70). It also offers a rotating package that guarantees a character, currently Mario, for $20.
The strangest inclusion, though, is the Mario Kart Tour "Gold Pass." This purchase for $5 per month works something like a Fortnite Battle Pass, giving you special loot to unlock with Gold Challenges and an exclusive 200cc race mode. The game offers a two-week free trial of the Gold Pass, but once that period is up, you'll be charged five bucks in perpetuity every month.
The idea of a Battle Pass-like system in Mario Kart isn't necessarily a bad one, if the price were right. But whereas Fortnite is a wildly popular and established shooter across multiple platforms, Mario Kart Tour is an unproven mobile spin-off of a console game. At $5 per month it actually costs slightly more than a Battle Pass, which lasts 10 weeks for $10. It's also more expensive than a Switch Online subscription ($20 per year) and matches the price of a subscription to Apple Arcade ($5 per month for access to roughly 100 games).
If the price were right, the Gold Pass could work, but at its current cost the value proposition just isn't there. And paired with elements like gacha mechanics, it makes for a bad mixture of aggressive free-to-play hooks. Maybe the strength of the game will shine through and players can vote with their wallets on the Gold Pass. But its inclusion speaks to a philosophy that could turn off even the most devoted kart enthusiast. That may kill the engine before it even gets out of the starting gate.
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