Nintendo set the internet ablaze Wednesday night with two big announcements. First, Nintendo revealed that the Switch's paid online service will begin in September (boo), but it was the other report that really got fans excited — Mario Kart is coming to your iPhone.
The news blindsided gamers, considering we had no warning this game was in the works. It does make sense — Nintendo has slowly dipped its toes into the waters of mobile gaming over the last two years. First with the near-defunct social-networking app Miitomo, then with some of its most beloved franchises.
We've seen Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, and even a promising (if not overall disappointing) Mario game hit our iPhones. Now that we know a Mario Kart game is on the way, we can look at what Nintendo has done so far on mobile platforms, and instantly think of some things we'd love to see (as well as not see) from Nintendo's latest iOS effort.
Mario Kart is a racing game, so, naturally, it's important that the player feels well in-control of their kart at all times. Unfortunately, this is where I'm most concerned.
Let's face it — as good as some mobile games are, it's really tough to use touch or motion controls for a game designed with physical controls in mind. In fast-paced, intense driving games, every move counts. Touch controls are usually too unreliable to give skilled players the same confidence a physical controller typically would. That's why Nintendo really needs to focus on getting these controls right.
I would be happy if Nintendo would draw inspiration from something like Need For Speed: No Limits. Its touch controls are invisible and on either side of the display for comfort and maximum visibility. These controls are tight, and make you feel in control of your car. At the end of the day, that's all I want from a mobile port of Mario Kart.
Of course, nothing truly replaces the comfort and function of a proper physical controller. Why is why I'd like to see ...
While not the most portable way to play, physical controllers and mobile games go hand-in-hand. Your iPhone is more powerful than a 3DS with a sharper display than the Switch — with physical controls, Nintendo could make a masterful Mario Kart experience.
There are so many reasons to go with a physical controller for this one — drifting, jumping, tricks, items throws, these actions all require different button combinations to pull off. You don't want to clutter up the display with a bunch of touch buttons that you will inevitably mis-tap anyway (wanted to drift? Sorry, you just wasted your red shell). A physical controller would solve these problems and give Nintendo fans a full Mario Kart game on their iPhones.
Now, I'm not expecting Nintendo to make their own controller — there are plenty of third-party controllers out there, some that even physically connect to your iPhone for greater portability. That being said, Nintendo already has portable controllers on the market right now, in the form of joy-cons. Would it really be so out of reach for the company to manufacture an iPhone case that the joy-cons can connect to?
Come on, Nintendo — fulfill this unrealistic wish of mine.
If controls are the bread and butter of a Mario Kart game, courses are the meat and potatoes. What good is driving around some boring levels? We need some windy, rickety, uneven and downright diabolical courses designed specifically for iPhone, just like any other Mario Kart game would get.
Of course, it should also come with remastered versions of the best courses from previous games. A few N64 gems here, a few Double Dash tracks here, and gamers will be happy.
Look, we just don't want a repeat of Super Mario Run — don't give us what feels like a real Nintendo game that we beat in 30 minutes because you skimped on the number of levels. I'm not even necessarily expecting the typical 32 courses we get in normal Mario Kart games (but I'm so expecting that, Nintendo).
In the real world, Nintendo is known for the integrity of their games — when you drop $60 on Zelda or Mario, you can expect a full experience. While the company has started rolling out additional downloadable content, they've never gone down the route other game companies have by forcing you to purchase extra features just to feel like you've played the "real" game.
But, this is mobile we're talking about. Every game needs to be free to download so you can pay for in-app purchases to make your way through. That's just the way it is.
Interestingly, Nintendo has experimented with a few pricing options thus far — Mario Run offered a free trial with a $10 barrier to entry (that didn't do so well). Fire Emblem Heroes ran with a lottery system. And Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp went with a mix, by giving players a full experience for free, with optional in-app purchases to speed up certain aspects of the game.
How Nintendo will approach Mario Kart is anyone's guess. I think, if the game is worth it, most traditional gamers would prefer to pay a flat price a la Mario Run. But Nintendo knows that demographic probably won't be enough to sustain revenue from another big mobile effort.
If I had to guess, Nintendo will offer Mario Kart Tour either for free or for a small sum, and will present players with ample payment opportunities in-game. Karts, bikes, characters, clothes, accessories, even courses could be for sale via microtransactions. And, hey, I'm okay with that, so long as things feel fair. If I can play Mario Kart on my iPhone without having to spend more overall than I would for any other Nintendo handheld, that's alright with me.
Mario Kart online, on your iPhone? Not even Steve Jobs could've thought that one up.
Online play is all but an inevitability here — Mario Kart is at its best when you play against real people, and plenty of mobile games have gotten online right. For Nintendo to ship Mario Kart Tour with no online gameplay would be a true disappointment, and I don't expect it to happen.
What I do hope for, however, is for that online play to be good. I'd rather not see an intense race cut short by crashing, freezing, or any other glitches or interruptions. This game will be released in 2019 — Nintendo has plenty of time to work out the kinks.
My other concern is with cost — Nintendo is rolling out a paid online service for the Switch this fall. I hope it doesn't do the same for Mario Kart Tour. Paid online is one thing for a console, and even then it feels like a ripoff. If Nintendo feels the need to include in-app purchases with Mario Kart Tour, I hope it keeps them away from the online experience.
It's an exciting time to be a mobile gamer, and while it may feel far away right now, 2019 is just on the horizon. My hope is that Nintendo really thinks about the right way to bring Mario Kart to the iPhone. While maximizing revenue is important, keeping players engaged is essential. What better way is there to accomplish that than giving gamers a true version of Mario Kart for iPhone.