Nintendo's bringing another big franchise to mobile. This time, Mario Kart's feeling the pocket-sized love.
Nintendo made the announcement about "Mario Kart Tour" on its Twitter account last night, and stated it's due out by the end of next fiscal year ending in March 2019. That's Nintendo's gentle way of saying "Sit down and wait. It's going to be a little while yet. Probably not until next year."
Immediate reactions appear to be mixed. It's about half "cool!" responses and half animated gifs of flabbergasted faces, like so:
To be honest, I was expecting more rage. The mobile market is not well-loved by traditional gamers, and Mario Kart is sacred. But the pushback we saw against announcements for mobile Mario, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing games isn't as ferocious this time. Twitter isn't full of lamentations about how Nintendo is losing is losing its identity. People seem to be interested in Mario Kart Tour, albeit in the same cautious way they're interested in any free-to-play game based on a big-name franchise. Nintendo's presence in the mobile space is gradually being accepted.
I don't doubt the backlash against Mario Kart Tour would be harsher if Nintendo wasn't also killing it with the Nintendo Switch and its stellar batch of games. 2017 demonstrated Nintendo regards its mobile games as a different beast from its core games, and there's no indication the latter is suffering because of the former.
Moreover, I think Nintendo's done a decent job letting us know what to expect from its mobile games based on major franchises. Super Mario Run isn't a Mario game; it's a scoop of a Mario game. Fire Emblem Heroes isn't a Fire Emblem game; it's a stripped-down strategy game that revolves around fan service. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp isn't an Animal Crossing game; it's a bite of Animal Crossing's town-building concept.
All these games are free, barring Super Mario Run (which can be downloaded for free, but requires you to cough up $9.99 USD for the full game). Do any of them hold a candle to other games in the series they descended from? Nope. Are they supposed to? Nope. They're just something fun to poke at before you go to bed.
I still play Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Same with Pokémon GO. Neither app has dulled my hype for the next full-blooded Animal Crossing or Pokémon game. I accept and enjoy them for what they are.
I think most people have similarly separated Nintendo's regular output from its mobile games. Some see eye-to-eye with me and say, "Yeah, this isn't real Fire Emblem, it's just a slice of Fire Emblem to keep me occupied while I'm on the can." That's fine. Other people say, "I'm not OK with the fact this Animal Crossing app is missing a lot of what makes Animal Crossing cool in the first place." That's fine, too. I'm just going to admit I think Mario Kart Tour will be fun, and I look forward to it.
"But how the heck can a Mario Kart game work on mobile?"
This is another instance where you should remind yourself Nintendo adjusts its franchises as necessary when they go mobile. That's why Super Mario Run is playable with one hand, and why neither Fire Emblem Heroes nor Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp are as complex as games in their parent franchises. Nintendo might apply an auto-steering function in Mario Kart Tour to get around the awkward task of navigating winding tracks with on-screen touch controls (I've been there with other mobile kart racers; trust me, it sucks), or, more likely, it'll simplify the app's tracks.
You might not believe it, but a simplified racing game can be a lot of fun. One of my all-time favorite apps is DogByte's Blocky Highway, an endless driving game where you clip other drivers for points while collecting items and coins on the track. No, it's not Mario Kart, but there's still a sense of speed and excitement I think Mario Kart Tour should be able to capture without too much trouble, even if it has to straighten out its winding tracks a bit.
It's probably going to be a while before we see anything tangible about Mario Kart Tour, though. I'll just stay here for now, rev up my engines, and check Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp again—
Oh God, Nintendo brought in sheep clowns. Goodbye!