After over a year of waiting, Mario Kart Tour is finally available in closed beta form in the U.S. and Japan. Unfortunately, the game as it is now is filled with micro-transactions.

Mechanically, Mario Kart Tour has the makings of a great mobile racing game. You drag your finger to the left or right to steer the kart, with turns becoming sharper the further you drag your finger to either side. If you keep your finger off the screen, your kart just goes straight. You can also drift if you drag your finger enough to the left or right and hold it there for a few seconds.

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The controls are simple enough to grasp and execute, though drifting can be a bit finicky. The good news is that you have a large roster of characters, karts, and gliders to choose from to make your racing experience a bit easier. To that end, Mario Kart Tour features 30 characters, 20 karts, and 10 gliders.

Mario Kart Tour's controls are easy enough to grasp and execute.

Once you pick your racer and track, you eventually encounter item blocks that have been a Mario Kart staple since the first game for the SNES. So far, I’ve encountered banana peels, coins, all three shell colors, bob-ombs, lightning, and the super horn.

As in previous Mario Kart games, there are many cups to complete in Mario Kart Tour. The closed beta includes 16 cups, with each cup including four races. Each race features two laps instead of the standard three, and they felt much smaller than their console and handheld counterparts. That’s not necessarily a complaint, since it meant that I got in and out of races very quickly.

Here comes the gacha

You earn Grand Stars as you complete each race in a cup, with a maximum of five available in each race. This is where things start to break down, since gathering enough Grand Stars nets you a free gift. Some of these free gifts contain emerald gems, one of Mario Kart Tour’s in-game currencies that let you unlock new drivers, karts, and gliders.

Each driver, kart, and glider features different bonuses based on the race. For example, the Toad that I unlocked at the beginning gets three item slots on 3DS Toad Circuit. Meanwhile, Peach gets three item slots on 3DS Mario Circuit.

Even though Toad and Peach are considered “rare” drivers, the actual advantage that they each offer varies. As such, I can see people spending real-world money on emeralds in order to hopefully get drivers that feature advantages across more stages.

You can get what you want, if you spend enough emerald gems.

That’s not an issue in the beginning, since 50cc is simple enough for anyone to jump in. However, I can see that becoming a problem in more difficult tracks.

Also a concern is the dreaded stamina bar that’s become a staple in gacha games. The stamina bar consists of five hearts, which automatically replenish one at a time in 15-minute intervals. If you can’t wait that long, you’re more than welcome to spend emerald gems to speed up the process. If you spend enough emerald gems, you can get 10 or 15 bonus hearts.

Lastly, you collect gold coins during races and based on how well you did in a race. You can then spend the gold coins in Mario Kart Tour’s in-game store, which only features a select number of items. These items are refreshed once or twice a day.

Editor's Pick

You can only earn gold coins — they aren’t available for purchase with real-world money. However, you can use emerald gems to play the game’s coin rush mode. In coin rush, you collect as many coins as you can in a given amount of time and you race by yourself. If you spend five or 25 emerald gems, each coin is worth double or 10x, respectively.

Kotaku nailed it on the head when it described Mario Kart Tour as more of a game about collecting things instead of a proper mobile racing game. There’s plenty of time for Nintendo to make adjustments and fine-tune the game in time for its summer 2019 release. Also, the actual racing bits are plenty of fun, even if there isn’t a proper multiplayer mode.

As things stand right now, Mario Kart fans might want to take a wait-and-see approach with this one.