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This article was published on September 27, 2019

Mario Kart Tour just smoked Pokémon GO in day-one downloads

Mario Kart Tour just smoked Pokémon GO in day-one downloads
Rachel Kaser
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Rachel Kaser

Internet Culture Writer

Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback Rachel is a writer and former game critic from Central Texas. She enjoys gaming, writing mystery stories, streaming on Twitch, and horseback riding. Check her Twitter for curmudgeonly criticisms.

Mario Kart Tour just beat out its fellow licensed gaming properties in terms of day-one downloads — and not by a small margin either. By any metric, the game is the biggest out-of-the-gate success on the app market thus far. Too bad it’s such a drag to play.

Tour was announced last year, and according to Bloomberg, insiders claimed Nintendo was betting a lot on the app’s success. I prophesied that it might be Nintendo’s biggest smartphone hit thus far. In terms of numbers, it seems my prediction isn’t that far off.

The app was released on September 25. According to mobile data firm Sensor Tower, it has the highest number of day-one downloads out of any of Nintendo’s six mobile games, with none of the others even coming close. Data-tracking site Apptopia reports that the day-one downloads surpass those of Pokémon GOClash Royale, and the mobile version of Fortnite.

The number varies between the two reports. The earlier Apptopia report puts the number at 10 million, while Sensor Tower reports 20 million downloads later the same day. Even assuming only the lesser of those two numbers is the correct one, that’s still pretty impressive.

I’ll wager the driving force behind those downloads is the same thing I predicted would push the app ahead of the likes of Fire Emblem Heroes or Super Mario Run. Namely, the Mario Kart series consistently has the most name recognition of any brand Nintendo’s converted to mobile thus far. It’s popular in a way Fire Emblem or Animal Crossing simply aren’t.

According to Nintendo’s sales data, a Mario Kart game is the top-selling game on the Switch (17.9 million copies), the Wii U(8.4 million), and the 3DS (18.4 million). While it’s outstripped by Wii Sports on the eponymous console, Mario Kart Wii was its second-best seller (37.2 million). Mario Kart DS is third-best on that handheld (23.6 million).

Lots of people own and play Mario Kart games, is what I’m trying to say. So it’s probably not a surprise to hear that, when word gets out that there’s a new Mario Kart game available for that most common of consoles, the smartphone, everyone rushed to try it. Apptopia analyst Adam Blacker also estimates Apple-assisted marketing and automatic downloads helped push the number even higher: “Additionally, the game was highly promoted and marketed (with Apple’s help) leading up to launch. If you pre-ordered the game and you did not have auto downloads turned off, you woke up with the game already loaded onto your phone (it came out at 4am ET yesterday).”

Still, I’d be curious to see if the number of people who retain the app for any length of time is commensurate to the number of those who downloaded it. Because I’ve tried the game and, honestly, it’s nothing to write home about. I played it for under an hour and got tired of it. It’s much slower-paced than console-based Mario Kart, and doesn’t have the same sense of friendly fun characteristic of those games. There’s a chance it gets better if you stick with it — I’m certainly not staying to find out, and I bet I’m not the only one.

And maybe I’ve already been spoiled by the likes of Apple Arcade, but I’m starting to consider the practice of front-loading a mobile game with pleas for money to be passé. Tour definitely doesn’t shy away from the microtransactions. There’s even a bizarre monthly subscription-based Gold Pass that gives you access to a fast racing mode, special badges, and not very much else. The price? $4.99, the exact same price as Apple Arcade — a coincidence, most likely, but not a happy one for Tour, because comparing what you get from each fiver does not weigh things in the Gold Pass’s favor.

Still, given how many people have downloaded it, Nintendo will have their “billion dollar app” if only a fraction of them stick around and invest in the app.

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