The short answer is no, Mario Kart is not completely free to play on Nintendo Switch. While there are some limited free options, the full Mario Kart experience requires purchasing the games. However, there are a few ways to get your Mario Kart fix without spending a lot of money. Let‘s take a deeper look at what‘s available.
Background on Mario Kart Games
The Mario Kart series first launched in 1992 with Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo. Since then, it has become one of Nintendo‘s most iconic and best-selling franchises, synonymous with kart racing games. Key titles in the series include:
- Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)
- Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GameCube)
- Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)
- Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
- Mario Kart 7 (Nintendo 3DS)
- Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)
- Mario Kart Tour (Mobile)
On home consoles, the full Mario Kart games are purchased titles, while Mario Kart Tour for mobile devices is free-to-start with in-app purchases. Let‘s look at what‘s available on Nintendo Switch specifically.
Free Mario Kart Options on Nintendo Switch
While core Mario Kart games need to be purchased on Nintendo Switch, there are some limited free options:
- Mario Kart Tour: As mentioned, this mobile title is free to download and play with optional in-app purchases. It features courses and characters from the Mario Kart series.
- Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit: The free software lets you control physical Mario Kart cars using Nintendo Switch. But you need to buy the cars separately for $99.99.
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe multiplayer: Online multiplayer requires a paid Nintendo Switch Online membership. But local wireless multiplayer is free.
- Limited trials: Nintendo occasionally offers free Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit trials for a few days. But these are time-limited promotions.
So while you can access slices of Mario Kart gameplay for free, full races and Grand Prix modes require purchase. Next let‘s look at the paid Mario Kart games.
Paid Mario Kart Games on Nintendo Switch
There are currently two mainline paid Mario Kart games on Nintendo Switch:
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
This is a definitive edition of Mario Kart 8 from the Wii U, featuring 48 courses, multiple control options, and expanded multiplayer for up to 12 players locally and online. It retails for $59.99 on the Nintendo eShop.
According to Nintendo‘s lifetime sales data, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has sold over 52 million copies as of March 2022, making it the best-selling game on Nintendo Switch.
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit
This innovative mixed reality game lets you control physical karts using Nintendo Switch. The karts have cameras that display a live feed on your Switch screen while racing around the house. The base game is $99.99 and includes 1 kart.
According to Nielsen data, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit sold over 1 million units worldwide in its first year. This demonstrates strong demand for a creative Mario Kart experience.
So the paid Mario Kart games provide the full racing package but cost between $60-$100 upfront. What about Nintendo Switch Online benefits?
Nintendo Switch Online Perks
A Nintendo Switch Online membership (starting at $3.99 monthly) unlocks the following Mario Kart benefits:
- Online multiplayer for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
- Access to the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass DLC
- Cloud backup support to store save data
- Special offers like free Mario Kart 8 Deluxe game trials
The higher $49.99 yearly Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack tier also includes the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass. This optional $24.99 DLC delivers 48 remastered tracks to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe through the end of 2023.
Cost Comparison of Mario Kart Games
Here‘s a quick cost breakdown of the major Mario Kart games and access options on Nintendo Switch:
|Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
|Nintendo Switch Online membership ($3.99+/month)
|Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit
|No membership required for local multiplayer
|Mario Kart Tour
|None – online multiplayer included
As you can see, there is a wide range of pricing. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and its DLC is not cheap, it does provide the fullest Mario Kart experience on Nintendo Switch. Next let‘s compare free vs. paid games.
Free vs. Paid Games on Nintendo Switch
In addition to Mario Kart, there are other free-to-play games on Nintendo Switch like Fortnite, Rocket League, and Apex Legends. How do they compare to paid games?
- Lower barrier to entry – can download and play for free
- Revenue driven by in-game transactions for customization
- Addictive gameplay loops and progression to drive engagement
Paid game advantages:
- Full experience without freemium limitations
- No ads or heavy monetization tactics
- Ownership of game content rather than renting
- Potential for higher production value
Different players have different budget and gameplay preferences. Paid Mario Kart titles offer polished kart racing experiences upfront. But players looking for a quick free racing fix do have options like Mario Kart Tour.
Why Are Nintendo Switch Games Expensive?
On average, new Nintendo Switch games cost $59.99 compared to $49.99 on competing consoles. Why the premium pricing? A few key factors:
- First-party IP premium: Flagship franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon tend to retain value.
- Cartridge production: Costly proprietary game cards vs. cheap CD/Blu-Ray discs.
- Limited discounts: Nintendo games rarely drop in price compared to other publishers.
- Portability advantage: Players pay extra for gaming on the go on Switch.
When you buy a first-party Nintendo game, you are paying a premium for that exclusive intellectual property and portability. This gives Nintendo pricing power versus other consoles.
Tips for Getting Your Mario Kart Fix
Want to enjoy Mario Kart without breaking the bank? Here are some money-saving tips:
- Try Mario Kart Tour first to see if you like the mobile experience.
- Wait for seasonal Nintendo eShop sales around the holidays to get a discount on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
- Buy a used physical copy at retailers like GameStop to save over digital.
- Split the cost of a family Nintendo Switch Online membership to access multiplayer.
- Consider Mario Kart alternatives like Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled.
- Set up Mario Kart tournaments locally with friends who already own the game.
While not free, there are ways to get your Mario Kart fix for less. Doing research and shopping sales can help save money on games.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, the full Mario Kart experience on Nintendo Switch does require purchase. But between the free-to-play Mario Kart Tour mobile game and Nintendo Switch Online benefits, you can still access elements of Mario Kart for free. Paid titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe deliver the definitive Mario Kart package, so decide if the cost is worthwhile for you. With strategic shopping and multiplayer sharing, you can minimize the dent on your wallet. Most importantly, enjoy racing with Mario and friends on Nintendo Switch!