It's hard to find good racing games on mobile. Most of them are free-to-play, and free-to-play racers generally suck. Even Nintendo couldn't put together a competent Mario Kart game, opting instead for a weird score chaser that resembles--but feels nothing like--actual Mario Kart.
So, when Nexon released KartRider Rush+ earlier this week, I had low expectations, but I decided to boot it up and try it out anyway. I played a few races, and then I played some more. Then I joined a racing club, found myself friending people, and racing even more. Before I knew it, my week was consumed with playing KartRider Rush+ because--somehow--it has managed to create a free-to-play racing experience that actually feels good.
To be clear, this doesn't mean KartRider Rush+ is free of premium currencies or gacha mechanics. It's quite the opposite, actually. There are so many currencies, unlocks, quests, etc. it makes my head spin. There's even a whole system where you can decorate and customize your racer's home and visit your friend's virtual cribs, which in turn has its own things you can spend real time and money on upgrading, if you so choose.
KartRider Rush+ has managed to hold my attention so far for a variety reasons, but the main one is just how easy it has been for me to ignore all of its free-to-play systems and just race. Closely behind that is the fact that KartRider Rush+'s racing feels remarkably great. Although your kart accelerates automatically, managing your steering, plus the game's drift and boost systems, provides plenty for you to control on a touch screen while still feeling like a substantial, challenging, and satisfying experience.
It's also very clear that KartRider Rush+'s systems have a high skill ceiling, which is often missing from free-to-play titles. Usually heavily monetized games operate by carefully constructing the illusion that you can hone your skills and "get good" while actually linking in-game performance to whoever has the best digital items unlocked and equipped (which, of course, you "earn" by some combination of grinding or spending money). But in KartRider Rush+, drifting smoothly, timing your boosts, and finding course shortcuts can give you tangible advantages in races, and doing all of these things can be pretty hard! You actually have to practice and develop your racing abilities to be able to reliably cross the finish line first, which is not something I can say of most other free-to-play racers.
As much fun as I've been having with KartRider Rush+ though, I'm not sure I'm ready to put any kind of stamp on approval on it yet. In this launch window, Nexon has been showering players with all kinds special karts and cosmetics. The only problem is, these rewards are temporary and will expire within a number of days. Once those dry up, I'm curious to see whether a rift will emerge between free and paying players or not, and if that destroys the sense of skills-based competition that I've been enjoying. I guess we'll see, but for now I'll keep playing KartRider Rush+ for as long as I can. For now, it currently takes the cake as the best mobile kart racer out there.