Originally scheduled to launch today, Nintendo released Dr. Mario World a day early on iOS and Android devices, and my initial impressions with it are mixed. The game captures some of the fun and joy of the Dr. Mario games it’s based on but unfortunately, it’s held back by frustrating mobile mechanics and an expensive bill from the doc.
To begin with, Dr. Mario World plays similarly to the original 1990 game. Colored viruses fill up the board, and it’s up to you to get rid of them by placing similarly colored pills in a match-3 fashion. Get rid of the viruses, and you win. Where Dr. Mario World differs, however, is the pills come from the bottom of the board, as opposed to falling from the top — a la Tetris or Puyo Puyo.
Being on a touchscreen, you control the pills using your fingers and tap to rotate them to fill a space. Let go of the pill, and it will slowly fall until it can’t anymore before locking in. The beauty comes from strategizing what viruses are on the board, what pill you can throw, and what is loaded in the queue. Since pills can be two different colors, you need to coordinate where you place them and let the unused half fall. Any unused half of a pill can be moved in any spot on the board unless it’s towards the bottom part of the screen.
Dr. Mario World seems to have an endless amount of levels, but I’ve only reached the midway point of the second world. So far, there are only two goals in the main levels. Either cure the viruses or find all the coins. At the end of the level, you are scored and can earn bonuses depending on how many pills you have left to earn up to three stars and earn coins. At different points on the map, a branching pathway opens up for speed-based levels that offer a new challenge and rewards.
This time around, Dr. Mario has enlisted his friends from the Mushroom Kingdom (and apparently given them honorary Doctrines?) to help stop the viruses from taking over. The game initially gives you the option to play as Mario, Peach, or Bowser. Choose wisely, because you won’t be able to change until you unlock another character (more on that in a bit). Of course, each character offers a different power than the other. I chose Mario, and his power gets rid of the bottom-most (the one closest to the bottom of your device). Bowser, on the other hand, gets rid of two random rows. Both of these powers are helpful; you just have to decide who you like better and how you feel these powers can work in your favor. Additionally, you will earn assistants that give you random such as a Goomba increasing your score by one percent.
Alright, still with me? That covers pretty much all the basics of Dr. Mario World. During my time, I’ve enjoyed playing the game. It scratches that itch in a similar way that Tetris does, or even the original game (which you can play on the Nintendo Switch Online NES service by the way). Levels are brief, which gives me that “one more game” feeling. I love looking at the layout and trying to configure how and where to slot the pills. I initially didn’t like how slow the pills fell after placing them, but after figuring out you can move them as freely as you want, it didn’t become an issue. Plus, it felt awesome to place a pill, let it fall slowly, and immediately throw the next one in line to “combo” the two.
Now we get to the issues that plague Dr. Mario World. To start a level, you have to have a life, which you can hold up to five. After clicking on the confirm button, you use one. Clear a level, and you gain that life back (as long as you’ve never cleared it before), but lose, and you have to wait 30 minutes before gaining that heart back. If this sounds familiar, it’s because about 90 percent (please note, I didn’t check how accurate this is) of mobile games feature this time stopping, momentum killing, fun-sucking mechanic in them, including the Candy Crush series. I don’t always have time to play, so the time does naturally fill up, but the game becomes all the more punishing if I make one small mistake (and with touchscreen controls, I make plenty). Of course, if you want, you can buy more hearts. To do that, you have to purchase diamonds, and that costs real-world money, though you can earn small amounts over time.
The game hasn’t been egregious with asking me to spend money but sure isn’t afraid to remind me about diamonds and what they can do. Lose a level? Continue by using diamonds. Want extra powers ups? Better have some diamonds. Hopefully, your health insurance can cover this doctor visit.
Now, I mentioned earlier that you can earn more characters. You can do that through the staffing page. New characters are either 4,000 coins or 40 diamonds. You earn coins by playing and doing challenges, but it will take a bit of time before being able to unlock the 10 doctor characters and 32 assistants. Plus, unlocking them is all random. Yes, this game has loot boxes. Nintendo was kind enough (or just wants to avoid any legal issues) to display the drop rate for each character. You can earn the same characters you already have, but that makes them level up. I’ve been able to buy two new characters and got a Luigi and a Paragoomba assistant. Once you’ve reached the maximum level with a character, they leave the pool. It’s going to take a long time (or a lot of money) before collecting them all.
Finally, there is a multiplayer mode that you can play against randoms or friends. I haven’t been able to play against friends, but finding random matches don’t take too long. Matches are based more off speed and accuracy. Each character has a special move that can either help you or harm your opponent, and it’s all about filling the opposing board with trash until they can’t play anymore. Win and earn coins and points towards your ranking. Win a certain number of matches during the day and unlock a random assortment of prizes. This mode is fun and doesn’t have the heart-based stamina system, but I’ve lost matches in frustrating fashion when my board becomes bombarded with trash.
Dr. Mario World, unfortunately, seems doomed to be as many of Nintendo’s other mobile games: play for a few weeks and then never load it up again. It’s just a shame because the core gameplay isn’t terrible, I’ve actually had a good amount of fun. But that level of fun becomes dwindled when I can’t play when I want due to the stamina system. Add in the shady mobile game microtransaction purchases that are around every corner, and a random character unlock system, and this doctor becomes just a bit too expensive to go to.