Developer: LINE Corporation
Rating: E for Everyone
Price: Free (with In-App Purchases)
Having grown up playing Dr. Mario with my family, I am quite fond of Nintendo’s classic take on the “Match 3” genre. They truly have games for everyone. So when I first heard that Nintendo’s next mobile game was going to be Dr. Mario World, I was very excited. Dr. Mario is perhaps the most obvious addition to Nintendo’s growing line up of mobile titles and many fans of the franchise have been eager to dive in since the game’s launch on July 9th. So how does it hold up on mobile compared to its past outings on Nintendo’s handhelds and consoles? Read on to find out.
Dr. Mario World is about as wholesome as games can get. The overworld map is colorful and the viruses and Toads of the Mushroom Kingdom dance around as you progress through the game. There is no real violence other than viruses “popping” and disappearing once a match has been made. I suppose one could argue that drug use is prevalent throughout since Dr. Mario tosses out drug capsules to clear the board of viruses, but there are no recreational drugs present at all. There is absolutely no foul language of any kind so parents can let their kids play the game relatively worry-free. I say “relatively” because unless you have the option set up to block micro-transactions there is always the possibility of your little ones running up quite a bill while playing this game.
The Doctor will see you now! If you’ve been looking for a new puzzle game with hundreds of levels to grind through then look no further than Dr. Mario World for iOS and Android. The last Dr. Mario game that I remember was Dr. Luigi for Wii U; it scratched that itch for a fun, frantic, and colorful puzzle game that I could play for relaxation after a long day. Also, I could play as long as I wanted, whenever I wanted.
Sadly, this is not the case with Dr. Mario World. While the moment to moment gameplay is both familiar yet new, I am not a fan of the game’s predatory micro-transactions and time-gated mechanics that so far have not plagued many of Nintendo’s other mobile titles. Its a bit of a conundrum as it hasn’t made me want to stop playing, yet is disappointing because I would much rather have a new Dr. Mario title on Nintendo Switch with a marathon mode included.
Just like with similar puzzlers on mobile, there is a timer system that prevents players from being able to play levels after they lose a set number of hearts, and hearts can be purchased with real money. While the game isn’t pushy about getting you to buy these hearts, along with a host of various upgrades that can be used on each puzzle, the cost to buy these items with gold earned from playing is drastically higher, which seems designed to encourage players to fork over their cash for a few more attempts at a particularly tough puzzle.
The puzzles themselves work a bit differently in this entry. Instead of moving the capsules as they slowly float towards the bottom of the jar, now the capsules float upwards towards the top of the screen and half-capsules can be moved independently after a match has been made. This presents new opportunities for each puzzle and also new challenges; the familiar brick blocks from traditional Mario games are included in levels to obscure the viruses hiding behind them, or to block off a potential route for players to guide their capsules through for a match. Bombs, Pill Bottles and various Koopa shells will appear in some stages and offer benefits such as clearing a cluster of viruses, clearing an entire row, or powering up the chosen Doctor’s special ability.
Yes, you read that right. This time, Dr. Mario brought friends! Dr. Mario, Bowser, Toad, Toadette, Peach, Luigi, and Yoshi are all present in this entry along with a slew of supporting characters who act as assistants. Assistants offer benefits such as increased coins earned which helps get players closer to that elusive 3-star rating for each level. In a similar fashion, each Doctor has their own special ability that can be triggered with just a tap once the energy bar around their character portrait has been filled. So far, these seem to just be abilities that allow players to clear a set number of rows and/or columns, and lack variety. Each Doctor and their potential assistants also serve to highlight another problem with Dr. Mario World’s predatory micro-transactions…the lottery system.
I wouldn’t mind paying 40 diamonds (about 3.99) for new characters if I could choose which character I was going to receive. But there is only about a 2% chance for each character/assistant when you make a purchase through Staffing, Dr. Mario World’s version of an in-game store. So essentially this means that children, or anyone else who plays this game and makes a purchase, is effectively playing a roulette machine in trying to get the Dr. and/or Assistant that they really want (in my case, Yoshi). While the game can be played and levels completed without spending a penny, it is clear that players are being not so subtly encouraged to spend more money in order to get the most enjoyment out of their experience.
Another negative is in the bonus levels. While they offer rewards upon completion, they have arbitrary time limits that appear to have been added just to provide frustration for anyone but the most diehard players or those who spend more to get power-ups and upgrades to help them clear the puzzle. There is no room for error in Dr. Mario World; whether its the capsule limit or the time limit that gets you, something will hinder your progress and prevent you from being able to play for at least a few hours. This is perhaps the main issue I have with this game. The gameplay itself is so fun and engaging that I wish this entry had a marathon mode so I could play for hours non-stop. But the addition of a set number of hearts means I can only fail a puzzle so many times before I have to wait several hours before giving it another go. In this way, it feels like Nintendo is punishing players for enjoying their game and wanting to play more of it.
There is also a Versus mode which is quite fun and plays more like the original Dr. Mario titles. Here players battle it out with one another in similar puzzles with each cleared line turning into an attack on the other player. Ultimately the goal is to continue attacking your opponent to fill up a blank space near the bottom of their play area to the point where they can no longer play a capsule. This mode is fast, frantic, and fun and I found it closer to the marathon mode that I really wish this game had in some form or another for single-player.
Despite the negatives, I still recommend Dr. Mario World to fans of the franchise and of puzzle games in general. The familiar and addictive theme music is back, remixed, and better than ever. The game itself is better than Candy Crush or whatever that game is that Ryan Reynolds does the commercials for (Sorry, Ryan). If players can look past the micro-transactions, there is a solid puzzle game here with gradually increasing difficulty always feels fair. I just wish there was more freedom and player choice in how levels can be completed and that it was easier to earn some of the more sought-after Doctors and Assistants.
The Bottom Line
Dr. Mario introduces some clever twists to its gameplay formula, but it's predatory micro-transactions and lack of a marathon mode are a disappointment.