The original Dr. Mario is game that I like, but don’t love. The theme of having Mario cure viruses by smacking them with pills is great. Mechanically, you can create some interesting combos with the two-part pills splitting in half. However, that game becomes a slog the moment you have to put a pill in a bad spot. From there, you spend much of the level in a negative mindset, stressing out over the mess you made and how difficult it is to clean it up. It makes me feel more like a first-year med student rather than a world-renown professional such as the game’s namesake.
Dr. Mario World takes quite a few liberties in adapting the classic puzzler to mobile devices. Purists may raise an eyebrow at how much the game has changed at first glance, and I don’t blame them for that. However, I don’t think its gameplay is this title’s biggest cause for concern.
This time, viruses have invaded the Mushroom Kingdom. The breakout is so bad that all of its inhabitants – good and evil – are working together as doctors and assistants to stop the spread. Having this setup allows the game to incorporate a Candy Crush style progression system, as you work your way across a map, clearing levels along the way.
As soon as you load into the first level, the changes are quite dramatic. For the sake of usability on mobile devices, pills float upwards towards the viruses. Also, you only need to match three of the same colour in order to clear a set. Some may groan at Dr. Mario falling in line with the match 3 style of puzzle games, but I think it works a lot better this way. Matching three makes the game a smoother experience, as it minimizes the amount of logjams created by pieces that don’t fit well. Furthermore, it helps keep the board at a size that is legible on mobile devices.
What does remain from the Dr. Mario formula are the dynamics that come with two-part pills. If one half of a pill remains when a set of colours is cleared, the remaining half floats to the top. Placed strategically, these loose pieces can create chain reactions. If anything, the mechanic is greatly improved here thanks to the game’s drag controls. Loose pieces can be dragged anywhere on the board – even through walls – as long as you’re moving in an upward direction and fit in an empty space. Being able to split pills and move the bits across the board is an incredibly satisfying aspect of this new game, as it allows you to create a ton of new combos that simply weren’t possible in the old one.
Splitting pills is also a crucial skill to learn because the entire campaign is built around efficiency. Whether you’re clearing viruses or collecting coins by breaking blocks, you only have a certain amount of pills in each level to complete your objective with. Having done over 100 levels, I’m already at the point where wasting half a pill can be the difference between winning and losing. Layer that on with new blocks that populate the stage, power-ups that can be collected to make things easier, and character-specific special moves that can be unleashed when their super meter is full, and it becomes a much more dynamic game that provides a great challenge without necessarily making you feel like you’re cleaning up a mess along the way.
That is, until the free-to-play hooks of this game start to compromise the experience. You have to spend one heart per level you play. If you beat it, you get a heart back. Get on a winning streak, and you can play for quite some time.
However, levels can get tough pretty quickly. Losing a level depletes your five-heart stash. Once you hit zero, you can’t play anymore. That is, of course, unless you spend real money on power-ups that will give you just the boost you need to eek through that one level that’s holding you up. Despite my gripes with this sort of business model, this feels in line with other games of this style, such as Candy Crush.
Dr. Mario World also features 1v1 online multiplayer. While you’re still matching pills with same-coloured viruses, the multiplayer board is lacking the blocks, Koopa shells, and other accoutrements from the single-player experience. Though you’re just clearing viruses this time, the ceiling of the board continuously falls until one person’s junk overflows at the bottom. It’s intelligently designed to play quickly and with a great emphasis on creating combos.
There are no limits to how many times you play in multiplayer matches, but the experience is gated in other ways. Since players have a loadout of a doctor and assistants going into every mutliplayer match, there’s a chance that your opponent’s loadout could be a lot better than yours, even if your rankings are similar. The inequality hasn’t been a big problem for me yet, but I can see this being a glaring issue as I move up the ranks.
Also, while winning online multiplayer matches against random opponents will net you coins, you won’t always earn keys, which are used to open…loot boxes. After you get seven keys, you’ll open the box and get goodies that will help you in the single-player game. However, you then can’t earn any more keys for a set period of time. It pretty much works out that realistically, you can’t open more than 1-2 loot boxes a day.
You can also play head-to-head online with friends. You won’t win any rewards for playing with them, but they can send you one heart a day to be cashed in for the single-player campaign. Facing off against friends can be incredibly addicting, but it clumsily doesn’t have a quick rematch option. After each game, you have to re-invite your friend to a match, which really hurts the game’s momentum. Hoping the game addresses this issue in the future.
Not sure if this is a hot take, but I think strictly from a gameplay perspective, Dr. Mario World dramatically improves upon the original. With so many smart adjustments and new wrinkles in play, this one is more enjoyable than its predecessor ever was.
However, its Candy Crush style monetization system may be a deterrent. While I would much prefer a pay-to-play experience, I don’t entirely blame Nintendo for going this route. Super Mario Run tried to offer a premium experience for paying customers and the market simply wasn’t there for that relative to the demand for free-to-play games like Fire Emblem Heroes. Players may ultimately choose to get their mobile puzzle-gaming fix elsewhere, but for those wanting a Nintendo-made alternative to Candy Crush, this is a great option.
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