I am digging Dr. Mario World. While I never played a whole lot of the original back on the NES or Game Boy, Dr. Mario World has lured me in with its pick-up-and-play casual yet challenging gameplay style.
This free-to-play mobile interpretation of the Dr. Mario franchise released exclusively for iOS and Android is surprisingly well done. It’s not just a cheap cash grab, either. I figured that they were just going to make it impossible to play without paying. That hasn’t been my experience at all.
The first thing that you should know is that this is a reinvention of Dr. Mario. If you are expecting to play the classic version, you may find yourself disappointed. Or you may prefer this version? Either way, the game is free to try, so there’s no harm done to your wallet.
The game is broken up between a story mode that follows along a Super Mario World-like world map and a pair of multiplayer modes (more on those later). The story mode requires you to use hearts for each puzzle. If you beat the puzzle, you regain the heart. If you fail, the heart is lost. Once you run out of hearts, you either have to wait 30 minutes for the hearts to refill or pony up some cash. I think of losing the hearts as a “game over” and ponying up as buying a “continue” at an arcade; it’s really the same concept.
This sounds worse than it actually is, though, since you’re not paying anything upfront. People who are skilled at the game or who play it in short bursts will never need to pay up. It’s in the later levels where you’ll start losing hearts, which only replenish once every 30 minutes. Right now there are five worlds with 200 levels with plans for more levels being added. You should be able to plow through a good chunk of the game without much trouble.
Nintendo has also added various characters from the Mario universe as playable doctors and assistants. Each doctor has their own skill, which can be used once the skill meter is filled from clearing the map. For instance, Bowser clears two rows in single-player mode and one row in multi-player mode. Meanwhile, assistants potentially give you boosts. Sledge Bros, for instance, gives you a chance of a full skill meter at the start of the level. All of the characters except for your first doctor will need to be unlocked.
You may be saying to yourself now, “that’s all well and good, but how does the game actually play?” Whereas the original game on NES and its more modern sequel on the Nintendo 64 both featured top-to-bottom Tetris-like gameplay, Dr. Mario World reverses the tables. You play from the bottom up, which really doesn’t change things all that much.
Since this is a mobile game, Dr. Mario World only supports touchscreen controls. You can reorient capsules before placing them in the field of play, you can drag and drop them, and you can just let them slowly fall on their own. The best strategy really depends on each level and whether you are playing single-player or multi-player. For instance, you may want to drag and drop in multi-player to move faster, whereas in single-player you may want to be more precise.
Another significant change comes from the fact that Dr. Mario World is now a match-three game instead of a match-four game as it was in the original. This change may be, in part, due to the fact that the single-player limits the number of capsules that you can use each level. Whereas the original emphasized speed, this game emphasizes utilizing your capsules in the most efficient way possible.
Of course, Nintendo had to put in roadblocks in your quest for efficiency to make the game more interesting. To that end, they’ve thrown in viruses that are frozen in ice that require a couple of hits instead of just one, viruses in bubbles that fall when popped, and viruses locked in cages that need to be unlocked. There are also items on the playfield like bombs and turtle shells that work to your benefit, clearing viruses and blocks. In addition, there are a few levels where the focus shifts from removing all of the viruses on the screen to collecting coins that are released after a match-three adjacent to the block.
One final change that I would like to note is that you can now drag and hold a capsule next to an object blocking the way and it will teleport in the direction that you are pointing as long as there is space available. This adds a new strategic element to the game and opens up possible combinations that weren’t there in prior games, but it also feels a little weird to see the capsules teleport. Purists might not like it.
Let’s talk about the multiplayer now, which is the same basic premise of clearing a puzzle board of viruses, except now you have attacks that you can use from clearing the board. Your attack throws viruses on your opponent’s screen, potentially filling their screen to the point of no return. Once rows of viruses or unused capsules reach the bottom of the screen, it’s game over.
The multiplayer is where you will probably spend most of your time if you do run out of hearts. You can either battle against random strangers or friends, and you don’t have to worry about losing hearts. You can play as much as you want without consequence, other than it may cost you a friendship or two.
So, is it worth downloading and trying? Definitely! Not long ago, a game like this would have easily been $30 or $40. Now you can play it for free and walk away if you don’t like it. Frankly, I think that’s a pretty good deal.
Dr. Mario World is a well-balanced free-to-play title that doesn’t gouge you for cash like many other mobile games. And like any decent portable game, it’s fun to play in short bursts. The multiplayer is also pretty solid and will keep you entertained if you run out of hearts in the single-player mode. Give it a try!