Starting in 2016, Nintendo began experimenting with its most popular properties (that is, those not named Pokemon) and how their playstyles translate to a casual mobile gaming market. Super Mario Run was an interesting take on the runner genre starring the eponymous plumber that initially gained traction and popularity, but quickly faded into obscurity in the endless sea of cell phone games. Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing came next with downsized, mobile versions of their console counterparts. Much of these games’ popularity rode on the coattails of their names and provided momentary distraction from the endless shovelware of app stores, but I, like many players, didn’t last much longer than a few weeks in each. It was almost confusing that Nintendo wasn’t adapting its more puzzle oriented properties to a mobile market. This genre has seen huge success in recent years on both Apple and Android devices, which is why the announcement of Dr. Mario World didn’t come as a major shock. This style of game fits perfectly on a handheld cell phone, and in today’s gaming culture would seem out of place on a traditional home console. Luckily, unlike their other mobile ventures, Nintendo was able to capture the essence and charm of Dr. Mario without stripping the game of its most valuable features.
Title: Dr. Mario World
Available On: Mobile (iOS, Android)
Reviewed On: Mobile
Release Date: July 10, 2019
Game Downloaded Freely for the Purpose of This Review
Dr. Mario is one of the first games I remember playing as a young child on my family’s NES. Mario (who now, having returned to college for what one can only assume amounts to better pay and job security, is apparently a medical professional instead of a blue-collar pipe cleaner) is tasked with throwing various medications at viruses stuck in jars in random configurations. Connect three items of the same color and the virus is killed in a satisfying *pop*. The concept is simple, but latter levels in the game challenged you to plan pill placement well in advance in order to maximize use of each spot. I can remember my siblings and parents playing both solo and in versus mode for hours, and it paired nicely with Tetris to teach me spatial organization and advanced planning and strategic maneuvering. Dr. Mario World retains the original formula of pill-versus-virus warfare, but adds just enough mechanics to make it feel modern, but also much more challenging.
Picking one of three doctors, you will begin with easy stages in the story mode that ease you into the basics of the game. Dr. Mario, Dr. Peach, and Dr. Bowser each have different special abilities that provide benefits to your puzzles, like deleting a column or a row of viruses. Coins are obtained via beating levels and finishing “orders” (daily quests), and can be spent in the Staffing office to hire new doctors and assistants, which act as support characters and provide subtler benefits. There are a healthy number of characters available and unlocking them at random means that you are very unlikely to get the specific character you want. Nevertheless, if you are lucky enough to receive a character that you already own, then that character will level up, increasing the characters special effect by a small amount.
The coins you get through normal gameplay come regularly, but few at a time, so you won’t be able to unlock a new character without a few hours of play. Of course, in typical mobile fashion, you are also given the opportunity to buy diamonds, the game’s premium currency that is unlocked (very) slowly through normal gameplay, and much quicker with a minor but annoying credit card swipe. If you want to level up your doctor or support characters, the most efficient way is shelling out some chump change to Father Nintendo, hallowed be his name. Inevitably, the high levels of competition will be with max-leveled doctors and supports that required a few weeks-worth of allowance to obtain.
Aside from coins and diamonds, playing a level through the solo campaign requires you to spend one Heart, of which you can hold five maximum. Nintendo is generous with its heart allotment, and completing a level will reward you with one heart, essentially refunding the heart you spent to play. After days of intermittent one- or two-hour-long play sessions, I have only run out of hearts once. The hearts regenerated fairly quickly, within a matter of a couple of hours, and did not effectively limit the speed at which I could continue the game. In case this is too slow for you or you find yourself needing more hearts regularly, friends can send you more hearts for you to continue with. Don’t have friends? Well, there’s always (you guessed it) diamonds!
Dr. Mario World shines brightest in versus mode, where you have to last longer than an opponent in order to claim victory. Rating is based off of trophies, which you get from winning games. Leveling up in tiers (approximately every 400 trophies) will reward you with coins or diamonds, as well as a new banner. High levels force you to play against more skilled opponents, and the games become very frantic and fast-paced. High level mechanics are required to best your challengers, including letting multiple pills fall at once, or dragging pills into tight squeezes and through already placed blocks. Games don’t last more than a couple of minutes, but are filled with energy and motion as you and your opponent attack each other by sending viruses onto the other’s screen. No other mobile game in my experience features such exciting action, and I’ve frequently abandoned my campaign quest in order to play just one more versus match.
The music featured in Dr. Mario World is a nice callback to the original iconic soundtrack, and features remixes of the core songs familiar to fans of the franchise. I personally prefer the original versions of Fever and Chill, the two main songs played during the puzzles. However, it is nice to hear their modern renditions and I’m glad Nintendo hasn’t abandoned some of my favorite tracks in their legendary catalogue.
Overall, Dr. Mario World plays exceptionally well for a mobile game and is absolutely beautiful to look at. The single player story, though lacking in anything that can truthfully be called a “story”, provides ample challenge that increases in predictable intervals and introduces new challenges at the appropriate frequency. Controls are tight and are perfect for touch screens – in fact, it is difficult to imagine playing such a game with buttons and analog sticks after the ease of using your fingers. If you are looking for Nintendo to reinvent the mobile game landscape, you may be sorely disappointed.
First and foremost, Dr. Mario World is a mobile game and features many of the components that mobile games are notorious for today. There are microtransactions, there are random chance rolls for characters and upgrades, and there are time gates behind playing new levels, but Nintendo does it all just slightly better. The time gates are forgiving and the microtransactions are ultimately optional. Giving a random roll to important upgrades feels somewhat cheap, but ultimately doesn’t break the game or your experience. Everything gleams with that beautiful Nintendo polish, and I finally feel like I have a Nintendo game on my phone that isn’t a chore to return to.
7.5 / 10