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Dr. Mario World has some fun twists on a classic puzzler, with a few mobile game gotchas

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Nintendo’s new Android and iOS game remixes Dr. Mario with familiar mobile game mechanics

Photo: James Bareham/Polygon

Nintendo’s efforts to bring its games, like Super Mario, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing, to mobile platforms have always come with caveats. They’re polished and fun, but have never come close to upstaging their console siblings. That’s by design; when Nintendo kickstarted its mobile efforts, then-president Satoru Iwata said its mobile games were made to bring awareness to and up-sell players to premium games on its consoles and handheld devices.

The company’s latest mobile game, Dr. Mario World, continues in that tradition. It’s a polished, robust mobile puzzle game that flips a few Dr. Mario traditions — the virus-killing pills you play with move up, not down — that also follows modern mobile game monetization methods. It’s a good game, but doesn’t reach heights of Nintendo’s Switch titles. It’s enjoyable enough to spend some time with while waiting for the bus or sitting in an airport, when you may not have your Switch nearby.

If you’ve played mobile puzzle games like Two Dots or Candy Crush, you’ll feel comfortable in Dr. Mario World. Each level has a goal, typically to remove all the viruses in a stage, and a limited number of capsules to defeat them with. Some levels are also stuffed with obstacles, like breakable brick blocks, and viruses can be shielded with ice or bubbles that change how a virus behaves. Some levels have different completion requirements, like popping all the hidden coins out of blocks.

To remove a virus, I drag a similarly colored pill near it, hoping to match at least three colors. I can drag a pill up, left, and right, but not down. The pills float upward, and I can have multiple pills on the move at once. This is where Dr. Mario World is its most thrilling, when I’m pulling a pull out and slowly watching it creep upward, while I rush to place other pills ahead of it, stacking them in a way that clears out a virus or sets up my next two color matches. Somewhat strangely, I can drag pills through obstacles like walls and brick blocks. As long as they fit where I want them to go, they’ll go.

There are 10 playable characters this time, not just Dr. Mario, and each doctor has their own special skill. Dr. Peach can clear an entire column when her skill meter is full, while Dr. Yoshi eliminates three random objects at once. Typically these skills can be used once or twice per level, but there are also power-ups that can be purchased that perform similar functions or fill up that skill meter instantly.

Dr. Mario World has its share of timers (hearts, required to play a level, that refill over time); currencies (coins and diamonds for buying things like new doctors and power-ups); and other purchasable items (extra capsules, for example, if you’re so close to finishing a level). Most of these mechanics are not invasive, and I haven’t felt compelled to spend any money to replenish the hearts that restrict my playtime. Others will probably kick in a few bucks out of frustration at some of the game’s trickier levels.

A screenshot of Mario, Peach and Bowser in a story screen from Dr. Mario World Nintendo/Line
An image of Mario in a select screen from Dr. Mario World Nintendo/Line

The game started me off with one doctor of my choosing: Dr. Mario, Dr. Bowser, or Dr. Peach. Others (Luigi, Yoshi, Bowser Jr., etc.) can be purchased with coins, a free currency earned by completing levels, or diamonds, which can be bought with real money in packs ranging from $1.99 to $69.99. Coins can also be earned through a daily bonus and by completing objectives called Doctor’s Orders. Coins also pop up on Dr. Mario World’s overworld map, one or two at a time.

Unlocking new doctors and assistants — helpers that come with their own scoring and gameplay perks — is randomized. It’s a gacha system, similar to mechanics in Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes and Dragalia Lost where you earn new heroes through chance, and there’s a thrill tied to getting the character you want. So while I’d really like to get my hands on Dr. Toad as soon as humanly possible, I’m at the mercy of Dr. Mario World’s randomness.

I’m also at the whims of my internet connection. Like Nintendo’s other mobile games, you need to be able to connect to the Dr. Mario World servers at all times. I can’t reliably play the game on a New York City subway car or on a plane, I’ve found. That’s the restriction that will likely keep me playing something else on my phone while I’m commuting to work.

Dr. Mario World has a single-player campaign (but not much of a story) and a versus mode. I’ve played through more than 40 levels of the campaign, but haven’t played any multiplayer ahead of the game’s release this week. Given how much fun Dr. Mario games can be against a friend, I’m looking forward to it when other players hop on.

Dr. Mario World will be available for Android and iOS devices through the Google Play Store and Apple App Store on July 10.