Dr. Mario is one of those weird entries in the Mario franchise that, despite appearing years ago, still maintains a certain level of popularity. The original game released for the NES in 1990 as a fun puzzle game with a twist on the classic ‘match the colours’ formula. Since then, the good doctor has been mostly missing in action barring for some appearances here and there, like the Super Smash Bros. series. But now Dr. Mario and his questionable doctorate have returned in the mobile title Dr. Mario World.
Dr. Mario World sees players taking on the role of Dr. Mario once more as the Mushroom Kingdom becomes plagued with viruses, meaning both the good and bad sides of the Kingdom need to work together to sort this mess out. Which means players get to choose from a whole host of characters, but we’ll get to that later.
The gameplay itself is a spin on the classic match 3 formula with a little Tetris thrown in. Each set rectangular stage has a number of viruses in it. Viruses can only be removed by matching them with pills of the same colour until you have a row or column of three. Simple enough. Until you get to the quirk. Gravity is reversed and while the pills don’t drop over time, they do rise to the top instead of sinking to the bottom like a classic Tetris formula.
The pills can be rotated and moved to your hearts content and can even be held in mid-air while you think about your next move, and given most stages lack time limits, this can be very helpful when you’re trying to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck. Or. Pill?
Though the same lose condition is there, in that if it reaches the top of the stage, you’re out of luck and one life down. The levels themselves come in a few different varieties, with the most common being ‘clear the viruses’, though other types can include ‘clear the viruses within the time limit’ or ‘find the hidden coins’. Most of the levels are fairly straightforward and the game does a good job of easing you into how to play, though the challenge is still there for those that want it.
The bonus levels are a great example of this. They’re devilishly hard but offer great rewards in the form of free powerups (which can be anything from block breaking to adding time to the clock).
There’s also plenty of unlockable content in terms of characters, both main and supporting. Each character has their own unique skills, like Mario being able to clear a row, or Baby Bowser being able to clear blocks at random. The helper characters offer their own bonuses like an increase in score.
The game falls down, however, in that it can’t quite decide what it wants to be. It has elements of Candy Crush in how it’s set up and its match 3 formula, as well as being very good at prodding you to spend money on it (I’m ashamed to admit I spent money to extend a hard level because I was so close). The game also has elements of Tetris and other similar puzzle titles, as mentioned previously. The issue is that these two formats clash when Dr. Mario World tries to add its own unique spin on top of it all.
The levels and gameplay end up feeling clumsy in places and incomplete in others. I regularly found myself passing the time on it, but not quite enjoying it, constantly finding myself at odds with bits and pieces. Namely, I don’t think the gravity needed to be reversed and some of the elements aren’t entirely explained as well as they could have been.
I did find the game to really shine, however, when I tried out the multiplayer. Multiplayer still uses the same main character/sub character system, with the abilities being altered for balance. Players are then matched up with other players from around the world that have a similar ranking, and you duel it out in a one on one virus clearing brawl.
The more viruses you clear, the more you build up a meter to attack your opponent, dumping more viruses onto them to deal with. Whoever’s pills/viruses reach the top first, loses. You then go up in rank, win some coins and get closer to unlocking more bonuses.
This is the mode I found myself spending a good chunk of my time in, the matching is perfect and I never felt outranked, and I never got too cocky either. Though the versus matches don’t take lives, meaning they can be played infinitely, rewards are limited to a 24 hour cycle.
It’s an odd little game for sure, but I can still commend Nintendo because though their mobile outings are generally a little odd, they’re still very good at bringing all the charm of mainline games to your phone.
My real issues lie with where exactly all these characters got their degrees. I could understand Mario. Even Luigi. But who would give a degree to Baby Bowser? Why is he a doctor? Why are most of these characters doctors? How is a Goomba what I assume to be a nurse? They don’t have arms!
I have a lot of very other strong and pressing questions for Nintendo but I’ll leave that for another day.