Addicting New Twist on a Classic Puzzler
Mario has become a household name by now, but maybe you’re not as familiar with his alter ego with a PhD. Dr. Mario first came out on the NES in 1990 and saw sporadic sequels, with a mild resurgence as of late. The concept of the game is simple. You throw 2-colored pills at viruses to eliminate them by matching 3 of the same color. In Nintendo’s latest installment of their match-3 puzzler, Dr. Mario World, the core gameplay is split between single-player “Stage Mode” and multiplayer “Versus Mode”. You still match 3 colors to eliminate viruses, but each mode gives its own unique twists on the classic formula. The gameplay is very enjoyable but unfortunately Dr. Mario World falls victim to many of the mobile gaming freemium pitfalls.
Healing Mushroom Kingdom One Pill at a Time
In Stage Mode, you have unlimited time but limited capsules to clear a board of viruses. The stages start simple but become more complex and more difficult as the game progresses. Dr. Mario World adds plenty of gimmicks to keep the virus-busting gameplay entertaining, such as breaking bricks in your way, or blowing up bombs. The game can become seriously addicting as a result. The microtransactions are also mostly kept to a minimum, limited to extra optional items to help you clear stages, or a summoning system to add characters and assistants to your lineup.
Truthfully, Dr. Mario World can feel a bit pay-to-win at times, because with all the bonus items you can buy, clearing stages can be effortless. For a challenging game, I’d recommend you stick to moneyless play for clearing stages. There is an in-game currency in the form of coins, but that’s best left to unlocking characters. Why? It’s very expensive to obtain new characters. You’ll need to either pay $4 or play for roughly one hour to get one new character or an assistant. The characters each have their own powers. For example, Dr. Bowser can clear out two rows at random when you fill his Skill Gauge. This leads to diversity in your gameplay, especially in Versus Mode, which we’ll get to later. Generally, it’s a fun game to play free, except for one huge flaw.
Getting a Doctorate Can Be Expensive
What kills Stage Mode is a gameplay limiter. Basically, you need to use one “heart” to play a stage, and hearts replenish every 20 minutes, with five maximum hearts. You can buy more hearts, and you can get one free heart upon clearing a stage for the first time. But, to get the perfect 3-star on a stage, you might have to retry a stage multiple times, which costs a heart each time. This is a classic freemium pattern, really, where the game exploits the addicting nature of the gameplay to get players to empty their wallets. If you’re committed to playing the game free like I am, you have no choice but to stop playing every now and then.
Head to Head for Less
It’s not all bad news for Dr. Mario World, however, because Versus Mode is completely free to play, with no gameplay limiters like hearts. The gameplay is just as addicting as well. Unlike Stage Mode, you have unlimited capsules, but your time is limited by the other player’s gameplay. You two will compete to clear the board of viruses, and you can “attack” the opponent by blocking their rows. The first to overfill their board loses. This mode is a lot of fun, and the game is worth getting if only for Versus Mode.
However, there’s still a very minor freemium aspect to Versus Mode in the form of the characters you can obtain. The more characters you have, the more diverse your gameplay will be, and this can help you gain the edge on your rivals by strategizing good character/assistant combinations. From what I’ve seen, the characters are mostly balanced around each other and there is no inherent ranking system, so even if you only get a new character once per day, you’ll still have a good variety of characters and you won’t be outperformed.
The puzzle formula of Dr. Mario is very fun and addictive, and it’s a solid choice for a puzzle game on the go. Just be wary of the money pitfalls that the game tries to get you to stumble into. You’ll enjoy this game as long as you play it in short bursts.
Is it Hardcore?
Yes, with enough time or money.
Dr. Mario World features a fun and unique twist on the classic match-3 puzzler, but the game is riddled with microtransactions that will limit your gameplay. It’s still worth getting even if just for Versus Mode, and with enough patience, Stage Mode can be rewarding as well.