Release Date: July 9, 2019Platforms: iOS (reviewed), AndroidDeveloper: NintendoPublisher: NintendoGenre: Match-3 mobile game
After Nintendo’s mixed foray into the mobile market with free-to-play Fire Emblem: Heroes and premium in-app purchase Super Mario Run, the publisher has bought the mustached plumber to iOS and Android devices again – and this time, it’s personal (hygiene).
Dr. Mario, best known for its quick bursts of gameplay, certainly makes sense as a mobile title. A puzzle based title with a color matching mechanic, the comparisons are obvious to genre juggernaut Candy Crush. You’ll use a finite number of pills to beat individual levels of different colored viruses, clearing the screen and moving onto the next one. Seriously, what kind of bubonic plague exists in the Mushroom Kingdom to require this much medication?
Completing levels rewards stars, and levels become varied brain teasers as you progress through the game’s five worlds. Later levels incorporate more of the Mario franchise’s familiar elements like Koopa shells and blocks, and these act as traps for players to navigate around. Flipping pills to different orientations and tweaking the direction with a touch of the finger feels intuitively tactile, and the visual feedback is certainly effective at keeping you dispensing drugs for a few levels at a time – especially when using one of the game’s special Doctor skills. These are unique to each character and are full of flashy effects.
Unfortunately, while Dr. Mario World does its best to get you solving puzzles long into the small hours, its disappointing “Wait to Play” mechanic means you’ll soon be either closing the app or opening your wallet. Once you’ve used up all of your “hearts,” you’ll need to wait some time for them to replenish and allow you to play the game.
Of course, you can pay to restore your hearts, with a similarly nebulous currency called “Diamonds.” You can purchase these in increments that begin at 20 diamonds ($1.99) – although you’ll only need 10 to replenish to get the standard five hearts. This disparity means you’ll be forking out $1 more every time you need to purchase more diamonds. You also have the option to purchase an hour of unlimited play for 30 diamonds, although there’s no way to purchase JUST 30 diamonds. You’ll have to buy 40 (purchase the 20-pack twice for about $4 total) or 53 diamonds (THREE bonus diamonds, the app says) for $4.99.
Yes, you can just wait until your lives replenish on their own, but the system feels like it’s ripe for awkward conversations with youngsters racking up plenty of bills. This is backed up by the premium currency being offered up readily when you fail a level – something you’ll see with disheartening regularity as tougher levels are introduced.
Completing the microtransaction tour-de-force is a slot machine system to unlock new characters. These can be used with coins earned from daily objectives and by, you know, playing the game, but the 4000 coins required is another disappointing nudge to get you to use diamonds instead.
It’s a shame that Dr. Mario World is a good game that you simply won’t be able to play much without paying. Given that this is Nintendo, a company many have rooted for even during the darker times of the Wii U generation, it feels like a complete misappropriation of gaming’s most famous character. In short, any fun you’ll have with Dr. Mario World is likely to be tempered by Nintendo’s disappointing descent into micro-transaction madness. The slot-machine system for unlocking new characters would have been fine on its own, or the irritating (but understandable) way you need to replenish your hearts had it been the sole way of spending money. The amalgamation of the two systems seems exploitative, a way of playing on the nostalgia of older players and the seemingly infinite positivity around the Mario brand.