The patient needs attention, stat.
Dr. Mario has finally made his way to mobile devices, further padding out Nintendo’s line of franchise spin-offs breaking their way into the App Store. As a falling block puzzle game, it’s easy to imagine a bite-sized Dr. Mario game coming to cell phones with almost no changes, but Nintendo—in collaboration with LINE and NHN Entertainment—has opted for a relatively unique spin on the series in order to make Dr. Mario World stand out from the crowd. It’s an incredibly fun evolution of the Dr. Mario formula that I’ve been having a blast with, but the standard trappings that come with the free to play mobile territory are doing a lot to discourage me from putting a lot of time into the app.
Gameplay in Dr. Mario World is less like standard Dr. Mario puzzles and more like Virus Buster—a side mode from the series’ WiiWare debut that made use of the Wii Remote’s pointer controls. Instead of megavitamins falling from the top of the screen that must be moved into place before they fall to the ground, they instead won’t start moving until the player has manually placed them into the playing field (where they confusingly float up from the bottom instead of falling down from the top). This gives you the opportunity to methodically plan out where each pill will land, allowing for the puzzles to be more complex. However once the megavitamins are in motion, quick thinking and sharp reflexes can make all the difference in manipulating the pieces into falling exactly where you want them to.
Megavitamins can be placed anywhere on the field, even underneath or on top of viruses and blocks with no open path leading to them. Any megavitamin piece that’s in the air can be moved around at will, so combo chains can be easier to rack up as you frantically move one-block pieces into place one after another, destroying virus after virus. The real depth comes from how slowly the pieces fall once they’re in the air. Since multiple pieces can be active and floating at a time, you have a great deal of freedom in deciding which pieces will cover which ground in order to keep combo chains going. Once I started pulling pills out of my waiting area and letting them slowly drift through the air so I could get the one colored block I needed and then juggling several pieces around until they were all right where I wanted them to be, things started to feel incredible.
Versus mode is an extension of how fun the core gameplay can be. Where most falling-block puzzle games send garbage blocks to your screen when your opponent is playing well, Dr. Mario World instead permanently limits your playable area, forcing you to play smart and catch up with your opponent before your field becomes permanently full. Applying pressure and a pseudo time limit to juggling so many pieces around made for some of the most engaging Dr. Mario matches I’ve ever played.
Unfortunately, there are some annoyances I had with the game that ultimately make me wish it was released in a premium package on Switch. The stamina system is fairly generous, giving you back a free attempt every time you succeed at a puzzle, and I feel like the gacha mechanics barely affect the game for how little your choice of character matters. The real place that Dr. Mario World falls short is in its performance on my phone. I’ve got an original Pixel XL that’s about a year and a half old now, and I’ve never played a game that gave me so much trouble on my phone as this one. Dr. Mario tears through my battery, eating up a full charge in an hour or two, and my phone runs incredibly hot to the point that the framerate drops and my inputs stop being accepted properly.
This game also handles being suspended very poorly. The thing about mobile games is I will need to tab out of them to answer a message or check if my bus is running on time every now and then, and if I leave Dr. Mario World and open another app for so much as a couple seconds it will struggle to load back into the puzzle I was playing, sometimes giving up entirely and kicking me back out to the title screen. Load times are long, and getting kicked out means I’ve completely wasted the stamina I spent on the puzzle, so I’ve often ended up feeling like it’s simply not worth bothering with playing if there’s a chance I might need to do something else on my phone. Obviously, when it comes to mobile games, your experience with vary depending on your device, but while my phone isn’t brand new or top of the line, it isn’t that old, and it was fairly high-end when it launched, so I’m shocked that it struggles to keep up with a game as graphically simple as this one is.
I really love the core gameplay of Dr. Mario World, but it’s so frustrating to play on my phone that I can’t help but think it’s a bit of a disappointment. If this game ends up on Switch later down the line then I’d be first in line to play a version that’s been properly optimized for the system it’s running on, but as of now I just don’t want to go through the trouble. If you’ve got a device that’s powerful enough to run Dr. Mario World with no problems then you’re in for a real treat if you give it a try. But if you’re like me and are waiting until the time is right to buy a new phone, then the time probably isn’t right to try Nintendo’s latest mobile game either.