There are few songs that get stuck in your head like the Dr. Mario theme. In Dr. Mario World, the doc's latest prescription for mobile, it's properly infectious and I'm pretty sure it's driving my partner insane. As for Dr. Mario World itself, it's just what it bills itself as: Dr. Mario, now as a free-to-play mobile game.
And for a free-to-play game, it feels pretty standard. You have a stamina-like meter measured in hearts, which determines how many times you can play a stage. Pass a stage though, and you don't lose a heart. Last night in playing through World-1, I blazed through many stages in a row, only losing hearts on particularly tricky ones. I only hit a wall once where I lost all my hearts for playing when I was confronted with a particularly tough puzzle. The recharge time for a single heart is a half hour.
Having never played Dr. Mario before, I found myself finding a lot in common with the Puyo Puyo series, long my favorite among "things that drop" puzzle games. Where Tetris is simple to grasp, I love the combo focus of Puyo Puyo. Chaining up blobs is always a satisfying feeling. Dr. Mario World, in a similar way, emphasizes building up combos, at least in its later levels. Only I keep trying to operate Dr. Mario World's vitamins like the flimsy blobs of Puyo Puyo, and it leads time and again to my demise.
You see, Dr. Mario World is like Puyo Puyo flipped upside down, with vitamins falling upward and needing to match three like colors. You have a limited number of capsules to complete a level. (Yes, like a Candy Crush-esque match three game , only with a Dr. Mario twist.) One of my key strategies in Puyo Puyo is resting a horizontally aligned duo on a high point, so that the second half of it can plop downward. In Dr. Mario World, the capsule does not crack in half; it essentially builds a wall until you can clear it with like colors. Despite the similar Puyo Puyo-combo focus, mechanically, it's a barrier that my brain keeps hitting, even though it's an obvious self-fault.
Luckily, the bummer free-to-play qualities that people online have already been complaining about are grossly exaggerated. For a free-to-play mobile game, Dr. Mario World is neither hugely annoying with its microtransactions, nor too lenient with them. They exist, and they're useful—especially for getting items to help pass hard levels—but are they necessary? Not really. They're there if you want them.
If you run out of hearts in trying to overcome a hard stage too, there's always another way to keep playing thanks to its Versus mode. In Versus mode, you play against a random stranger or a friend in a timed battle, as the playspace slowly pushes the viruses and accumulated capsules toward the bottom of the screen. Your goal is to clear them faster than your opponent. Versus has a 24-hour cooldown of its own, but it only comes to the rewards you get from it. If you win seven times, you get to choose three mystery prizes. After that, you can still continue playing Versus and power up your level-only you won't be getting much out of it aside from coins.
Coins are the currency you're earning in Dr. Mario World, though you can also spend real-world money on "diamonds" as a sort of fast-track. In a few hours of playing Dr. Mario World, I was able to buy two characters, which you purchase from Toad for 4,000 coins or 40 diamonds. It's Dr. Mario World's loot box, basically; as you have no pick on whether you get a new playable character like Luigi or Bowser Jr. or just an assistant character you can equip, like Cheep Cheep. The two characters I unlocked were both the latter: Piranha Plant and Porcupuffer. You can equip two assistants at a time, and in the tutorial you're given a complimentary Goomba.
The intro is also where you select your chosen doctor—something I neglected to realize cements you as one character, not three fully switchable characters. On impulse, I chose Dr. Peach, who has a special ability that can randomly erase one row of viruses from the playing field when the meter is full. The other two doctors you can choose at the start are Dr. Bowser and Dr. Mario (who you play as in the introductory stages). As of this launch, there are ten doctors overall, who can only be earned through the character loot boxes at random. Every character has a unique ability for both traditional Stages and Versus mode.
There are five worlds in total, and I'm still stuck on Stage 40 of World-1. There's surprisingly a lot of play value in Dr. Mario World, at least compared to Mario's last outing Super Mario Run. Additional worlds are also teased in the list, noting that more are to come in the future.
I'm having a good time with Dr. Mario World, even if I am bad at it because I keep playing it like Puyo Puyo. I imagine with time, I'll get over it. One downside I did notice while playing it on the train yesterday though is that it does require you to always be online; which is a shame, because match three games are at their best when played mindlessly on a commute. Aside from that, rumors of Dr. Mario World being another Nintendo mobile flub have been greatly exaggerated. The doctor is in, folks.