Dr. Mario is one of my favorite puzzle games, and it’s not hard to see why. A simple match 4 game coupled with wiping out little viruses on the screen is a great combination. Not only are you incentivized to match the capsules for points, but you’ve got an additional objective of clearing out viruses to actually complete the level. So when I heard Nintendo was bringing Dr. Mario to Mobile, I was pretty excited. The issue is, this isn’t exactly Dr. Mario.
Leading up to the launch of the game, Nintendo left out some pretty damning details. Their entire monetization scheme along with the typical mobile game energy system/resource nonsense. This was upsetting to me because Nintendo had already made an enjoyable, fun mobile game in Mario Run. A return to the classic run and jump gameplay, with a unique twist. It was Nintendo’s take on the auto-runner genre. It was free to play for a few levels, and then the rest of the game could be unlocked for $10. Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve gotten pretty sick and tired of all these “free to play” games; so when I saw a full game for just $10 I snatched that up. Of course, the game’s sales were awful so what does Nintendo do? They sell out.
Dr. Mario World has a lives system like in Candy Crush, where if you fail a level you lose a life and when you’re all out you get to wait to play. On paper, this mechanic sounds flawed, but for some reason psychological or another, the mobile gaming market is booming thanks to this. Candy Crush started this trend and just about every other free game out there has followed suit. However, for the first 20 levels, they tease you with infinite lives, how generous.
The levels themselves are pretty simple and cute for the first 20 stages. Instead of pills dropping from the top like in the original, they now fall upwards. You can drag them from left to right, but they will still continuously move upward. The screen is still filled with viruses, however, you only need to match 3 in a row as opposed to 4 now. As with all these mobile puzzle games, they slowly introduce cute new mechanics to “spice” things up. These mechanics start to become hindrances as levels become more and more complex, while your repertoire stays the same. It’s fun for a little while but this is what I like to call the bait section of a mobile game. Mobile games follow this trend where they make the gameplay fun and rewarding early on, making the player think they’re accomplishing something. In reality, the game is simply giving you freebies while you feed into this false sense of accomplishment. It’s dishonorable, but this market hasn’t had honor for a long time.
As if having a lives system wasn’t enough to annoy you, there’s also, of course, a gacha system. I was curious as to how they were going to shoehorn in a gacha system once they revealed multiple different characters you can play as. Each character i.e Mario, Luigi, Peach, etc has an ability tied to it that helps out in levels. Things like clearing out rows or columns of blocks, while some characters like Luigi clear them out in an L shape. It’s cute, wanting to collect your favorite Mario characters dressed up in little doctor’s outfits. This just preys on our nostalgia or arbitrary need to collect everything. I don’t mind collecting things in a game when it doesn’t only involve me spending copious amounts of money to get said collectible. It saddens me but doesn’t surprise me.
This gacha system, however, has one small positive, as if gacha systems have anything positive about them. You can spend diamonds which are the real money currency of the game, or you can spend in-game currency to spin the wheel. The in-game currency being of course coins, and it surprisingly doesn’t cost an absurd amount. I was able to do two gacha pulls with just coins after around an hour of gameplay. There is no downside either like with some games where there are separate gacha pulls for in-game currency and real money currency. So, that’s pleasant.
The shining beacon of hope though is the versus mode. It’s fun, fast-paced and has no restriction on how long you can play. You play the same game, dragging pills around matching and clearing out the viruses. Like all versus puzzle games, once you fill a meter or do a big combo, you send over extra blocks or in this case, viruses. It’s fun, rewarding and is a return to form of what the original Dr. Mario’s multiplayer felt like.
It’s upsetting that Nintendo’s latest mobile game isn’t on par with Animal Crossing Pocket Camp or Fire Emblem Heroes in terms of staying true to its original franchises. Those games also have energy systems or gachas but are surprisingly much more fair in terms of how those systems are executed. Nintendo did well with those two, but this one is just consumed by greed and the typical mobile gaming traps that we’ve come to know and loathe.