I feel quite comfortable saying that Dr. Mario World is Nintendo’s weakest game in years. It’s also likely the worst possible version of itself: a mobile game adaptation of the popular Dr. Mario puzzle games – so rife with desperate money-grubbing, technical issues, and woeful controls that I’m genuinely stunned it’s been unleashed in its current state.
The goal of each stage is to clear the board of viruses and other such hazards. You’ll get a set number of pills with which to do so, and the idea is that you can destroy obstacles and targets by matching them with three pills of the same colour. Completing the stage using the lowest number of pills possible will get you a higher score, meaning more coins to buy consumable pill boosts and random items.
As the pills float up the board, you’ll be able to alter their course and decide where exactly they’ll end up. The touchscreen system should, in theory, allow for some slick and precise control, though in reality it’s beyond finicky to pull off even the simplest of manoeuvres. And those with chubby digits, myself included, will inevitably obscure a lot of what’s going on during the more hectic moments. Quite how it could have been messed up this badly is beyond baffling
Over time, it gradually adds more elements into the mix, including unique character skills and shells that can clear an entire horizontal row. There are also timed stages and special stages where you’re required to perform specific actions, such as collecting a set number of hidden coins, in order to win. I imagine these were intended to keep things fresh, but, well, they don’t.
Adding to this suffering is the game’s frankly egregious monetisation that mostly revolves around spending hearts to start or restart a stage. You have five hearts in total. Starting a stage eats up one heart, and it takes 30 minutes for a single heart to recharge. This becomes a problem on the later stages where there are so many variables involved in winning, especially if you’re aiming for three stars.
Restarting from the pause menu will still eat away at your hearts, which is beyond annoying. If you’re dealt a crap hand early on in a stage, you have no option but to grin and bear another half-hour wait. You can’t even save your lives by forcibly shutting down the game, as the heart is voraciously consumed as soon as you boot up the stage. As I say, this won’t start causing you grief until you’re several worlds in, but when the issue eventually rears its ugly head, the game’s pace slows to a crawl.
You could, if you want to feed the beast, cough up some cash and get unlimited hearts for a whole 60 minutes. Doing so will set you back 30 gems, and you can’t just buy 30 gems, oh no, you need to either get two lots of 20 or invest in a pack of 50. What this ultimately means is that Nintendo thinks Dr. Mario World is worth paying £3 an hour for.
Compounding these pacing issues is the fact that closing the game briefly, even when mid-stage, will result in you having to wait a good 15-20 seconds to get back into playing it. There’s also a gacha system here for randomised character unlocks, because of course there is.
It's really bad
Multiplayer might be its one saving grace, and even then it’s less a saviour than a brief respite from the frustrations of the campaign. Once you’ve finished the first island, you’ll have the option to hop over to this separate mode, which, amazingly, is free of IAPs. The online matchmaking, much like everything else here, is far too slow, but if I ever do return to Dr. Mario World, which I actually won’t, it’d purely be for the hectic 1v1 multiplayer.
Right now, there are 10 worlds to work your way through, with more due post-launch (God help us). If the first five are any indication, each world consists of 20 stages, meaning 200 in total. Without the constant paywalls, it’d probably last you around 4 hours. It still wouldn’t be a good 4 hours, mind you, but it’d be a damn sight better than the current situation.
Putting aside the monetisation for one moment, something Dr. Mario World seems incapable of doing, it’s still a thoroughly passionless and bland slog, lacking the straightforward fun of Super Mario Run or the reasonable depth of Fire Emblem Heroes: It is an aggressively, thunderously dull game.
After several hours of play, I’m done with it. I was done with it after an hour if I’m being honest. I hope to goodness the tepid fan and critical response it’s been subject to will prompt changes and warn Nintendo off pulling a similar stunt again. They ought to be better than this; less penny-pinching, more inspired. No Mario game should make me long for Candy Crush.Click here to get all the latest coverage of the biggest new games in our reviews section.