'Dr. Mario World' Is a Great Game for Two Hours. Then It Wants Money

‘Dr. Mario’ is the perfect fit for mobile, but it can’t escape the revenue streams that define the market.

by Matthew Gault
Jul 10 2019, 11:00am

Nintendo released Dr. Mario World Tuesday on both iOS and Android. The NES-era puzzle game is a perfect fit for smartphones. Each game lasts only a few minutes, the touchscreen controls work like a charm, and clearing out virus-laden levels of increasing difficulty killed two hours of my afternoon. After those two hours, Dr. Mario World asked for money. That’s when I lost interest.

Dr. Mario World is a fun and polished update of the original. Like the NES classic, it’s a shameless Tetris knockoff. Dr. Mario has to rid the Mushroom Kingdom of virus. Every virus has a color—I’ve seen, yellow, green, red, and blue—and Dr. Mario uses pills of a corresponding color to eliminate them. Line up three items of the same color, either virus or pill, and it eliminates the string. Clear all the viruses from the level and you win the game. In the original, Dr. Mario had to clear all the viruses before his pill bottle filled all the way to the top of the screen. In Dr. Mario World, he has a limited amount of pills he has to clear out the infection.

Dr. Mario World is a video game designed for smartphones, which means it comes with mobile marketplace baggage. Dr. Mario World contains 215 stages divided over five worlds and opening up each stage requires players to spend a heart. Each stage has a star rating, and replaying a stage to try to get a better score also costs a heart. When I was out of hearts, I could either wait half an hour for them to recharge or spend money to recharge them. Five hearts cost 10 diamonds, or about $1. An hour of infinite hearts costs 30 diamonds, or about $3.

The first 20 stages of the game don’t cost hearts to burn through, even if you lose. But I still ran out of hearts on stage 29. I could either wait for the hearts to recharge, spend money, or compete in multiplayer mode. The multiplayer doesn’t cost hearts to play and matches are fast. Players work to clear the virus on their screen. Clearing viruses builds a meter that, once full, blasts your opponent with rows of viruses. The amount depends on a power rating attached to which character they’re playing.

I started the game as Dr. Mario, and you can also play as either Dr. Bowser or Dr. Peach. Each character has their own special abilities, and their own power level in multiplayer. Bowser, for example, can hit opponents with four rows of viruses in multiplayer. Dr. Mario only hits for two rows. Foolishly, I stuck with Dr. Mario and all the Dr. Bowsers would absolutely destroy me no matter how well I played.

So I went to the staffing section of Dr. Mario World to discover how I could replace Mario with Bowser. To unlock a new character, I had to play a slot machine. For 4,000 coins—earned in game by clearing stages and completing objectives—or 40 diamonds (about $4) I could spin a wheel and get a random support or main character. Dr. Mario World let me know the chances of getting a character, and Boswer only comes up 2 percent of the time.

It was at this point that I started to get tired of Dr. Mario World. The core game is so much fun, but I would have rather spent $20 and had the game, its levels, and its characters open to me from the start.