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Review: Putting Dr. Mario World for iOS under examination

It was only a matter of time before the good doctor Mario made his way to the iPhone, but how does the mobile version hold up against the nearly 30-year-old Nintendo classic?

I'm a big fan of Dr. Mario, which came out when I was about three years old, and was probably one of the first games I was competent enough to play unassisted. Sure, the box art scared the ever-living crap out of me, but the game itself, with it's bright colors and catchy music enchanted me. I'd spend hours on my uncle's NES, clearing viruses until I was inevitably shoo'd from the console to the great outdoors.

When I heard Dr. Mario World was coming out for iOS, I was both excited and pre-disappointed. After all, the quintessential Dr. Mario experience is played on a tactile directional pad. However, it is worth noting, that in Brain Age for the Nintendo DS, there's a touch-screen Dr. Mario that is enjoyable.

My other worry was that it was going to suffer the same way other free-to-play titles do. There's always some sort of built-in feature that attempts to separate you from your money.

As a personal note, I'd rather pay once for a game and own the rights to play it forever, or even pay a small monthly subscription fee, rather than be conned into buying individual plays or swapping actual money for in-game currency — but more on that later.

Regardless, I bit the bullet and decided to download Dr. Mario World.

It's a looker, for sure...

Dr. Mario aesthetics —  modern, but good.

Aesthetically, the game is awesome. I'm a pretty big fan of modern renditions of Mario, so the svelte young doctor and the beanbag like viruses are right up my alley. The music is also pretty nice, including a midi-esque remake of the original Dr. Mario music.

It's got that post-Super Mario 3D World era feel to it, and if you're into that, chances are you'll like the way this one looks and sounds.

...And it plays okay.

Dr. Mario World: the gameplay is alright.

The core gameplay, for better or worse, is basically the same as the Brain Age version of Dr. Mario. Instead of using a directional pad, you grab the capsules and drag them to where they need to go.

Once on screen, they do move toward the top of the level, but it doesn't have that same Tetris style urgency. A quick tap rotates them so you can align them with the viruses they need to demolish.

There are some differences, though. Taking a page out of other match-three's books, there are now some less-kinetic and more time-sensitive puzzles to solve. Sometimes you'll run into a puzzle that requires you to detonate a bomb, or to send a shell flying into a row of enemies.

You're also given the ability to choose between Peach, Bowser, or Mario as your main doctor. Each doctor gets a couple different power up choices. Bowser, for instance, can fill a move gauge and destroy any two random lines in a level.

Beware, it's still buggy

The dreaded disconnect error

Hands down, the most frustrating thing that I had experienced while trying to play Dr. Mario World was this near-constant disconnect that would pop up between levels. While I'm not sure why it happened, it seemed that once I was through the first several stages — an ordeal that took nearly an hour and a half due to constant disconnects — it tapered off and let me play as much as I wanted.

On the matter of in-app purchases

Everything in Dr. Mario World costs money or time

Remember how I said I'd rather pay money to own a game than be coerced into paying money to a free game? Unfortunately, Dr. Mario World is an exercise in coercion. While not as aggressive as other free-to-play games, it still has some of the inevitable pitfalls.

You can have a maximum of five lives in Dr. Mario World, and each one you lose will be regenerated over a half hour. Personally, this seems excessive, especially for a game that has some element of trial-and-error for certain puzzles. Lives can be purchased, of course, to the tune of five lives for 10 diamonds.

Diamonds are worth about $0.07 to $0.10 each — depending on how much money you're willing to invest up front — meaning that, at minimum, you're going to pay $0.70 to $1.00 just to get an extra five lives. Again, I feel as though the concept paying $0.20 per life seems too steep.

Naturally, you can also pay diamonds for other things. In speed levels, you can pay 10 diamonds (again, about $0.20) for an extra ten seconds of play. You can pay diamonds for power ups as well.

That being said, you still can play Dr. Mario World without paying. You'll have a slower go at it, but waiting a half hour for an extra life isn't the end of the world.

The takeaway

Overall, Dr. Mario World is enjoyable, though for those looking to scratch that classic Dr. Mario itch, this probably won't do it. If you're a fan of match-threes, it's a solid entry into the genre and worth picking up.