Games preview: Dr. Mario World sees Nintendo take on Candy Crush Saga

GameCentral tries out Nintendo’s latest mobile game and finds that Dr. Mario has been taking notes from Candy Crush Saga.

It’s no secret that Nintendo has found it surprisingly difficult relocating their iconic console franchises to mobile. Super Mario and Animal Crossing have both been relative failures, with only Fire Emblem seeing any real success – by being the only one to fully embrace microtransactions and random loot. Their next game though is taking a slightly different approach, and while it will still have microtransactions the game it’s looking to for inspiration is Candy Crush Saga.

The irony here, of course, is that the original Dr. Mario predates Candy Crush Saga by several decades, having debuted on the NES and Game Boy in 1990. At that time Tetris style puzzlers were all the rage and while Dr. Mario is closer to Sega’s Columns you’re still connecting falling blocks as they drop from the top of the screen – although in this case you’re matching coloured capsules against similarly coloured viruses to make them disappear.

The game has been re-released and rejigged numerous times over years and is currently available in its original NES incarnation via the Nintendo Switch Online service. But Dr. Mario World is very different to the original game and is certainly not just a straight port or simple remaster. It, literally, flips the entire concept on its head and rather than just endlessly battling viruses you have to complete individual stages one at a time – just like Candy Crush Saga.

The game still looks largely the same as ever, with viruses already in place on screen when you start. Except now, instead of medicine capsules falling from the top of the screen you pick them up and place them yourself, either allowing them to slowly float upwards or placing them exactly where you want them, if there’s room to squeeze them in. What you’re trying to do is match the same capsule and virus colour together, so that if you get three in a row (you’re right, it used to be four) they all disappear.

Capsules are always the same shape but they come in two parts and depending on how they’re placed the other half can float up to help or hinder your other efforts – especially since capsule halves can be two different colours. It is the same basic idea as the original Dr. Mario but, like Candy Crush Saga, it’s presented like a puzzle game, with individual stages to be solved before you run out of capsules.

That’s where the microtransactions come in, as you can buy coins (which can also be earned in-game) and diamonds (which cannot) to buy items such as extra capsules, skill multipliers, and the like before you start a stage, in order to make it easier or more lucrative in terms of score. But we didn’t come close to needing any of that in anything we played.

We also never lost a life, but that does seem to work exactly like Candy Crush Saga as well, with the ability to either buy more or request them from other players – there’s also a slightly ominous option to buy 60 minutes of infinite play for the equivalent of about £3. All Nintendo mobile games have tended to be more generous than is the norm and this doesn’t look any different, but even many ardent Candy Crush fans will proudly claim they’ve never spent a penny on it – and that’s also likely to be the same here.

The arguments surrounding microtransactions have been going on for years now and they’re unlikely to change as a result of Dr. Mario World. Which means that the only real consideration is whether or not it’s a good game and… it really does seem to be. Splitting the capsules always allowed for a certain degree of tactical planning but the new puzzle-orientated approach of the mobile game has you thinking carefully about every single move.

There’s also lots of extra options on top, even if you ignore the paid-for items before you start. There are blocks that can hide viruses, colour-coded bombs, locked cages, red and blue (and yellow) shells, and special one-use items like a hammer that can destroy any on-screen object. Rainbow capsules, that work with any other colour, appear after every seven normal capsules and you can also level up your doctor as you play and make use of their slowly charging superpower that can do things like eliminate whole rows or columns.

You only get Mario, Peach, and Bowser at first, with more obscure characters, and assistants that act like ability buffs, being unlocked at random if you pay with coins or diamonds – similar to how Fire Emblem Heroes works.

There’s also a versus mode, which wasn’t switched on in the preview we played but seems to work in the traditional manner of match-three puzzlers, where you add more objects to your opponent’s screen the more you remove them from yours.

Dr. Mario World is promising hundreds, rather than thousands, of new levels but it clearly has the potential to be the most successful Nintendo mobile game yet. Whether it will be is anyone’s guess – as King explained to us recently, a lot of Candy Crush Saga’s success was due to being one of the first on the market, and Dr. Mario World is certainly not that.

But it is an enjoyable and varied puzzler that we had a lot more fun with in this form than any of the previous incarnations. It may not seem as exciting as a portable Super Mario or Animal Crossing but Dr. Mario makes much more sense as a mobile game and should be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to Nintendo’s smartphone plans.

Formats: iOS and Android
Price: Free-to-play
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo, LINE, and NHN
Release Date: 10th July 2019

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