Bits of Backlog – Dr Mario World and how to touchscreen

It happened – the blog has fallen woefully behind.  The reasons are the usual ones: less time for gaming, less time for writing, etc.  So I’ve decided to change format – less 2000 word full-blown reviews, and more “I’m playing this” type posts.

So I give you – Dr Mario World.


Dr Mario World is Nintendo’s next try at the surprisingly elusive mobile dollar, with this reboot (or “rehash”)  of one of its lesser known 1980s properties, Dr Mario.  Dr Mario was a Tetris knock-off from the days when everyone was doing them (remember Columns?  Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine?).  It was also excellent – fast paced, engaging and a hell of a lot of fun multiplayer.

Dr Mario World has tried to translate that to a free-to-play mobile title.  And they’ve done a commendable job.  It is quite different to the Dr Mario from the 80s, but after I got over the initial shock I realised that all of these changes were not only necessary for the touchscreen, they were a brilliant way of working with its limitations.

The original Dr Mario was fast-paced, with the pieces falling (standard Tetris style) from top to bottom.

Dr Mario World, however, has the pieces rising from bottom to top.  It also (mostly) ditches the fast-and-furious style play for a careful strategic one – pieces no longer fall at minimum intervals, but only when you want them to.  That means that time is no longer a scarce resource; you’re limited by the total number of pieces.

Compare Dr Mario World (left) with the original (right).  The key differences: (1) DMW has the viruses at the top (because the pieces rise from the bottom); and (2) DMW has a “capsule remaining” counter but no “speed” setting

At first I was unimpressed – this was not the game I had signed up for.  Then I thought about it a little more and realised that the changes were genius.  Dr Mario World uses a touchscreen – so right out of the gate you’ve got two problems that the NES version never had to contend with:

  • a lot of mobile games are played on the go, so they need to be “interrupt friendly” should something primitive occur to your phone like, I dunno, someone calls you on it;
  • placing the pieces is fiddly.  You can do it accurately OR quickly, but not both; and
  • if you move a piece around the screen using your finger, then your hand will obscure the bottom half of the screen.

The solution they came up with was to make a better game at the risk of alienating the “die hards” who tend to chant things like “that’s not my Dr Mario”.

And you know what?  Good on Nintendo.  It would have been easy for them to knock out a straight Dr Mario port, and make a decent sum from doing so, but the game would have been demonstrably worse.

It’s nice to see a game company take a punt on quality over franchise.

More like that please.


AND NOW…things about this game not mentioned in this post:

  •  Sales and reviews for the game seem to be mediocre.  Go figure – I quite like it, although I think it’s too easy to pass stages.  Sure they have a rating system for each stage, but I find it frustrating to constantly replay the same stage just seeking a higher score.
  • There are some progression elements with “assistants” and different “doctors” that level up and grant you various bonuses.
  • The slower, more strategic take on Dr Mario allows the designers to play around with a variety of block types and set up some neat puzzles.  It gives the game more depth than “MOVE FAST MOVE FAST MOVE FAST AAHHHHH!!!!”
  •  I have no problem with the “freemium” content in this game.  Yes it’s annoying, but it’s sadly part of the model, and (even sadder) it seems to be the only profitable model for phone games.
  •  There are “timed stages” and a “versus mode” that are a lot more like the original Dr Mario.  They are a lot of fun, but it’s SO EASY to misplace a piece.
  •  The original is better.  This is just a neat way of dealing with the limitations of the system.


Release date:              2019
Purchase date:          2019
Complete date:          N/A
Platform:                     iPhone
Time spent:                 Too long.  Probably lucky that my phone doesn’t keep track
Developers:                 Nintendo EPD, Line Corporation and NHN Entertainment Publisher:                    Nintendo

Recommended for:  People who like Tetris-style puzzle games, and would be willing to try something a bit different in the genre.

Not recommended for:  The hard-core nostalgic, people who prefer twitch-puzzles over slower puzzles, people who want challenging puzzles.

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