Dr. Mario World is a very weird sort of game. It eschews the puzzle formula we’re familiar with from absolutely every installment in the series so far. Rather, it takes more after the mobile match-3 puzzlers that force you to rely on stamina, paid power-ups, and maybe even luck to survive. Essentially, it can be frustrating for people who have an idea in their heads of what Dr. Mario should be. However, there is one element that does feel worth playing, and that is its Versus mode.
Once you get through the 20 introductory levels, Dr. Mario World unlocks everything, gets you on the stamina system for normal levels, and opens up Versus. With Versus, you have two options. You can play versus friends, people you know who have accepted invitations or connected via Facebook or Line. You could also immediately hop into a Versus match against a random person who happens to be online. Given the game is so new, the wait for matches isn’t long. (After attempting some throughout the day on different days, I found I usually waited around 30 seconds for a match.)
The Dr. Mario World Versus mode plays out like the puzzles in the solo campaign. The round begins with a handful of viruses on-screen. You have an unlimited number of capsules, which you drag up to eliminate them. Your goal is to get through all of your viruses as quickly as possible, without being overwhelmed and having them add up and push toward the bottom of the screen. (There is also picture-in-picture showing your opponent’s current field.) Your character has their power up, though people like Bowser have the range cut from two rows being eliminated to just one. When the match is done, you have points added to your rank for winning or deducted for losing.
What’s interesting is the effect that the different doctors have in Versus. Garbage blocks act differently here. Instead of sending junk over when you are successful, a gauge fills as you perform well. When you fill it up completely after making matches, the number next to your character at the top of the screen indicates how many rows of viruses will appear on your opponent’s side. (This is their attack). These show up at the top and push you closer to the bottom, which means you are inching towards failure. Each character has their own speed level and defense levels, meaning you can mitigate how many rows of viruses are sent over.
The drastic change in this Dr. Mario’s behavior almost seems easier to accept in the Versus mode. It doesn’t end up feeling like a puzzle game. Instead, it’s more about matching and fast reaction times. While that does detract from the whole point of the series, the fact that it does away with the microtransaction power-ups and stamina system might make it easier to bear. Due to its faster pace and different approach, Versus feels like an entirely different game that just happens to have a Dr. Mario aesthetic applied to it. You’re not worrying about tactics, chaining attacks, and hoping for combos. You’re just dashing to get those capsules on the field quicker than your opponent.
Dr. Mario World is an adjustment, to say the least. The spin-off does some things that fans of the series might not appreciate. The method in which the Versus mode is handled, where it’s more about accuracy and speed than pretending to be anything like the original games, oddly suits it. Its brevity and freedom from things like paid power-ups and stamina systems makes it an even more enticing excursion.
Dr. Mario World is available for Android and Apple iOS devices.