I spent months embedded in Candy Crush Saga years ago, and it might still be the most addicted I've been to a mobile puzzle game. After playing Nintendo's upcoming free-to-play game for a little while, it gave me very similar vibes. The game is live now on iOS and on Android via Google Play. I've been playing, and I'm already getting sucked in.
First of all, it's not Dr. Mario in any traditional sense. The classic NES-and-onward series of puzzle games usually involve a Tetris-like cascade of pills, and certain blocks you need to clear. Dr. Mario World's puzzle levels, of the few I played from the 200 or so that will be available, aren't time-based at all. Pieces float up instead of falling down, and pieces on the board need to be cleared in a minimum number of moves. You can now see why I'm making the Candy Crush analogy.
Once pieces start floating up, you do need to guide them into place reasonably quickly, but you can also take as long as you like between pieces, which my commute will appreciate. So far, unlike Candy Crush levels I remember, level design seems to reward thinking rather than luck. New puzzle twists emerge, and the game starts to evolve. By my sixth or seventh puzzle stage, I started to sink into it.
Dr. Mario World's free-to-play structure means you can play without purchases, but you only get a certain number of tries (measured as "hearts") before having to wait a while to play again. But so far, even though each stage costs a heart, winning will earn the heart back. Buying more hearts requires Diamonds, the game's in-app currency that costs money. But there are also Coins, which are earned in-game and unlock other extras. It may sound confusing, and it is, a bit, but I've ignored most of those things so far and just played. Daily gifts appear with things to collect, and you can send or receive hearts from friends. It's a lot to keep track of.
The game will also continue expanding, with new stages and challenges that will keep being added. The map where stages are laid out looks very Candy Crush-like, but the game's animation and overall graphic feel is very similar to, Nintendo's flat-fee mobile platforming game that came out in 2017. Unfortunately, like Super Mario Run, Dr. Mario World can't be played offline. I asked Nintendo whether an offline mode would be considered, but prospects don't seem good.
Dr. Mario World may not be Nintendo's most anticipated mobile game this year (that will be), but it surprised me how much I ended up liking it, even if its free-to-play puzzle structure is all too familiar for mobile games.
Online play in Versus Mode can be played for free without needing hearts, and gets unlocked after beating Stage 20 of the single-player game. Live battles play out more like the classic Dr. Mario games I remember, where acting fast can push things onto the other person's puzzle field to force them to (hopefully) lose. I've already played a few matches, and they're fun -- definitely more entertaining than Super Mario Run's multiplayer modes.
Dr. Mario World also has a lot of often-confusing power-ups, timed bonuses and companion characters. Honestly, I've been ignoring that stuff and just focusing on the puzzles... but I'm sure I'll need to master the details of the power-ups sooner or later.
Will the free-to-play structure be acceptable or annoying? We'll know more soon enough. And hey, it's free, so go for it. (I'm out there somewhere.)