It’s 4:10 a.m. The Dr. Mario marathon is almost over, and my opponent has three viruses on screen while I have two. Looking upon the pills I’m missing to win, I smile…
It’s 4:15 a.m. I hear the sound that indicates that my foe has launched a combo, and I begin to pray for the punishment pieces not to fall anywhere where they could hurt my advance…
There’s no doubt that Dr. Mario was one of the most addictive puzzle games on the NES since it’s straightforward premise, charming lead character, and exciting versus matches all combined to turn it into a big hit when it first launched back in 1990. The original game has been reedited into every single Nintendo console, and Dr. Mario has had adventures on the Gameboy, SuperNES, Gameboy Advance, N64, Wii, and DSi.
The Wii Version was launched on WiiWare back in May 2008 under the name Dr. Mario Online RX in a package that presents us with various game modes such as Main Classic Mode, Flash Mode, and Germ Buster. Only the Classic and Flash modes can be played online. Germ Mode is a strange sounding game mode, and it’s derived from the family of brain training games, constituting an interesting addition to the title’s other core and online contents and making this the most interesting version of this beloved Nintendo Puzzle title.
Let’s begin by explaining the Main Classic Mode. Dr. Mario Rx is based on gravity (much like Tetris or Wario Woods) in which the pills appear over the top of the screen and trickle down inexorably at ever increasing speeds. The plot is simple; we have jars filled with viruses (virus numbers increase as you progress through the levels) and we have at our disposal pills in three colors. The objective is to pile at least three pills of the same color to destroy the virus we want to neutralize and thus clear out the screen. We advance a level whenever we eliminate all the viruses present. The game is over when the jar gets clogged up and you cannot send any more pills into it to fight the infectious little ids.
As we may appreciate, the Main Classic Mode is basically the same as in all previous iterations of the franchise. And you face the same conundrum as ever; as the game progresses, the speed of the descending pills and the number of viruses in the jar both keep increasing.
The Flash Mode presents a slight variation on this principle in that you are now competing either against a computer or a friend (either locally or online) in the race to empty out the jar.
In both games the control scheme is simple and straightforward. You can use the Wiimote sideways, or a Classic Controller, or even a GameCube controller. You move the viruses through the screen by pressing the D-pad left and right, and if you press down, the pills gain some speed or drop down altogether if you press up. The A & B buttons are used to rotate the pills in whichever direction you want. As you may see, the control scheme hasn’t been modified in these modes, but why would anyone want to mess with success?
The one notable step back in the saga is that we can no longer have big multiplayer matches with up to four on screen competitors either locally (as in the N64 version) or online.
One thing we have to thank Nintendo for is the inclusion of video tutorials. The presence of these clips imbues the game with a new sense of vigor by updating the game’s feel to modern standards and expectations.
It’s easy to find an opponent for this game. So far we have never had any trouble matching up with a foe from the list of people with access to our Friend Codes. There is no lag or disconnections during matches either. The one complaint is that, much in Nintendo’s fashion, our communications with opponents was limited to a series of short prepackaged catchphrases that don’t always suffice to express our level of frustration, surprise, or satisfaction.
The online matches are recorded using a balance of wins/losses to rank players in a chart very much in the same manner as Mario Kart Wii. You begin in the ranking with 5000 points and then you proceed to add or subtract points based on your performance in matches and the ranking of your opponent. This is a good incentive to keep you with a competitive mentality. Although you should be aware that as you improve you’ll be matched against equally tougher foes.
The Germ Buster Mode is a variant of the Dr. Mario Core principle in that the Wiimote takes over as the core protagonist. In here you can reach the aforementioned four simultaneous players per game. In this instance, we see various simultaneous pills pop up at the top of the screen and we have to struggle to rotate and redirect them to our jars with the Wiimote’s pointer. Of course, this becomes intensely challenging with three other competitors on screen. Now add to that the combo factor that allows you to slow down the falling pieces and move them at will once you successfully execute the required sequence of moves. One noticeable problem of this mode is that the larger pills and viruses help make the screen feel overcrowded and gameplay can be at times confusing.
The Germ Buster controls work truly smoothly; you point with the controller, grab the pill and rotate it with the A and B buttons. It’s a very fun mode, but you probably will still spend most of your time playing on the Classic Mode.
Graphically, this is a very basic game. Even with the classic sprites redrawn and improved, there are no jaw-dropping special effects or CGI videos. There isn’t much space for fancy in a puzzle game anyway, and the creators have stuck with the old-school 2D mechanics.
The viruses are now flashier than before and their taunts and boos are more prominent. Their size has also increased making it easier for players to discern them and calculate attacks. The good old Dr. Mario had never looked better and constitutes the only 3D element in the game. The implementation of Miis as part of the game was a bright idea, since you can now use your avatar to replace Mario in the game. It’s very fun to see your Mii competing against someone else’s and interact while dancing, smiling or fuming, depending on your performance.
The music is a delight for the nostalgic since all the classic tunes are remastered for this appearance, however, the song menu is still quite limited. The random option allows the game to automatically change songs as we proceed through each level. The noise produced by the viruses and the falling pills hasn’t changed since the original game. So if you liked the classic feel of the old sound system you won’t feel let down by this title. Nevertheless, we would have been delighted to have had access to more songs and sound effects than the pack currently offers.
Dr. Mario is a great puzzle game that keeps all its classic spirit while adding a little spice of modernity. The Online Mode really adds a new life to the game while respecting the core game principles that have always kept this franchise fun.
‘Bactericide’ is a most interesting variant of the game’s formula that takes advantage of the pointer features of the Wiimote. Thus, this old classic isn’t only a new rendition of an old 90s hit, but also an appealing bet for fans searching for a game that revitalizes the charming taste of this aging genre. For only 1000 Nintendo points, this is a jewel that you can’t ignore, especially if you’re fond of our favorite Italian medicine man.
4:17 a.m.: The pills that my opponent flung at me fall over the remaining viruses on my screen…my prayers weren’t heard.
4:20 a.m.: My foe celebrates his victory, while I brace myself for the next match.