Video Game Review
Dr. Mario Online Rx
Nintendo Wii (WiiWare)
Developed by: Akira
Published by: Nintendo
If the NES version of Tetris had multiplayer, then perhaps it would have been the king puzzle game in my house growing up. Instead, Dr. Mario was the game that caused intense battles between family members in my household as challenges were made and thumbs ached. With the exception of the Gamecube, Nintendo has ported Dr. Mario over to ever home console they’ve ever made. The Wii is no exception and it’s version of Dr. Mario, titled Dr. Mario Express Rx, is probably the best edition ever made.
The concept of the game is probably even simpler than Tetris; you need to kill all the viruses on the screen by dropping three pills from the top of the screen to the bottom of the same colour that match the virus. Pills come in two conjoined pieces that may or may not be the same colour. There are only three colours so the combinations are not limitless. Players can rotate the pills to try and make sure they fit where they want them to. Once three pills of the same colour hit the same colour virus, those pills and the virus disappear. Once all the viruses are cleared, it’s on to the next level. This keeps going until the player can’t keep up and fills up the entire screen to the top with pills.
There are four play modes: single-player, multiplayer, Flash mode and the Virus Buster mode (which can be played solo or cooperatively with someone else). The single-player mode has the player trying to compete for the highest score. The high score tracking is limited to the top score so it’s not like most arcade games that have a top five or top ten list. It works in that it settles the argument on who ranks the best in single-player but it would have also been nice to have included the “close but no cigar” scores too. There are no online leaderboards so you can only be the champion of your own Wii and that’s about it.
The multiplayer mode is what will keep people playing this game. The idea is to clear all the viruses before your opponent. The action is fun and frantic as the competition heats up. The elimination of viruses through successful chain reactions will cause additional pills to fall on your opponent’s playing field which can completely turn their strategy upside-down. If you don’t have any friends nearby, no problem because you can play the game online against others (either against friends you know or against complete strangers). In multiple play sessions, I experienced no lag at all making for a seamless experience. If your friends are cheap and they don’t want to spring for the game, no problem because you can send them a demo version to allow them to play against you online. If the Internet scares you, no problem because you can play against a computer opponent. The multiplayer option is the best mode of the game and it doesn’t matter what your situation is because you can still play it either way.
Additionally, unlike the single-player game, the multiplayer mode has a leaderboard system similar to Mario Kart Wii, Tetris DS, and other Nintendo-published Wii/DS online titles. Players start with an online score of 5000 which goes up and down depending on wins and losses (the calibre of opponents affects the score too). It works well as players who have a run of bad games will be able to redeem themselves against players at the same skill level as them (if they’re available online). It also means that if someone is below 5000, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a winning percentage of below .500. It’s a neat little system that keeps it fun for casual players and addictive for hardcore players trying to get as high a score as possible.
The Flash mode has players trying to eliminate three specific flashing viruses as quickly as possible. The Brain Buster mode is a neat diversion that allows players to move the viruses using the Wiimote’s motion controls instead of the d-pad. Both modes are gimmicky fun but after a few times it begins to wear thin.
Speaking of the controls, the game’s controls are rock solid. The Wiimote is held NES style with the d-pad moving the viruses and the 1 and 2 buttons rotating the viruses. It’s not complicated at all (if you’re at all familiar with Tetris, it’s similar and actually even easier to control). The controls are tight and there’s never the feeling that the game made a mistake because you swear you pressed the button just before you saw the game over screen. If there’s a mistake, it’s you who made it and not the controls.
The graphics are fine but they’re not going to wow anyone. Considering that this is a single-frame game and that the only thing that the player is manipulating is simple-coloured pills, there isn’t really any opportunity to make the graphics all that fancy. Remember, this is a Mario game and not Geometry Wars so fancy light effects wouldn’t do the game any favours. Everything looks clean and polished which is the only thing that’s important with this title.
The soundtrack is great. The original Dr. Mario music was a pleasure to listen to back on the NES even when it sped up once it became apparent that you’re grasping to survive and trying to hold off seeing the game over screen. The original tunes are back although they have been spiffed up a bit. There’s also an additional track that was introduced in the Nintendo 64 version. Aside from Tetris, this may be the best music in a traditional puzzle video game.
Even though this is the best version of Dr. Mario there is, it’s not without its faults. This version does not have four-player multiplayer compared to the Nintendo 64 version that did. Additionally, there is no voice system to send trash talk to opponents. Mind you, this game came out before the Wii Speak peripheral was released. However, considering that the focus of the game is the online multiplayer (it’s in the title), Nintendo should have held off on releasing this game by a couple of months to take advantage of the Wii Speak peripheral (it hit store shelves a couple months after the release of this game). Another idea would have been for Nintendo to have released either a patch or an updated version for owners of this game to download for free that would have allowed for WiiSpeak support. These are minor problems but they would have made a great game even better.
The WiiWare service has been a magnet for some great puzzle games. Nintendo’s Dr. Mario Online Rx is the leader of the pack as it is one of the best puzzle games ever. It’s easy to pick up and a lot of fun. If you like Tetris, you’ll love Dr. Mario. Even if you’re not a huge puzzle game fan, you should give Dr. Mario a shot because it’s a puzzle game that feels like there’s actual strategy involved rather than just waiting all the time for the right piece/combination to show up. This is an essential download for any Wii owner.