|System: DSi (DSiWare)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Nintendo||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Nintendo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 20, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Normally, I wouldn't advocate throwing tons of random, multicolored little pills at a potentially serious medical problem involving a systemic viral outbreak, yet the only solution offered by Nintendo's top physician is thoroughly time tested and proven to be effective. We're talking about the realm of virtual drugs and generally harmless viruses that resemble strange little monsters, of course. Dr. Mario is in once again, and he's got the cheap and speedy cure to rid you of tedious boredom while you're on-the-go.
Since the original Dr. Mario game hit the NES almost 20 years ago, gamers have shelled out their cash to spend some quality time with the good doc perhaps a few more times than they'd care to admit. Changes to the colorful puzzle game formula have been meager at best across its various editions, but somehow we still manage to find ourselves facing the prospect of picking up yet another slightly different version of the game. Indeed, the particular concoction of medicine this digital PHD peddles is seriously habit forming, and Dr. Mario Express is the most affordable version of the game to date.
Last year Nintendo launched Dr. Mario Online RX, a WiiWare update of the virus-busting puzzle classic that gave the game a pleasant face lift and expanded the gameplay with online multiplayer modes. With the DSi's internal storage capacity, and the recent launch of the new DSiWare shop, it admittedly makes good sense to launch a pared down version through the service for handheld gamers. True to its zippy moniker, Dr. Mario Express is essentially a stripped down version of the last year's WiiWare title. It ditches the multiplayer and online aspects of Dr. Mario Online RX but keeps a similar presentation and leaves the core gameplay intact.
For players who've been living in a cave for the last few decades, Dr. Mario's particular brand of puzzle gameplay is very similar in spirit to Tetris. Each level consists of a vertical jar containing an assortment of three different colors of viruses (little gremlin-like monsters) scattered around at random. Mario tosses solid and multicolored pills (yellow, red, and blue) into the jar one at a time and you must rotate and arrange the meds as they slowly descend. Lining up a combination of four or more of any single color (monsters or pill pieces) in a vertical or horizontal row clears them from the screen. Clearing all the viruses sends you on to the next level, while letting the stack of pills reach the top of the screen means it's game over. It's a design that has endured over the years. Once you get sucked into a few rounds, it can be hard to put the game down.
Control-wise, things are the same as they were back in the good old NES days. Tapping the A or B button rotates the current pill 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise, while the D-Pad moves it left or right. A quasi-hard drop is performed by holding down on the D-Pad, but you can also let up at any point to stop the pill's rapid descent. Tricksters can use this in conjunction with quick rotation to fit pills into tight spots for maximum effectiveness. The inability to use the touch screen or stylus in any way, shape, or form seems like one of several missed opportunities in Dr. Mario Express. Nonetheless, playing it safe doesn't hurt the classic gameplay, since slapping on touch controls without properly integrating them into the game design would have been far less preferable.
Dr. Mario Express looks much like its WiiWare counterpart, sporting softer colors that contrast less sharply against the stark hues of the pills being thrown about. You can skin the menu elements in the background in fetching pink, blue, or green to suit your personal tastes. Most of the time all of the action occurs on the lower screen, but some data is moved upward to make better use of the extra space. Mario looks rather professional with his bleached-white lab coat and stethoscope, and the endearing monsters dance around mischievously on the top screen near the score display until they get whacked on the noggin by falling pills. The two catchy musical tracks from the original - "Fever" and "Chill" - return once again. You can pick your favorite, set them to random, or turn them off completely.