From before WiiWare's launch, this title was one of the most desired on the platform and even now is still Nintendo's only real fully-fledged game to be released on WiiWare (no, Pokemon Ranch does not count). It would seem that Nintendo decided to take this opportunity to ditch the old Dr. Mario for Virtual Console and instead add features to it and release it as a new title on WiiWare for more money. Is the pay-off worth it?
Dr. Mario features the same old classic gameplay it did many years ago -- viruses of varying colors arranged in a large bottle and pills that get dropped in to exterminate them. Players line up four panels of a kind horizontally or vertically to clear objects. It's classic puzzle-game fare, with its own unique spin on things, of course. While most generic puzzle games have players clearing tiles they drop, Dr. Mario is interesting in that players are trying to clear objects that are already placed on the field using the pills they drop. This means strategically working around the viruses and making the most with what you've got. Dr. Mario is simple to learn but takes a lot of practice to really get good at. The combo system adds some dynamics to multiplayer matches, as well, and combos are kind of easy to set up, which is good for less experienced puzzle gamers.
Speaking of multiplayer, Dr. Mario has three different flavors: first, there's the traditional two player versus, just like the old days. Handicaps can be tweaked to maximize balance, meaning that experienced players can still have fun with the n00bs -- though in my playtime I realized that the habit of creating chain reaction combos cannot be turned off easily, and the garbage that gets dumped can be a detriment to newcomers if experienced players don't avoid using it. The second way to play together is online, and Dr. Mario Online RX delivers on its name. The online is fast, clean, and simple -- no fuss, no mess, just connect and play with random strangers or friends alike. Either way, it takes only a couple of minutes to connect and after a few seconds of prepping the connection before a match, there's no lag of any kind (which makes sense considering the fact there's not much going on, tech-wise). Puzzle players who strive for competition will be very pleased here, and the ranking system is practically identical to Tetris DS.
The third way to play with other people will turn some people on and not impress others, but either way, is an interesting addition. Virus Buster is a mode where up to four players can play cooperatively, using the Wiimote's pointer to grab pills and move/rotate them directly. Everything is displayed much larger than usual and pill chunks can be moved after reactions, making combo possibilities exponentially greater. This mode adds a new spin on the old formula, as multiple players can play at once, co-operating in tandem to make long chains, and multiple pills fall at once, as well. This mode adds some fresh layers of depth to the classic for friends willing to invest some time into it -- though most players will likely go right back to the original style of Dr. Mario.
From a presentation standpoint, Dr. Mario does not impress the way games like LostWinds do, but then, it has no need to. The visuals are slick and clean, the 3D models of the viruses, Mario, and the Miis animate well and look great, and the colors are vibrant and distinct to ensure ease of use. As expected, the music is so infectious that the good doctor himself can't cure you. The old tunes are all back and sound great, and the new songs introduced fit perfectly with the game's musical style.
Final Verdict - 8/10
There's not really much more to discuss with Dr. Mario Online RX, but that's not a bad thing: the title offers up everything a puzzle fan could expect and want. The gameplay is classically retro and solid: easy to learn but challenging to master. Dr. Mario has its own distinct puzzle formula and adding an extra mode to mix things up adds some play value. Between the co-op, the multiplayer, and the online, this WiiWare title can provide hours and hours of enjoyment to the puzzle fan. It's definitely a WiiWare title to pick up even if you're not into puzzle games because its elegantly simple and addicting design can hook casual and hardcore gamers alike.