Nintendo seems to have been following a pattern with Dr. Mario in recent years. First, it releases a new title in the series for its current console which adds a new gameplay mechanic. Then, sometime later, it releases a new handheld entry, which plays it a bit more safe and doesn't really do anything new.

The latest game, Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure, surprisingly breaks this pattern, adding a big new gameplay element while also essentially being a combined port of Dr. Mario & Germ Buster (AKA Dr. Mario Online Rx) and Dr. Luigi.

In case you've never played a Dr. Mario game before, the concept is quite similar to Tetris and other falling block puzzlers. You're presented with a screen dotted with a bunch of viruses, and Dr. Mario (or Dr. Luigi) will toss pills - each consisting of two segments - towards the top, which then slowly begin falling down. Your objective is to drop these on, next to or otherwise near these viruses in order to clear them out. Creating any horizontal or vertical line consisting of at least 4 pieces - of which at least one is a pill - will clear that line out and remove the viruses from the screen. However, if your screen fills up all the way to the top, it's game over.

As mentioned, this is essentially a combination of two previously released games, featuring three different game modes. Naturally, the regular Dr. Mario is one of them, which features the standard, classic rules. The other two are Germ Buster - also known as Virus Buster - from the WiiWare game, in which you hold the 3DS console in "book" orientation and use the touchscreen to drag and drop pills rather than moving them around with buttons, and Dr. Luigi, where pills are dropped two at a time in an L-shaped blister pack.

These three modes are playable in four different ways. The Miracle Cure Laboratory presents you with some increasingly difficult preset scenarios and tasks you with clearing them, essentially acting as a way to learn how the game works. In the Custom Clinic, you can play any of the three modes freely, with Dr. Mario and Dr. Luigi being playable in the classic, level-based fashion, in an endless mode where new viruses keep being added until you lose, or against a CPU opponent. Germ Buster is only playable with levels.

Just like the previous few games, you can also play against others, which makes up the remaining two main menu options - online and local multiplayer. Just like in the previous few games, online mode allows you to play Dr. Mario or Dr. Luigi against other players around the world, which works essentially the same as playing against a CPU. Stringing together combos and otherwise clearing viruses will send "garbage" pills towards your opponent's screen, usually falling in places where they don't want them, but occasionally helping them out. Online mode also has a leaderboard, so you can see how you stack up to others. Local multiplayer naturally works the same as online, just with a nearby friend, while Download Play is supported.

Of course, we should mention the game's big new feature - the titular Miracle Cure. This is an option that can be turned on or off in Dr. Mario and Dr. Luigi modes, both offline and online, and essentially adds power-ups into the fray. With Miracle Cure enabled, once you clear enough viruses or pills to fill up a special meter, one of four power-ups will act as the next pill and can be dropped anywhere you want. These power-ups have various effects, such as allowing you to take out all objects in a horizontal or vertical line, blowing up everything in a diamond shape, or even clearing out all nearby pills or viruses with the same colour. These can influence the game in a pretty significant way, so they're quite fun to try out - especially in multiplayer matches.

Curiously, one of the ever-present options has been disposed of this time around, as you are unable to select the music you want to listen to while playing. Instead, the game will randomly select a song every time. This isn't a deal-breaker by any means, but it's an odd omission considering the option has been around since the series started. The music itself seems to be taken directly from the last few entries, so unfortunately there aren't any notable new arrangements. Graphically, the game looks clean and simple, which is all you can really ask for with Dr. Mario - it's never been a graphical showcase. The console's 3D effect is present on menu screens, but is disabled when you're playing the main game.

Conclusion

Featuring three different game modes from throughout the franchise's history, as well as preset scenarios to clear and online multiplayer, this is easily the most packed Dr. Mario game yet. There's a ton of different ways to play, so if you don't fancy Miracle Cure or Dr. Luigi, for example, you can easily leave them untouched and still have a lot to do. Those that are into head-to-head battles will find the online mode quite entertaining as well.