If there’s one thing the 3DS eShop has plenty of, it’s puzzle games. It’s a genre that's always been commonplace on Nintendo handhelds, with Tetris probably the best known example. It’s hardly surprising that Nintendo’s mascot extraordinaire, Mario, invaded Game Boy with his own puzzle title, Dr. Mario. Does it make us feel better, or give out a bad prescription?
Dr. Mario is a simple puzzle game, taking the basic idea of matching blocks and applying a subtle tweak to proceedings. Rather than just matching blocks in groups you have to use ‘vitamin capsules’, which come in blocks of two, and line them up with ‘virus’ tiles of the same colour: match a virus tile with three or more vitamins of the same colour and it’s cleared. While you can merrily match and clear vitamins all day long, you don't pass the level until you've taken out all of the virus blocks. Capsules are moved with the D-Pad and rotated with the A or B button as expected, so anyone should be able to pick up and play.
Unlike the structure of Tetris, where the player is ultimately in control, each progressing level in Dr. Mario adds more virus blocks to clear, while placing them in increasingly inconvenient areas. It’s important to plan ahead and look at the preview of the next vitamin capsules, otherwise it’s possible to get into difficulties and block off viruses with the wrong colours. It’s an interesting enough twist to a typical falling-block title.
The only real issue with this release is that it has, ultimately, aged quite badly. The lack of colour means that you’re distinguishing between white, grey and black blocks, which seems primitive and unappealing against the glut of puzzle alternatives available on the eShop, not to mention the DSiWare entry in this series, Dr. Mario Express. Lack of variety is also an issue, with the menu allowing you to choose which difficulty level to start from, the speed of the blocks and which of the two music tracks to play: when you lose a level you go back to the menu and start again. The two-player mode from the original is disabled in this 3DS release, so it’s a truly bare-boned package.
Fans of the Game Boy’s monochromatic graphic style can revel in some cute touches, such as animated virus bugs on the screen and Mario handing out vitamin capsules at the top of the screen, but the overall presentation is very simple. The two music tracks are called Fever and Chill, both perfectly decent old-school chip tunes if you’re in the mood. Fever is frantic and may get a bit too much on a longer play session, while Chill is easier going without necessarily being quite as relaxed as the name suggests.
Dr. Mario is a decent puzzle game for retro Game Boy enthusiasts, but probably isn't top of the must-have list for other gamers. There are plenty of creative, attractive and modern falling block puzzle games on the eShop, as well as a more fully-featured and contemporary entry in this series, so in that context this title isn’t as sweet a pill as it once was.