Depth? No. Fun? Yes.
For years now, dabbling with assorted pills has been frowned upon without the benefit of a prescription or “real” medical condition. It’s good, then, that Nintendo has provided me with another excuse to play in the pellets without the lifestyle of shady hideouts and shifty tweakers. This time around, it’s Dr. Luigi — the slightly taller brother of 1990′s Dr. Mario — that brings this classic recipe back to the lab.
Dr. Luigi follows the same basic formula as the original action puzzler. The four modes packed in with the eShop download are fairly traditional in terms of mechanics, with the exception of Operation L: a mode in which the classic pills are replaced with L-shaped tablets. Expectedly, there’s a mode utilizing the Wii U GamePad’s functionality as well as an Online Battle option. You’ll still be matching colorful viruses with pills separated into two differently-colored sections (as they slowly stack toward an inevitable game over at the top of the screen), but everything is polished enough to feel new — at least for a little while.The first mode, and likely most familiar to veterans of the original release, is Retro Remedy. This mode, at its core, is virtually the same experience originally provided by Dr. Mario — if only a bit more refined thanks to technology and such. Even the options available are bare-bones, with adjustments to speed and viruses popping on board the only exceptions to the standard rules. In spite of this lack of tweaks, it’s the mode I’ve been playing the most.
Maybe it’s the nostalgic draw of the whole exercise or the wonderful inclusion of the original Dr. Mario soundtrack that ensured my return to what is, essentially, a very shiny replica of the original. Nonetheless, the fact that its Tetris-like qualities are addictive some twenty years later is its greatest accomplishment. Yes, it’s the same game, but that’s only a bad thing if you didn’t want more Dr. Mario.
The second mode, Operation L, only sets itself apart by having oddly-shaped pills. In this case, the shape is an L, providing a layer of challenge that proves to be more onerous than it would seem on the surface. Struggling with color combinations when pill-blocks are taking double the space isn’t easy, especially once the speed ramps up. Depending on whether you’re considerably gifted in the reflex department, this mode can range from providing a short stint of fun to creating complete frustration. It’s a nice addition, but what it did best was remind me how much better the core-mode was.
Mode number three — Virus Buster — is exclusive to the GamePad. With the stylus used to reposition the pills, multiple tablets rain from the top of your screen as you rush to slot them accordingly. Its fast-paced gameplay can be really fun in small bursts and will likely be the mode that older fans play most often as it’s less overwhelming than Operation L while still providing a similar level of challenge. It’s a mode that easily proves the tablet controller’s worth, in case you still needed proof.There’s also two player support for both Retro Remedy and Operation L, which places the GamePad in the hands of one player while the other controls things more traditionally. Other additions to the madness include a Rush Mode and AI battle for those without any available friends. Unfortunately, Virus Buster supports only a single GamePad, which is quite sad, as it feels like the best multiplayer-capable option of the bunch. Those interested in going head-to-head online can hop into an Online Battle, which is more or less the same experience as local play.
Nintendo somehow managed to provide just what the doctor ordered, so it’s quite regrettable that it feels as if it’s arrived a few years too late. Although it can be insanely fun, especially for its bargain price and abundance of content, manipulating pills just doesn’t feel as interesting this time around. Perhaps it’s my inner-adulthood reaching out, but I remember enjoying this much more in the 90s.
What Dr. Luigi does do, however, is retain its addictive qualities, smooth and responsive gameplay, and packs enough content to make you regurgitate those pharmaceuticals you found behind the bathroom counter. Considering the cheap entry point, there’s definitely enough here to constitute a purchase for both fans and newcomers alike. And in all likelihood, anyone not old enough to moan about the 1990s will devour it just as eagerly as I did Dr. Mario. Nintendo really took the Year of Luigi seriously, as this is just another reason to love the ghost-fearing plumber.