We couldn't help noticing a huge wave of nostaligia rising after Dr. Mario was announced to be making its way to WiiWare. Or to rephrase that rather more accurately, we were boggled by the fact that so many people still cared. After all, it might have had more re-releases than The Joker, but it's never been amongst the the top tier of our most loved puzzle games. Dr. Mario isn't an awful game of course, but it's certainly not something we've ever found ourselves playing rabidly into the night, held tightly within the merciless grasp of the Just-One-More-Go Demon.
Still, ever ready to be converted, we downloaded the new version and gave it a go. And lo, we did find the Wii version of Dr. Mario to be... well, the Wii version of Dr. Mario, basically.
All elements are present and correct. Mario - or your Mii if you like - stands in the top right corner of the screen in his now well-known medical garb (Warning: If your physician is a plumber who has decided to adapt his skills to the human anatomy, keep your clothes on) and tosses coloured pills into a jar containing a bunch of little virus gremlins. You manoeuver the pills as they fall so that they land near viruses of the same colour, and once you've got a row of four or more 'block's of the same tone, pills and viruses alike will disappear. Get rid of all of the googly-eyed little death-bringers and you complete the level.
If a pill has two colours, as most of them do, the half left behind after a colour match will fall if there isn't anything below it. This can lead to additional colour matches, which in turn can lead to satisfying chain reaction combos and a bigger score.
Dr. Mario plays as well on the Wii as it ever has, but that's exactly its problem. We're talking about a NES puzzle game here. Of course, the history of the puzzle genre is littered with examples of simple, ageless design that have remained as addictive throughout the years as they were at their conception, but Dr. Mario was never part of that group.
It was always a slightly awkward puzzler, always a little too contrived and haphazard to play on that immediate, instinctive level on which the best of its brethren thrive. While its learning curve has always been fair, the fundamental mechanics of the game still lead to too many instances of random and scattershot gameplay during which things can get far too messy, far too quickly.
You don't always feel in control of a game of Dr. Mario and when things start going wrong, the central gameplay just isn't addictive enough to make you care. More than a few times we've found ourselves quitting out of the game halfway through without a second thought, and that's something that just shouldn't happen in a puzzle game.
So that's the fundamentals out of the way. What about the extra bells and whistles we've got packaged in with this Wii version? Well as the title suggests, aside from the standard two-player VS. and 'Flash' modes - the latter being a competitive variation in which both players are challenged to get rid of a particularly virus in their jar - there's also Germ Buster. This is a drag-and-drop version of the game which sees you using the Wii remote to pull the pills to their resting places, often making you deal with two or three at the time. It's all very tactile and immediate, and at first it's a fun and refreshing experience, but eventually the innacuracy of the control scheme makes it a little too frustrating to deal with. On the positive side, there's online multiplayer, which has run flawlessly every time we've tried it.
We can't wholeheartedly recommend Dr. Mario & Germ Buster. We know that there are a hell of a lot of people out there who still love the core game after all these years, but that can't stop this release feeling like a creaky also-ran. There's fun to be had with it, and if you happen to be one of the Dr. Mario die-hards of the world then the online mode might make this version worth picking up on its own.
But if like us, you can't help thinking of the game as Puyo Puyo's in-bred cousin, then save your Wii Points for a better WiiWare release. Or just pick up Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine on the VC.