It’s like Tetris, but with drugs. That’s how Dr. Mario was originally pitched to me by fellow staffers as I began downloading the latest in Nintendo’s long-running series. Jokes aside (many to do with how intoxicants would manifest in the Mario universe) I knew exactly what I was getting into, despite not having played Dr. Mario since its GameBoy debut back in the early 90s.
In short, not a lot has changed over the past two decades. Although Miracle Cure sports a flashier aesthetic along with some tweaks here and there, at its core it’s the same puzzler Nintendo released more than twenty years ago.
Whether playing alone, with a friend or online, you’ll be tasked with the same objective of clearing the grid (or “Bottle”) of all viruses. They come in red, blue, and yellow, scattered around the grid both individually and in little clusters, and to eradicate them, players must guide falling medicine capsules as they attempt to trap virus blocks in same-colour sequences.
The comparisons to Tetris are valid, yet Dr. Mario feels more akin to the recent spate of connect-four puzzlers that have taken the mobile gaming scene by storm. The difference here is that in order to win, you need to incorporate the existing virus blocks into your combos to complete a stage.
Nintendo tries to mix up the formula through the use of power-ups. Intermittently, as you score points, bonus capsules will be thrown into the mix, helping players to clear the board faster by wiping out certain colours, as well as entire rows and columns. The game’s only other means of diversification are the all-new Dr. Luigi stages. More of gimmick than actual design ingenuity, these game segments have players direct L-shaped capsules instead of your bog-standard two block pill.
Although fun in short bursts, Miracle Cure does little to keep players spellbound over longer stretches. The pacing is a little off compared to similar puzzlers, compounded by the need to eliminate viruses instead of leisurely piecing blocks together. Unless playing competitively online or with friends locally, the only reason to keep coming back is to beat your own score across Dr. Mario’s fifty stages.
There’s nothing wrong with modernising older games. However, therein lies the problem for Miracle Cure: it’s just a modernisation. Over the years Nintendo has continued to innovate with its stable of core franchises, yet this feels more like a simple repackaging. Dr. Mario fans will no doubt jump at the chance to play it on 3DS, but for those used to cheaper, more fulfilling puzzle games on other platforms, Miracle Cure will prove a tough pill to swallow.