Review: Dr. Mario Express (DSi)

Dr. Mario Express
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Arika/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 04/20/09


Dr. Mario is one of those iconic games that always seems to strike a chord with gamers, despite its advanced age and general lack of modification over the years. Granted, not many puzzle games are improved by changes (How many modified versions of Tetris can be considered good?), but it’s interesting to note that Dr. Mario, despite all of the different iterations it’s gone through over the years, is still essentially much the same game it was on the NES. So too is it with Dr. Mario Express, a 500 point download for the DSi that is essentially the same game you know and love for a nice, low price, which helps a good bit to mitigate the fact that it’s essentially the same game it’s always been.

If you’ve missed Dr. Mario after all these years, here’s the gist: a bunch of different-colored viruses are floating around inside of a bottle, and you have to eliminate them using pills of the same colors. The game works like Columns, to a point. Lining up for or more colored pill pieces/viruses in a row will eliminate those pieces/viruses, and if you stack the pills to the top of the pill bottle, you lose. The difference in Dr. Mario is that you specifically have to eliminate the viruses to win each stage, and each stage features more viruses for you to eliminate than the last. Dr. Mario Express features twenty stages for you to choose from and more than that to play around with, and each can be played in slow, medium or fast speeds, depending on how much of a challenge you’re looking for. You can also play against the CPU if you’re looking for some versus action, and you can pick the virus level, speed and challenge level of the CPU opponent as you desire, so beginners and veterans can get some challenge out of the experience.

Dr Mario Express looks pretty good on the DSI. The layout is the same as it’s ever been, with the pill bottle full of silly animated viruses and the colorful pills looking basic but vibrant, meaning it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on and how the game works. Dr Mario himself stands to the right of the bottle and tosses in the next pill as needed, as in the older games, and the overall layout of the screen is as solid as ever and still works nicely. In versus games, the CPU opponent takes up the top screen so you can see how they’re doing, but in solo games, the top screen shows off some stats as well as the three virus types mocking you. Each time you eliminate one, they get hit in the head until they disappear when you’ve cleared of a specific virus from the bottle. The audio in the game leans more toward “acceptable”, as the sound effects are solid and the music is entertaining, but there are only two tunes in the game to listen to while playing and the sound effects are fairly sparse. The audio is by no means bad, mind you, but it’s very bare bones.

If you’ve never played Dr. Mario, you’ll still find that Dr. Mario Express is very easy to play and you’ll have the basics down in no time. Pressing left or right on the D-pad moves the pills in those directions, pressing down moves the pill down faster, and pressing up drops the pill into place instantly, while A and B are used to rotate the pill as needed. Pills come down as two colored segments, and the trick is to know where to place pills so as to gain the maximum benefit. Good pill placement is all a matter of dropping pieces onto viruses or into empty space, as piling the wrong color of pill onto a virus means you’ll have to waste time clearing it away to eliminate said virus. The early levels are all generally lacking in viruses, to allow you plenty of room to maneuver and plot your pill moves, but as you go up in difficulty, the viruses multiply like, well, a virus, filling the bottle and making every move crucial to success. As noted, you can also adjust the speed of play to make levels more or less difficult, depending on how skilled you are, so long-time fans will once again have plenty of reason to jump in and punish themselves at the higher speeds.

Dr. Mario Express is as fun as the game has ever been, but it lacks a lot of the features of its other incarnations. There are no multiplayer options to speak of in the game, and while it’s pretty unlikely the game could rock a same-system multiplayer mode and keep the five dollar price tag, it IS fairly likely you’ll meet someone else who has it, so it’s sad you can’t play the game against them. Aside from the low price point and the fact that you can download it onto your DSi, there’s also nothing to this version of Dr. Mario that hasn’t been done before. It’s a fun game, don’t get me wrong, but it offers nothing new or different in comparison to ANY of the versions of the game. Even the old NES game has as many, if not more, options than this version of the game. If you’ve played lots and lots of Dr. Mario, well, this is more of it, with nothing else added, and that’s going to pretty much decide if you’re interested.

It’s not that Dr. Mario Express is good or bad so much as it’s really just the same thing as every other Dr. Mario game ever, only stripped down to the bare single-player only essentials. It looks and sounds good enough, and it’s lots of fun if you’re a fan of puzzle games or Dr. Mario, so new players or hardcore fans will find lots of fun in it. Unfortunately, it does absolutely nothing new at all, lacks any sort of multiplayer to speak of, and does absolutely nothing fans haven’t seen before, which makes it kind of hard to recommend to anyone looking for a little more. Dr. Mario Express isn’t a bad deal for five dollars, but it isn’t a sure winner, either. Puzzle game fans will love it, as will Dr. Mario fanatics, but everyone else will most likely have seen this all before, and cheap or no, it might not be worth it.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: POOR
Balance: GOOD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE
Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dr. Mario Express is a fun, enjoyable puzzle game, like every other Dr. Mario game before it, but this particular version of the game is fairly limited in comparison to its older brothers. The DSi version looks and sounds fine and is still a blast to play after all these years, and even if you’ve never played the series before, it’s as easy to learn as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, it’s a solo affair only, meaning that unless you’re only interested in playing by yourself or against the CPU, you’ll get bored. It’s also more of the same from the franchise, and if you’ve played any game in the series, you’ve played this. Dr. Mario Express is still a good time, make no mistake about that, but it’s a stripped down, limited version of the older games, and unless you’re a puzzle game fan or a big fan of Dr. Mario, this might be a bit more limited than you’re looking for. For five dollars, though, it’s worth a look even if you’re on the fence, as it’s inexpensive enough to give it a go unless you’re certain you’re looking for a little more than it offers.