To cap off the Year of Luigi, Nintendo did what they've done best with these games - created something whose basic gameplay emulates an old favorite, but managed to put a Luigi-themed spin on it somewhere along the way. For his latest feature, Luigi gets a shot at playing doctor. How does it stand up to the classic, Dr. Mario? Keep reading to find out!
Developer: Nintendo, Arika
Platform: Wii U (via eShop)
Release Date: December 31, 2013
ESRB: E for Everyone
It may have taken him 30 years, but Luigi has finally gotten his Ph.D and is ready to help cure the viral infections of the world by throwing multicolored pills at them. Filling in for Dr. Mario is no easy task, but Luigi manages to follow the proper procedure set forth by his brother as well as bringing his own unique methods of medicine to the operating room. All the elements of Dr. Mario are intact and the basic gameplay remains untouched, so your enjoyment of Dr. Luigi might hinge on whether or not a twist on the familiar is enough reason to make another appointment.
If you've never played Dr. Mario before, here's the gist - red, yellow, and blue viruses fill the screen, and it's your job to place pills of the same color on the viruses. Stack 3 of the same color on a virus and it's gone. Pills will sometimes be solid colored and sometimes have a different color on each end, which keeps things varied and challenging as you enter later levels and more and more viruses appear on screen. You can choose to start at low levels or dive right into a germ-filled field, and you can also change the speed that your pills drop as well as choose the music you'd like to hear while you play. Dr. Luigi of course features this in full form, but, as mentioned, manages to work in a couple of new ways to play.
Dr. Luigi features four main modes - Retro Remedy, Operation L, Virus Buster, and Online Battle. Retro Remedy, as you might expect, is the classic Dr. Mario gameplay as it's always been. You can play this mode solo, against one other local player, or against a CPU opponent. In 2-Player and Vs. CPU modes, the players work to be the first to clear their screen, and playing well and making combos results in junk pieces dropping into the other player's screen to hinder their progress. There's also a variation on the Vs. mode called Flash, where instead of attempting to clear the entire screen, players attempt to be the first to clear specific, flashing viruses.
Operation L is a new take on the tried and true gameplay, modeled after the good doctor - Instead of a single pill, Luigi drops two pills stuck together in a L-shape. This changes the gameplay more significantly than you might think, as you're forced to adopt new tactics to account for the extra pill as well as the shape. You'll need to think ahead to account for where each piece of the pill will drop, and as you get higher in level and more viruses appear on screen, you'll have to figure out how to deal with moving the oddly shaped pills around to where you need them, and you'll also need to find new ways to get unneeded pills out of the way. This often presents situations where you'll simply have to drop pills wherever you can and clean them up later, which can prove difficult if you're not careful. Players new to the series or those who are just a bit rusty will most likely be overwhelmed by the new mode at first, but even seasoned veterans will find that it takes some getting used to before they'll be comfortably clearing screens with the L-pills.
Virus Buster mode returns from Dr. Mario Online Rx, trading out Wiimote control for touch-screen control via the Gamepad. In this mode, rather than having a full playing field, you'll be restricted to the bottom portion of the usual pill bottle. Pills will begin descending and you'll use the stylus to move them around, and tap them to rotate. The real kicker to this mode may come as a sudden surprise though - after a short time of play, two pills will begin to drop at once, and a bit later three pills will drop at the same time, forcing players to multitask and get everything where it needs to be. This requires as much planning ahead as possible as well as being able to deal with unnecessary pills or clearing the wrong color off a virus quickly due to the small size of the playing field. Virus Buster is easily the most difficult mode of play and will take a fair bit of practice for even skilled players, but it's great if you're seeking a challenge.
Last is Online Battle, which is exactly what it sounds like. Online Battle lets you play against players around the world in ranked matches, and allows you to view the leaderboards at any time. You can also simply have a friendly match that won't be ranked, and you can play Retro Remedy or Operation L in normal or Flash modes. Unfortunately, I've yet to be able to find anyone seeking a match so I can't say if the netcode is any good or not. All modes can be played off-TV on the Gamepad alone, but only Virus Buster uses the touch screen. All other modes use traditional button inputs.
From a sound and visual standpoint, Dr. Luigi doesn't really try to do anything different. It's nice and bright and colorful, just as past iterations of the series have usually been. The sounds and music are mostly recycled, with Chill and Fever sounding pretty much the same as they have since Dr. Mario 64, although there are altered versions of the songs depending on the mode you're playing. Operation L features two new songs, both of which are nice and catchy, but not as memorable as the classic tunes.
All in all, Dr. Luigi is a fine iteration in the Dr. Mario series, but, again, your enjoyment may depend entirely on how appealing Operation L sounds, unless you've not grown tired of the classic gameplay. There are versions of Dr. Mario for most major Nintendo systems so there are always other (and less expensive) options for that, but if you want to experience the changes Luigi and the Gamepad bring to the series, or you've never played any other version of the series, it's certainly worth checking out Dr. Luigi if you've got a case of puzzle fever that needs to be cured.
TL;DR version - Dr. Luigi brings everything from past Dr. Mario iterations to the Wii U, along with a fun new Luigi-themed mode. Operation L will challenge your ability to wield oddly shaped pills and Virus Buster will keep you on your toes by dropping multiple pills at once. Still, the very basic concept remains the same, as does most of the sounds and sights, so the main reason to pick this up is if you really want to see the new modes or if you've never played Dr. Mario before. If you just want the classic gameplay though, it's best to stick with a cheaper option like Dr. Mario Express or Online Rx.