Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure was unexpectedly announced for Nintendo 3DS last month, and launched shortly thereafter. The Dr. Mario series, as many other puzzle franchises, has remained largely the same through its many iterations. But Miracle Cure is, at long last, the title to bring a very healthy change.
The fundamentals of gameplay remain the same—playing Dr. Mario on 3DS is hardly any different from playing on any of the previous consoles. You'll still drop colored pills, matching four colors in a row horizontally or vertically to clear out viruses from the playing field. But Miracle Cure introduces a wonderful twist just clever and exciting enough to become the first new mainstay of the series since it was introduced way back when. It's the aptly named, of course, Miracle Cure.
Miracle Cure works effectively as a powerup, as it will give you special items that clear out certain areas of the battlefield. Bombs, for example, take out anything in their close vicinity, while a Square capsule with a V on it will clear out all viruses of that color from the field. How effective any of these powers may be depends entirely on the layout of the viruses and capsules on the field when you get them, so there's a wonderful balance to how useful each given piece may be when.
Miracle Cures are earned by filling up a meter to the right of the field, which fills incrementally with each piece you lay, and demonstrably more when you clear pieces and chain up combos. This mechanic rewards good players for managing their pieces efficiently, and because the powerups' effectiveness relies on the game's layout, they don't end up even remotely negating the rising tension you feel while playing Dr. Mario, but rather serve as a relieving opportunity to correct silly mistakes or little slips of the finger that may have otherwise doomed your entire game.
This new addition fits in with the Dr. Mario formula so beautifully that you'll feel like it's something that's been around since the very first game. In a world where Nintendo is twisting and changing their classic games, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, the Miracle Cure mechanic could have easily become an overused gimmick that loses sight of the soul of Dr. Mario, but Nintendo has deftly avoided that fate, instead creating a feature that's a perfect blend of refreshingly new, and yet an essential addition to the very core mechanics we've been enjoying for years.
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure includes what's called the "Miracle Cure Laboratory" for new players, which is essentially a set of challenges with pre-laid-out fields set up to train players to recognize potential combos and learn how to effectively use the new Miracle Cure powerups. One of the most notable details in this mode is that when you pause the game, unlike in any other mode, the pause menu shows up to the left of the field, so you can get a good look at where the pieces have already been laid down, what the current and upcoming pieces you need to place are, and where they might be effective. It's a small gesture that could have made the game a little too forgiving in its main attractions, but here in the training area it will go much appreciated.
Otherwise, Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure includes all the same modes you'd come to expect from a Dr. Mario game: competitive play both local and online, a classic endless mode, and other typical variations. It even includes the option to enjoy Dr. Luigi and his L-shaped pills for players who want a bit more of a shakeup. Finally, the Virus Buster mode returns from the Wii and Wii U versions of the game, this time using the 3DS' touch screen controls while holding the system on its side.
Virus Buster, for those who have never played, is a game based on the same principles as Dr. Mario, but the fundamental difference lies with the capsules that you break free by clearing pieces connected to them. Whereas the main game modes drop these capsules straight to the ground, in Virus Buster, they become freely moveable once more, able to land wherever you place them. This small difference fundamentally changes the very nature of the game, ultimately creating two fun puzzle games in one.
What you'll certainly notice, however, is that Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure is not a terribly high-budget game. The menu layout is bland; any remote bit of flourish on the title screen, in the user interface, and elsewhere, is all kept quite barren. That's certainly no inhibiting factor to the game's enjoyability, seeing as you want to jump right into the puzzles as quickly and easily as possible, and you'll want few distractions from the core mechanics. The graphics, music, sound effects, and more all get the job done, but nothing wows on any of these fronts.
The Verdict: Dr. Mario Gameplay, Finally Perfected
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure is thus far the definitive way to play Dr. Mario. It includes everything you'd expect from a new installment and gives the gameplay a refreshing twist so well-implemented that you'll soon realize we've been playing Dr. Mario all wrong for the past three decades. Its low production value is easily noticeable, but that certainly doesn't stop it from being an addicting, exciting puzzle game that will keep you hooked for years to come.
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure is now available on the Nintendo 3DS eShop for $9.99.