Dr. Mario is the bane of my puzzle gaming career. I loved it ever since I picked it up for the first time in 1990, but I've never really reached the point where I can say that I mastered it, unlike many other Nintendo releases.
Having said that, I've stuck with it all these years because the simplistic Tetris-like format works. Although Dr. Luigi doesn't really change a whole lot, it's still the same "Dr." formula you know and love, with a few welcome twists.
Dr. Luigi (Wii U)
Developer: Nintendo, Arika
Released: December 31, 2013 (US) / January 15, 2014 (EU)
You can tell from the get-go that Dr. Luigi is a fairly slim package. As an eShop download, you'll get four modes -- Retro Remedy (traditional Dr. Mario-style puzzles), Operation L (L-shaped pills), Virus Buster (Wii U GamePad), and Online Battle. You may notice the omission of a story type mode, which is a major bummer.
Retro Remedy is essentially the same exact game you've known and loved since 1990. You can tinker with the amount of viruses on each board, mess with the speed, and pick your classic Dr. Mario tune to listen to in the background. Honestly, that's about all there is to it. Although it's not a particularly exciting addition, I'm glad it was included, as the main attraction (Operation L) may be polarizing for some.
Operation L is the meat of Dr. Luigi, and after playing it extensively, I'm kind of indifferent to it. Instead of using the classic "two block" pills like Retro Remedy, you'll deal with L-shaped pill packets instead. It sounds really underwhelming when you say it out loud, I know, but it actually changes up the core gameplay quite a bit.
Now, you're actually fighting for space on each drop since every block takes up four spaces instead of two. It's much harder to plan ahead and figure out where each block can go (especially on higher speeds) when you have to worry about so many combinations of colors, and as a result, it can get a bit hectic.
Both modes can be played in the classic "unlimited" manner (destroy all the viruses), or in "Rush Mode," which only requires you to defeat some of them -- you can also play against an AI opponent if you're going at it alone. As an added bonus, Retro Remedy features the classic Dr. Mario soundtrack, with Operation L sporting its own tracks. Visually, Dr. Luigi isn't a showstopper, but it's bright, vibrant, and incredibly smooth all around.
If you have a partner on the ready, local two-player support is available for Retro Remedy and Operation L, with support for both classic and Rush gametypes. The the first player commandeers the GamePad, with second player making use of a Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remote, or a Remote with a Classic Controller Pro. As is customary, each player can have a different difficulty or speed setting, allowing newcomers to get a hold on things while playing against veterans.
Both of the core modes are also playable online through the "Online Battle" mode, which grants you the ability to play with random match-made people or with specific friends on your list. Online play works well so far, as I was able to match-up with multiple players within 30 seconds of one another. There's a rudimentary ranking system that will grant you points for winning and deduct points for losing, but that's pretty much all you're going to get.
But the real kicker in Dr. Luigi is Virus Buster -- an ancillary solo-only addition which is by far my favorite mode. Playable only with the GamePad, you'll use the stylus to manipulate pills with an optional horizontal or vertical setup (with support for left- and right-handed people). It sounds straightforward, but now that you have the ability to quickly move pills, Dr. Luigi throws you a curve-ball -- multiple pills will now drop at the same time instead of in sequence.
It's a bit more action-oriented than before, as you're struggling to quickly find places for two or three pills within seconds of one another. To make things even more interesting, when singular "pieces" break off, they in turn can be manipulated as well -- so at any given point, you're dealing with multiple options. It creates a hectic feel that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would, and it's actually become my mode of choice. I really, really wish the Wii U supported two GamePads for multiplayer, because it would have easily been one of my go-to party games with that addition. In case you're wondering, every mode supports Remote Play.
Outside of Virus Buster, Dr. Luigi is very much a no-frills game mostly for fans of the Dr. series. If you don't find yourself getting excited at the prospect of L-shaped blocks or GamePad play though, you might as well just stick with Dr. Mario Online Rx. Either way, the Wii U's newest entry in the Dr. series is a nice cap on a great first Year of Luigi.