Dr. Luigi review: easy medicine

Dr. Luigi is content with safety over invention

Game Info
Platform Wii U
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Nintendo SPD Group No. 1
Release Date Dec 31, 2013

There are two kinds of Nintendo sequels — the follow-ups that take chances with their source, and the sequels that collect previous mechanics and repackage them, neatly, presentably.

Dr. Luigi would be the latter.

Released in 1990, Dr. Mario combined a proven formula with a unique aesthetic. Players had to match multicolored pills with like-colored viruses, and making a four-segment line of the same color either horizontally or vertically caused that row to disappear. The game was easy to understand and play, and has been ported or sequel'ed to almost every Nintendo device since.

The inevitable Wii U follow-up stars Luigi taking up the other family business. Dr. Luigi sticks to the original formula, but it offers a series of small tweaks and updates. Taken together, it builds a satisfying, customizable collection of puzzle games — even if it all feels a little too safe.

Dr. Luigi's focus is still classic pill-dropping and color matching game play. As each level starts, you're presented with a playing field full of color coded viruses. Luigi will throw out a pill composed of one or two colors, and it's your job to match four of any color horizontally or vertically to clear the appropriately-hued virus.

The classic game, offered in the Retro Remedy mode, is only the beginning. "Operation L" offers pills that enter the field shaped like the letter L. That small addition caused big changes to my strategy. Every pill forced me to look at the horizontal and vertical implications of each move. Planning ahead isn't just encouraged; it's now mandatory. Mistakes are much harder to fix.

Meanwhile, the returning Virus Buster mode became one of my favorite ways to play. In Virus Buster, you guide pills onto viruses on the Wii U GamePad with the stylus while tapping each one to change its orientation. Using the GamePad is a more direct, intuitive way to control the game — but soon two pills are dropped at once, and then three. This puts much more pressure on the player at a much faster pace, and I found it tricky to keep a game going longer than a few minutes at a time.

Add the ability to adjust the speed of the pills, or to show an outline of where each pill will rest before you drop it, and you have a game mode that can challenge veteran players while still giving players the option of adding a few training wheels. So many modern puzzle games offer a singular way to play; Dr. Luigi looks back at a time when puzzle games were expected to offer multiple options for a wider range of players.

This customization is a recurring theme. The game's core strength is the ability to roll your own dramatically different experience by adjusting any of the many simple options in the menus. I found I was easily able to twist the game to suit my skill level, or to provide myself fresh challenges. I found the stock modes a little dry, so I'd advice players to experiment and bend the game to your will.

In multiplayer, difficulty and speed can also be handled discretely for each person, allowing you to have a good time against friends and family with different skill sets.

The new and returning game modes and Nintendo's welcoming presentation and polish make Dr. Luigi a solid follow-up to the series. But Nintendo is at its best when it shakes up classic formulas, and Dr. Luigi never reaches the heights of other recent offerings from the company.

Wrap Up:

Dr. Luigi is content with safety over invention

Dr. Luigi doesn't have any wheels being reinvented, and there are no major overhauls to what was enjoyable about Dr. Mario. There's nothing here on the level of a cat-suited Mario or even a flying go-kart. After a year that showed Nintendo straying from their comfort zones and confidently iterating on sacred cows, it's a bit of a letdown to see Dr. Luigi make so little forward progress.

Dr. Luigi was reviewed using retail code purchased on the Wii U eShop. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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7.0 Wii U