Don't trust any physician who wears a blank CD strapped to his head.
Since earning his M.D. in 1990, Mario has always provided sharp commentary on the over-medication of modern society. The Dr. Mario series continues to warn us about the dangers of hypochondria by depicting the futile application of more and more drugs, at ever increasing rates, to apparently harmless microbes. In the end, it is not the virus that kills us but rather the accumulation of incorrectly prescribed pills. Clearly, the venerable Dr. Mario franchise is a scathingly effective satire of medical malpractice. It is not, unfortunately, a timeless puzzle game.
Dr. Mario has always lived in the shadow of Tetris, so it's probably wise of Nintendo to release the new WiiWare version now, before Hudson's similarly upgraded take on Tetris launches this summer. The objective in Dr. Mario Online Rx, like all the previous iterations, is to destroy a field of viruses by placing colored pills that fall from the top of the screen. Judging from the title of the game, Nintendo wants you to believe that adding an online mode to Dr. Mario is a really big deal. In practice, playing online against another person is indistinguishable from playing against the computer, which is also an option here. There is so little interaction between players in the Vs. mode, and so little communication available (just phrase chat between rounds), that the smooth online functionality adds very little to this package. If you're really a junkie for multiplayer Dr. Mario, you should look for a copy of Dr. Mario 64 (probably coming to Virtual Console at some point) or import Nintendo Puzzle Collection for GameCube, both of which support four players simultaneously. This new version of Dr. Mario can only handle two.
However, you can get four players together for the excellent Virus Buster mode, which is completely separate from the classic Dr. Mario but is included in the same download. Virus Buster first appeared as a hidden game in Brain Age 2, where you drag pills on the touch screen in a modified version of Dr. Mario's gameplay. It works the same way on Wii, simply replacing the stylus control with the Wii Remote's pointer function. Virus Buster was arguably the best part of Brain Age 2, and it's even better on Wii because there are more difficulty settings and a new cooperative multiplayer feature. The game doesn't really explain how to set up multiplayer, so you might not even realize it's possible at first. There is no setting for the number of players; the game will automatically detect the number of Wii Remotes. If players two through four want to help move pills, they just need to pick up their controllers and start playing.
Virus Buster is already a hectic little game, and it gets even crazier when you have multiple people working in the same space. It's perfect for friends and family, because you need to talk to each other to coordinate some kind of strategy. It's ironic that Virus Buster can't be played online, because it's better suited for human interaction than the classic mode. Still, the local co-op feature is fantastic, and Virus Buster is so much fun that it makes up for the blandness of Dr. Mario itself.
There's one other feature that may seem interesting. Dr. Mario Online Rx allows you to send a free demo to anyone (or everyone) on your Wii system friends list. Sounds cool, right? It's actually cumbersome and pointless. Your friend will receive a message with a special link to the Wii Shop Channel, where the demo can be downloaded only by people who received such invitations. The demo itself is so limited that your friends might download it and never get a chance to play it. That's because it can only be played online – not only do you have to arrange a time to play each other through some other means, but you'll still have to exchange game-specific friend codes before you're allowed to play. Maybe I've become spoiled by Mario Kart Wii, but it seems like the friend codes could have been registered automatically, since a link between the systems has already been established. It's not worth all this effort to play a five-minute game of Dr. Mario's Vs. mode and realize that it's exactly the same as it was on the NES.
Dr. Mario Online Rx is a fine puzzle game, but it is mostly redundant the many previous versions of Dr. Mario. The online mode works great but adds nothing to the experience, and the demo-sharing feature is a wonderful idea crushed by Nintendo's online architecture. The improved Virus Buster mode is the real reason to download this game, and it makes the package just barely worth its price tag.