My latest addiction on the Wii is Dr. Mario Online Rx. It’s a puzzle game (very similar to Tetris) that came out as WiiWare on May 26, 2008. WiiWare games are developed specifically for the Wii and can only be purchased and downloaded from the Wii Shop Channel. The coolest thing about WiiWare games is their price–all between $5 and $15. Dr. Mario Online Rx costs $10. Contrast this to the titles that are sold on disk. I was in Best Buy last night and the cheapest Wii games were $20 but most were between $40 and $50.
If you’ve never played Tetris, the appeal of Dr. Mario Online Rx might be difficult to understand. The idea of both games is that shapes drop from the top of the screen. The player’s goal is to move the shape as it falls–moving it horizontally and flipping it around. The goal is to get a sequence of blocks in a row. In Tetris, the goal is to get an entire row filled in while in Dr. Mario Online Rx, the goal is get 4 blocks of the same color in a row or column. When you make the goal, the row (or blocks of the same color) disappear. If you aren’t able to get things to disappear, the screen fills up and eventually there’s no room for anymore blocks to fall. That’s when you lose the game.
Dr. Mario Online Rx has an additional premise that makes the goal a little more difficult to achieve. The premise is that the screen is covered with colored viruses. Dr. Mario is at the top of the screen dropping colored pills. Your real goal is to make all the viruses disappear by getting the colored pills to line up with the viruses so that you have 4 pill parts/viruses in a row or column of the same color. If you clear the screen of viruses, you move to the next, more difficult level.
One of the nice features of Dr. Mario Online Rx is that you can play over the Internet with other players (the Online part of the game’s name). You can play with strangers from around the world who have purchased the game but you also have the option of allowing friends who haven’t purchased the game play via your game. Greg and I played the other day and it seems that the speed of the game doesn’t suffer when you play online, even when one of the players has not purchased the game. This is a great feature that I hope more games incorporate. It’s nice to be able to share titles and I’d bet it would result in sales because people can try out games that they haven’t yet purchased. If they like the game well enough, they would probably want to be able to play on their own without having to wait for someone else to invite them to play.
I love these kinds of puzzle games. In fact, Tetris helped me get through my dissertation. Each day when I sat down to write, I would allow myself to play three games. The challenge, of course, was to stop after three games. Because these games are so simple (some would probably say repetitive, perhaps even tedious), it’s instructive to think about why they’re addicting. I think Janet Murray (in Hamlet on the Holodeck) was on the right track when she suggested that Tetris (and games like it) allow us to feel that we are in control of our hectic, chaotic lives. The game throws blocks at us just as life throws things at us. We manipulate the blocks to put them in order and if we do it well, the blocks disappear. We are metaphorically sweeping things off our desks, accomplishing tasks and maintaining order. For me, this explanation feels accurate. I do feel in control while I’m playing and I definitely like being in control. The ironic thing, of course, is that the more time I spend playing Dr. Mario Online Rx, the more things accumulate on my real desk.