There have been some exciting entries into the puzzle game genre on the newer handhelds, with Q Entertainment’s Lumines making waves for the Sony PSP and Meteos getting styluses moving on the Nintendo DS. But the hottest, newest thing doesn’t always get people shopping. Sometimes game publishers will appeal to the frugal gamer and offer them a bargain, either in the form of a reduced price release, or something along the lines of an “Arcade Classics” compilations, which must cost pocket change to produce, and can still rake in significant sales. Such is the case with the latest 2 in 1 pack for the Game Boy Advance, which includes a pair of games that may hold fond memories for old-school puzzle gamers: Dr. Mario and Puzzle League.
The ‘buy one, get one free’ tactic works in a sense, as you’re getting two solid games here in one convenient, on-the-go package. It also makes sense from Nintendo’s position; it’s not like these brands were making them much money nowadays. It’s easy to recommend this package, as it offers up a pair of games that are not only still relevant, but plenty of fun to boot.
Puzzle League was revived on the Nintendo 64 as Pokémon Puzzle League, but it was just a facelift to Tetris Attack, released for the Game Boy and Super Nintendo. Instead of blocks falling from above, Tetris Attack’s gameplay involved sliding around blocks to match up colors, eliminating parts of an ever-rising stack. This bottoms-up gameplay flipped the script on people who were just getting comfortable with the original Tetris. There are plenty of game modes to try out, whether it’s competitive action you want, or a brain-teasing puzzler, where you’re tasked with figuring out how to eliminate a collection of blocks within a limited number of moves. What you won’t get in this version is any fluff like an animated Pikachu loading screen. Whether this is a positive or a negative is entirely dependant on whether you can appreciate the visual simplicity and instead focus on the game design.
Dr. Mario’s original release had some of the best television commercial support ever. It also featured some memorably named music tracks that have been kept intact with this re-release, so you’ll either be happily grooving along to Fever, or turning down the audio if the sounds of Chill aren’t your thing. Either way, you’ll find that Dr. Mario still has you busting up pesky viruses by chucking plenty of brightly colored pills. What kind of message is this sending? Anyways, the visuals have been updated from their chunky origins, and the colors are vibrant and easy on the eyes. The control is spot-on, and the experience as a whole is solid. While you’ll still need a link cable to engage in the head-to-head action, two being able to play with a single cart is a nice bonus.
Handheld games are convenient in size, but carrying around multiple carts can be a hassle, and being able to pick from these two games adds value. By no means is this a revolutionary release, but puzzle games as a rule age more gracefully than other classic games. It would have been nice to see more features, or for the games to have undergone more of a facelift, but you can’t go wrong with spending some time with either of these options. Dr. Mario & Puzzle League is a good choice for any puzzle enthusiast looking for their next challenge, and the best part is you don’t have to pay twice.