After the overwhelming success of Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario has cemented himself as the most recognizable figure in video games. For the upcoming holiday season, Nintendo is clearly banking on Mario selling their newest game, Dr. Mario. However, this game plays nothing like Mario’s other action/adventure games and instead draws many similarities to last season’s mega hit, Tetris. For children that haven’t played Tetris or have no interest in puzzle games, there’s still a good chance Dr. Mario will be waiting for them under the Christmas tree simply because of his name being on the cover. However, this shouldn’t be a bad thing.
Dr. Mario is single screen puzzle game. The goal is to eliminate the viruses by dropping and matching colored vitamins on them. This is a very simple game to learn, and you can even watch an in-game demo. There are 3 different colored viruses (red, blue, and yellow) and to eradicate them, you match up four of the same color in a row(including the virus), vertically or horizontally. Dr. Mario tosses pills into the jar (each half of the pill capsule is one of the three colors in varying combinations), then you rotate and drop them in the appropriate place. Once you clear all the germs, you move onto the next stage. If you struggle and allow the pills to reach the top of the jar and overflow, you lose — much like in Tetris.
The game starts off simple, with only 4 total viruses to exterminate and a slower drop speed, but the stages get progressively harder with faster speeds and more viruses. There are 50 levels in all and if you don’t wish to start at the beginning, you can adjust the level and the speed before you start.
While this is an enjoyable experience on its own, where it shines is the head-to-head 2-player action. The screen is split down the middle and you duel to see who can clear their jar the fastest. By clearing more than 1 virus with a single pill, extra pills will fall onto your opponents screen — causing potential hardship to them, as if you overflow, your opponent wins. Whoever is victorious 3 times, is the match winner — potentially making this a fun tournament game at parties. Of course the Nintendo version of Tetris is only single player, and although the out of print Tengen version of Tetris is phenomenal and I would say better, it is not Nintendo-polished, and worse, very difficult to locate.
The graphics do exactly what they need to do in a single screen game. The screen is colorful and the viruses are squirming and that animation adds to the graphical effect. After clearing a certain amount of stages, you are rewarded with a quick animated sequence. As expected with Nintendo the game’s presentation is great and looks very nice.
The music is exceptional. It is composed by Hirokazu Tanaka, who has done the work for lots of notable Nintendo titles like Donkey Kong, Kid Icarus, Metroid, and even the Nintendo published Tetris. You have the choice between two options, Fever and Chill – both are extremely catchy and feel perfect for the game. However, with only two main themes, even great tracks get old after a while.
Dr. Mario is a very fun puzzler, although I feel it is not nearly as addictive as Tetris. The 2-player mode is the game’s biggest strength and with two skilled players I can envision these duels being ultra competitive. I love the music, and think it’s a great feature to be able adjust the speed and the level from the onset. If you are a high score chaser, the point system is quite easy to learn. Tetris is still the greatest puzzle game on the NES, but we are seeing more and more quality titles in the genre, including: Pipe Dream, Klax, and Palamedes. With so many puzzlers hitting the portable Game Boy, I’m glad more are arriving on the NES as well.
Dr. Mario Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 8.5/108.5/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Dr. Mario is an outstanding game, and a terrific head-to-head versus experience. However, I do foresee a percentage of kids and gamers expecting a traditional Mario game and being disappointed by this type of gameplay. I’d say Nintendo definitely knows how to market their products. I’d recommend purchasing Dr. Mario, but I don’t believe it will have the lasting power that Tetris gives us.