BUILDING A BETTER ACTION PUZZLER
Dr. Mario is an action puzzle game with the Super Mario brand slapped onto it. The goal is to eliminate three colors of viruses by making lines of four or more pills of the same color. Matching a line of the same color of four or more viruses or pills will wipe out the line including viruses. Once every virus is wiped out, the stage is clear and it’s on to the next stage.
Without the Mario name, the game would still be fun, but far less desirable to play. The game doesn’t make too much of the Super Mario license as it’s not more than the Mario character wearing a doctor’s jacket throwing pills into a bottle. The viruses are new and exclusive to the game when there could have been micro goombas, micro bloopers and tiny boos inhabiting the bottle.
A LONGER PUZZLER
Instead of a single endless game, there are multiple stages called virus levels. Clearing all the viruses will get you to the next level of more viruses in a bottle. This can turn a single session into a thirty to sixty minute affair. Since these sessions are so long, that’s probably why the game has a single mode with only one top score. Its contemporaries of the generation seem to have two modes and three top scores due to their shorter play sessions. Turning the power off wipes your top score, so I’ll assume no one would ever get three scores to fill up a top three.
When each level begins, you see a bottle full of viruses that you need to eliminate via lining up pills. Each pill has two halves, and each half can be a different color. So red and blue, blue and yellow, blue and blue, red and red and so on.
You control a single falling pill at all times. You can move the pill left and right, and rotate it using the A or B buttons. Once one pill lands, a new pill is thrown in by Dr. Mario. You’ll get to see the next pill and the direction it’s facing before its thrown in.
It’s a simple, but addictive game and requires what I feel to be a lot more thought and micro managing your pills. Dr. Mario is a game for thinkers that’s easy enough at the beginning, but as you wipe out line after line, the pills begin to fall faster. This will encourage you to use as few pills as possible rather than stacking the unwanted pills somewhere.
If your pills reach the top of the bottle, you’ve lost. Dr. Mario feels like a tough game to lose at in the early levels. It’s great for newcomers and veterans alike. Dr. Mario is fun, easy, engaging, challenging and enjoyable from start to finish.
SCORING AND STRATEGY
To pad out this review, eliminating a virus will grant you one hundred points. Matching a row of pills nets you nothing. Stacking pills and then eliminating a row of pills will cause the remaining bits of pill will fall. If those bits fall to match another line that wipes out a virus, that’s double the points per virus wiped out. It feels a bit like a waste of time to plan that far ahead, but it’s there if you want it. There are no extra points for wiping out a virus with a longer line of pills.
Each session starts with a setup screen where you’ll select the stage via virus level, the speed at which the pills plummet and the music type. It’s an easy setup that lets you tailor the game to your own difficulty.
Since you can chose your virus level up to twenty, that lets you revisit these challenges if you have to split up your play time between multiple sessions. If you lose on a level, this will also let you revisit where you lost.
Each time you play the same level, you’ll find the viruses are placed in different positions. This turns every play through into a unique challenge.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of music. There are only two songs to chose for your playtime and plowing through a long session means you’ll hear that single song a lot. On the plus side, both tracks are enjoyable and almost catchy. You can also turn off the music and play your own.
AN ENDING WITH SO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
Since there’s no story inside the game, I had to invent my own. Mario managed to get himself locked into a quarantine facility with dangerous viruses. He must destroy the viruses to be released from quarantine before he runs out of oxygen. As much of a joke as that is, the game has an actual ending that is perhaps far more frightening.
The three virus types are seen sitting outside in a tree. They’ve been contained in jars for the entire game, but now they’re outside. What does this mean? Have they escaped and now they’re an airborne pathogen? I assume since there is no mention of the Mushroom Kingdom or anything else beyond Mario, these viruses have been unleashed on Earth. An even more bizarre twist is the fact that a flying saucer comes to pick them up. Does this mean aliens saved the planet? Were they really microscopic creatures that Mario was killing?
Two player mode has you and someone else competing in separate bottles. It’s a simple race to see who can eliminate every virus first. When one player destroys a virus, there’s no detriment to the other player. No extra pills will fall or pile up. This is a very easy going competitive mode.
To keep things competitive, multiplayer lets both players select their virus level and speeds. Having such control is great for kids against adults or beginners against experienced players.
The game continues until one player scores three victories. Afterward, you’re rewarded with Dr. Mario celebrating in the bottom of the winner’s bottle as you both get a game over.
NES OVER GAME BOY
Dr. Mario is still every bit as addictive and enjoyable as it was thirty years ago. It’s also one of the few NES versions of GameBoy action puzzle games that I can recommend for the NES. The pill colors enhance the enjoyment of the game and it’s far easier to tell them apart with the color. Both versions of the game are still enjoyable.