Editor’s Note: Dr. Mario is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Please consult your physician for any medical ailment, including your ED.
The Plague Spreads
As the remnants of humanity huddle around the dying embers of mankind’s accomplishments, one can’t help but wonder how a seemingly simple disease could bring about our downfall.
Ironically, at one time there was such a doctor who could wipe out any virus with a combination of colored pills, but he was stripped of his medical license and returned to a life of plumbing and some kind of sexual kink involving fungus.
After Nintendo saw success with packing in a copy of Tetris with each shiny, new Game Boy, they wanted to carve out their own piece of the puzzle pie. Their answer was Dr. Mario, a puzzle game featuring everyone’s favorite mustachioed plumber.
The Disease Meets The Cure
Where Tetris was more focused on forming lines by aligning random shapes, Dr. Mario focuses on matching color shaped pills to the corresponding virus in order to eliminate it. Why Mario has jars full of viruses sitting around is anyone’s guess; however, I choose to believe it is because he is secretly plotting some kind of secret bio-chemical warfare against Bowser and his koopalings. After all, it’s not like the Geneva Convention applies to the Mushroom Kingdom.
The game starts with only four viruses to kill, but the number quickly ramps up with each passing stage. Soon, the player is stuck with a jar full of sickness and the only way back to health is whatever pills the doctor with a God-complex allows you. It’s kind of like playing the B-version of Tetris that starts the player with a half-filled in playfield and leaves them to clear it.
The viruses come in red, yellow, and blue varieties, and they can only be killed with four corresponding colors. While the player may get lucky and get a solid yellow, red, or blue pill, most of them are split half-and-half, adding a level of strategy. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and be able to share a pill across two closely placed viruses. Most likely, though, you’ll be stuck clearing out layers of old pills just to get to the damn virus.
Although the NES version has the luxury of color, I grew up playing the Game Boy version. While basically the same game, it does have to account for the lack of color, which it does by using different types of shaded pills. Maybe it’s because that’s how I grew up playing, but I prefer the different shading to the blocks, as opposed to the colors, since it helps them stand out a little better in my mind.
Playing the NES version on a television provides a bit of distance between the player and the screen, making it hard to determine which is a pill piece and which is a virus. Having the Game Boy screen in closer proximity allows for easier identification. Either that or I’m just getting old.
While I enjoyed Dr. Mario in its heyday, once the 16-bit generation dawned, it was a title I never really gave a second thought to. Nintendo would eventually revisit the concept on the N64, and the NES version was ported to the Game Boy Advance as part of the NES Classics series. A WiiWare version followed in 2008 and a mobile version was released in 2019. I have never played any of the later version as I assume there’s only so much that can be done with the gameplay, but if you’re a Nintendo whore, then have at it.
Take Two Of These And Call Me In The Morning
Although most puzzle games have a wealth of replayability, I prefer Tetris for Game Boy style puzzlers, and I probably even logged more hours on Lode Runner back in the day than this game. That’s not to say it’s not without its charm. However, where I can play Tetris marathons at the drop of a hat, I can only play Dr. Mario for a few rounds before I’m ready to move on to something else. Even Sega’s Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine provides a more heroin-level of addiction than Dr. Mario, and I can confidently say it’s not to being more nostalgic for one, as I never tossed around Robotnik’s beans until last year.
One area that Dr. Mario shines above other puzzlers, except maybe Tetris, is in the soundtrack department. The simple, repetitive tune is stuck in my head for days after playing the game, so much so that I found myself humming it to my newborn.
In the same way people can be binarily segmented between either The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, the same applies with Dr. Mario and Tetris. While I find myself more on the Tetris side of that scale, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with a little experimentation from time to time.