Dr. Mario
  • Genre:
    • Puzzle
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 07/27/1990
    • US October 1990
    • UK 06/27/1991
    GB
    • JP 07/27/1990
    • US 12/01/1990
    • UK 04/30/1991
Score: 75%

This review was published on 02/07/2015.

Dr. Mario is a puzzle video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System and original Game Boy. It was released for the NES in Japan on July 27, 1990, North America in October 1990, and Europe on June 27, 1991. The Game Boy version was released in Japan on July 27, 1990, North America on December 1, 1990, and Europe on April 30, 1991. Designed by Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the Game Boy and Game and Watch handheld systems, this is the first game in which Mario abandoned his job as a plumber and took on the role of doctor. Is he a real doctor? The world may never know. After the extreme success of games like Tetris, Nintendo wanted to get in on the action with their own puzzle game, and that they did. This game takes the basics of Tetris, which were already innovative for the time, and innovates them some more. Dr. Mario is not on the same level as Tetris, but it's still a cleverly crafted classic of the puzzle genre that demonstrates Nintendo's ingenuity.

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The doctor is in and he's ready to make some house calls. Dr. Mario may or may not have a medical license, but that isn't important to this game. He just likes to call himself a doctor, and that's good enough in my book. So the objective of Dr. Mario is to kill viruses. The way this works is that there's a giant jar at the center of the screen filled with all kinds of deadly viruses, and Mario throws pills into that jar to destroy the viruses. This doesn't seem very scientific, but it works in Mario's world. When a pill is thrown into the jar, it will start to slowly descend towards the bottom of the bottle. It's at this point that you can start controlling the pill's descent with the d-pad. You can also rotate the pill with the buttons. Each pill has two segments to it, sometimes colored differently. To actually kill a virus, a combination made up of four or more pill segments or viruses of the same color must be matched vertically or horizontally, then presto; they all magically vanish! Be careful, though, because if too many pills fill the bottle, you lose. That's the basics of Dr. Mario. The mechanics of this game are simple, so you don't need a medical degree to enjoy it.

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Once all the viruses in a level have been eliminated, you move on to the next one. Every five levels you complete in the NES version, there will be a small scene that plays; these scenes aren't terribly exciting, but they're your only rewards for doing well. Each level has a different virus layout to it with a different number of viruses to kill. As you'd expect, it gets progressively harder the further you go on. You'll need to use more advanced techniques to successfully beat the later levels. One such technique is to chain virus eliminations; when only a single segment of a pill is used to kill a virus, the remaining segment will break off and automatically fall downwards. If you can set things up so that the other half of the pill falls into a position in which it kills even more viruses, then that's a chain. This requires that you plan ahead. The level-to-level progression, the clearly defined objectives, and the advanced tactics required for harder levels all combine to make the game fun to play for longer periods than your average puzzler.

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By far one of the best parts of the game is the music. In particular, the song labeled as "fever" is the best. This catchy tune will permanently engrave itself into your skull for all eternity. That's a good thing, though. Of course, if you hate music, you can turn it off altogether, but why would you do that? Even the other less impressive track is still a delight to listen to, though the likelihood anyone would ever choose to listen to it over the main one is low. The sound effects are also pretty nice, taking advantage of the 8-bit hardware to make some endearing bleeps. The only problem with the music in this game is that there isn't much of it. That problem was prevalent during most puzzle games made in this era, so it's not unique to this game, but it's still a bummer. Fortunately, the music that is there is so good that it doesn't matter. If the Tetris tune is the number one catchiest puzzle ditty ever, then surely Dr. Mario's fever tune is number two.

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Want to play doctor with a friend? Well, you're in luck, because Dr. Mario has a two player mode. In this mode, the two doctors will go against each other in a virus busting competition. The victor will be known as the best doctor in the Mushroom Kingdom. Both players get a virus bottle of their own, and just like in the single player game, falling pills must be manipulated to kill the viruses. Whichever player kills all the viruses in his or her bottle first wins, and the one that gets to three victories first is the undisputed champion. That is not the only path to victory, though. It's possible to send additional pill blocks over to the opponent's play area by getting chains. The purpose behind this is to overflow the opponent's bottle with too much junk, resulting in the opponent losing the match. Having multiple ways of winning a match adds to the strategy of the two player mode, making it that much more fun. If you have a pill popping pal, then Dr. Mario's two player mode will provide a solid amount of entertainment. They don't call it the Entertainment System for nothing.

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Dr. Mario is just what the doctor ordered. The graphics are fair and the music, while sparse, is absolutely fantastic. The game itself is both derivative and unique, being inspired by what was popular at the time, but also doing something new. The level based progression of the single player makes it have a longer lasting appeal than most puzzle games, and the competitive two player mode makes the game last even longer if agreeable friends are nearby. Dr. Mario is a simple yet enjoyable puzzle game that has the depth to stand with the best of the best, leaving behind the rest.

Word Count: 1,077

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