Throughout his time at the mascot for Nintendo and all round saviour of the video game industry, Mario’s occupation has always been stated as “plumber”. I for one have never seen him be called out at 3am in the morning to fix a blocked U-Bend or replace a toilet flusher. He has however had differing jobs, such as golfer, demolitions expert, graffiti cleaner to name but a few. However, one of his best roles was when he “graduated” in 1990 as a doctor, to become Dr. Mario. So in a world full of platformers and side-scrollers, how did this puzzle game fare up, does it make us ill or does it get a clean bill of health?
Dr. Mario is in essence a “falling block” puzzle game, as per Tetris or Columns on the Sega systems. The idea is that Mario, sorry Dr. Mario, is trying to remove the viruses on the screen, in blue, red and yellow form. Using your controller you have to line up 4 same coloured blocks in a row, with one of the blocks having to be the virus, to remove it from the screen. Clear the level by clearing the viruses. Simple as that you say? Simple as that it is, however, with all good puzzle games, the rounds get harder and harder, with more viruses appearing on the screen for you to remove.
So starting the game up, you get the choice between 1 player or 2 players, again another plus, because nothing is better for puzzle games then taking on a friend. But thats for later. When selecting 1 player mode, you can customise your game, choosing the starting virus level from 0 to 20 (thats 4 viruses – 84 viruses on screen to start), the speed in which the pieces fall down (Low, Med, Hi) and 2 differing types of music, Fever which for me is one of my favourite music piece on the NES, and highly recognisable, and Chill. So when you’ve chosen this, away you go. Mario throws the pills down and you control the pill by pressing left and right to move along, down to throw the piece down, and A or B button to rotate the piece. It’s simple controls but then often the best games have the simplest controls. On screen in the bottom left you’ll see the viruses your eradicating, and once that colour has gone, the virus is removed from under the magnifying glass.
Where this games comes in to its own, is with the multiplayer aspect. Grab a buddy for simultaneous action, beginning with setting the game like in 1 player mode. The option is there if one player is better than the other to start at a higher level (with more viruses to eradicate), or setting the drop speeds different, so you can give handicaps where needed. The idea of the 2 player game is to remove the viruses as per normal, and whoever clears their viruses first wins the round. Win 3 rounds and your crowned the winner, the chief of medicine of Dr. Mario. It can quite intense when you both have the same pieces but when your rushing to place the piece down first, you slam it down in the wrong location causing a mandatory curse word and screaming all sorts at your partner. A nice touch as well is if one player remove 2 lines of viruses at the same time on their side of the screen, 2 random blocks falls down on your opponents’ screen, that can help or (inevitably) hinder the opponent.
In terms of graphics, the colours are bold and the viruses are cartoony and animated really well. As your concentrating on the gameplay, you don’t notice them moving around under the microscope, seeming to taunt you for slamming the piece down in the wrong location. There’s nice animation when you eradicate that colour, as the virus falls on his derriere like an upside turtle before clearing off the screen. It seems that Nintendo put a lot of effort into the graphics and its animation, which is displayed really well. The music is catchy and recognisable, and you’ll certainly have the Fever tune in your head before long. It’s no surprise, when you see YouTube videos of the music incorporated into modern outings, which shows the quality and the recognition it has gained. As well the sound effects compliment the game really well and don’t become jarring and annoying, so it’s a certainly a game you don’t want to mute and stick your iPod or other loving music device on – ahem *Zune* ahem.
So all in all, this game ranks high in the NES library, and is no surprise that it has been ported and remade onto every Nintendo console and the majority of portable gaming systems. It’s one of the best puzzle games that I’ve ever played, with the gameplay shining through immensly, making you come back for more. Its also testament to the fact you don’t ultra-realistic graphics, or 20 buttons to play the game properly, just need you, your controller and reflexes of a squirrel. It’s hard to find fault with the game, the only minor irritation is that if your playing the game for a while, the music may become repititive but this really is clutching at straws. It’s a game that can be customized so that it favours not only the brave, but the novice, and can play alongside each other with no disadvantage. Those not into video games can play this with consummate ease and enjoy it for what it is – a darn good puzzle game, one of the best of its kind. Carts are common at all good retro stores and on eBay UK so you won’t need to sell a kidney or liver to pay for this game. My advice as always is to play it on the system it was first on, that it was designed for – not the Virtual Console or Game Boy Advance. So next time your feeling “blue”, don’t be burned up and “red” with illness, turn to Dr. Mario and let him cure you with something, erm, yellow…
Rating – 5 out of 5