Game Title: Dr. Mario
Game System: NES
Graphics: 8 / 10
Gameplay: 8 / 10
Replay Value: 9 / 10
Difficulty: Varies by level from simple to more or less impossible
Bright, colorful graphics, 8-bit looping soundtracks that never seem to get old, and addictive gameplay – Dr. Mario has all the elements of a great NES game.
Let’s start with the familiar comparison to Tetris that all similar puzzle games undergo: yes, rotatable items falling from the top of the screen must be matched up in certain ways to score points and proceed through the game. In the case of Dr Mario, the point is not to eliminate falling block shapes – rather, the falling “pills” are used to neutralize and remove viruses – colorful, squirming humanoid creatures. When any four pill halves and/or viruses of the same color are matched together, they’re eliminated and the player scores points. Even four pill halves can eliminate each other, without any viruses being affected.
Generally it’s easier to match four vertically, as the pills can always be stacked up vertically – but once in awhile a horizontal match occurs and adds some variety. When four are matched, any pill pieces that are no longer “anchored” on a stack of items fall down and settle on whatever is below them.
You lose the game if the falling pills reach the top of the “bottle”-shaped container that the gameplay takes place in, obstructing further pill pieces from falling into the playing field.
The first few levels are good for learning the rules and strategy of the game, but the midrange of the levels are the most fun. The most difficult parts of each level are the start and finish: the start because there isn’t much room from the top viruses to the top of the playing field, and the finish because lots of pill pieces can build up and accumulate on various corners, as well as the wrong color pills ending up on differently colored viruses.
While higher levels have more viruses, there is a certain advantage to having more viruses of similar colors next to each other – making it easier to match multiple viruses while using fewer pill pieces.
There are a few nice graphical touches, including a magnifying lens that shows close-ups of the viruses as they’re being defeated, and Mario on the other side of the screen, tossing each pill into the playing field. You can see which pill is up next at any time, as Mario holds onto it for a bit before tossing it into the bottle.
Overall, a great game that is, in my opinion, better than Tetris, and a great deal of fun.