Just What the Doctor Ordered
Germs. I hate ’em. You hate ’em. But, sending a plumber after them, that seems kinda weird. I mean, healthcare is a real bastard these days, but bringing in a guy with a plunger and a left-handed spanner to take care of your biological ills isn’t something even the cheapest of insurance companies would do.
Unless you’re from Japan. Then you just have to make sure the doc is appropriately mustachioed.
Nintendo stumbled upon a good idea when they made Dr. Mario. Medical credentials aside, the game is a solid entry in the Mario franchise. I can’t say I ever cared for much beyond Super Mario Brothers, or Super Mario Brothers 3 (Alas, Mario Kart did not appeal for some reason) in the franchise (I was Hedgehog aligned), so this kind of finished the Holy Italian Trilogy for me (a quadrilogy if you count Donkey Kong).
The goal is simple. It’s all based on the Tetris puzzle standard of falling blocks arranged strategically to remove obstacles. So it’s pretty straightforward. The metaphor they splashed on top of it is really part of what sets it apart. The game field is a bottle full of icky germs and viruses, and the blocks you drop in are pills that will take out the viruses. There are three different colors of the viruses and the pills being dropped in to combat them have matching colors. Four blocks and/or germs of any single color in a row will cause any number of four or more horizontally or vertically stacked germs/blocks in that row or column of matched colors to vanish, clearing space, dropping excess blocks and letting you progress. When the germs are gone, the level ends. Rinse, repeat.
Makes for a pretty simple game, right? Well, you’d be right. Kinda. There are often times a great amount of complexity that can be derived from simplicity. And Dr. Mario certainly had it. Rather than worrying about clearing lines, you had to clear blocks. You could get at them in a couple different ways as well. Sure, you can play it top down if you really want to – but if you learn how to build up, or to layer the pills so that they’ll drop and work out a few more blocks and germs, you’ll find yourself playing much much longer. Though, admittedly, this isn’t so much of a problem if you’re like me. Good or bad play styles aside, you’re gonna be glued to the handheld of your choice (I’m playing on the Advance).
The only thing holding it down isn’t really in the game itself, but rather the hardware. If you did what I did, you played it in the original Game Boy unit first to relive your childhood. And that meant a kind of bulky unit with a d-pad that is prone to being fat-fingered. Also, it meant having to find the one, single place in the apartment that had the right lighting to play the damn game in the first place (something us old school Game Boy users remember all too well). And let’s be honest, that ain’t really the game’s fault – at least not directly.
All in all, this game has survived the test of time. When it arrived in an inconspicuous manilla envelope courtesy of Amazon.com, it made its way immediately into my red Game Boy classic, and the next thing I knew I’d lost an hour. The only reason I even stopped was that I didn’t have enough light to play by so I had to switch to my Advanced. That, my friends, is what we call a testimonial.
It’s just what the Dr. ordered.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: NES (Reviewed) ; Developer: Nintendo R&D 1 ; Publisher: Nintendo ; Players: 2 ; Released: 1990