Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: June 20, 2001
Try as you might, no one can ignore the devastating effect Tetris had upon the world’s office productivity. With hundreds of clones available, the Russian export has become as much a driving force in popularizing computer gaming as the ubiquitous Solitaire, Myst or even Deer Hunter. For all its charm, however, Tetris was a bit sterile and definitely catered to a mature audience, so the developers at Nintendo sat down to figure out how to make the game more appealing for the younger players who made up their target demographic. The decision to include Mario was a bit of a no-brainer; Nintendo knows that their charming plumber is the envy of every Bandicoot and Hedgehog on the planet. The crux, then, lay in how to change the mechanics to have a bit more appeal and accessibility, without sacrificing the heart of this exciting new kind of puzzle gaming. The result was known as Dr. Mario; it was heralded as an instant success and has since appeared on basically every system the entertainment giant has produced. For a while it looked as if the N64 would break this trend, but as the first glimmers of the GameCube’s dawn are visible on the horizon, the good Doctor finally makes his appearance in the predictably named Dr. Mario 64.
For those unfamiliar with the mechanics, let us recap a moment: Dr. Mario is a bit of a homeopath, as his recommendation for all sorts of illnesses are a battery of pills he simply calls MegaVitamins. There are three distinct components at work in Mario’s pharmacopoeia, clearly identified by their red, blue and yellow hues. In order to affect a cure on a sick patient, our medic takes a sample of their germs and proceeds to throw pills at it until he concocts a cure. This premise serves as the heart of the gameplay, as it explains why one needs to pile pills on top of little viruses until they disappear.
Blue pills cure blue bugs, while yellow and red have similarly deadly effects on their respective germs. The player’s goal, then, is to pile the pills Mario tosses into his gigantic sample bottle so as to kill all the viruses. The catch is that, of course, Mario rarely uses pills of a solid color, and the player must adopt this quirk into an effective antibiotic strategy. Further complicating things are the pill’s incessant creep downwards: miss your placement and the pill will settle somewhere that is probably highly inconvenient. Thus plays out the classic mode of the game, as stage after stage becomes increasingly populated by viruses and the pills start to drop at a frantic rate.
These mechanics are nothing new to veterans of the series, as they have been standard on every version of Dr. Mario since its creation. This time out, however, multiplayer and competitive play has been given a much stronger emphasis — even in the single player game. Trashing your opposition is nothing new, but in this kind of puzzle game the term takes on a more sinister meaning. “Trashing,” in this context, means that you have dropped random pieces onto your opponent’s playing field. Ninety percent of the time, this ruins a strategy and makes life very complicated for the trashed player. Of course, they can always do it back to you by managing to destroy two rows of pills and/or viruses in one drop. For a skilled player, this is as easy as it sounds: By looking far enough ahead, one can plan so that with one row’s destruction, a group of unsupported pills drops down to create a string below. Similarly, a single pill that completes both a vertical and horizontal row will trash the opposition, and if you manage to delete more than two groups at once, the opposition will suffer from even more extra pieces.