For most people who had a Game Boy throughout the 90’s, Tetris was all the rage. The game was all about stacking falling blacks into patterns to clear the screen. I didn’t get my Game Boy until 1998, in the form of a Game Boy Pocket. And yes, Tetris was the first game I picked up to play on the wonderful little device. Yet there is one more puzzle game that I think deserves even more recognition that good old Tetris. Of course I am talking about Dr. Mario.
My first exposure to the game was in the form of a goofy TV commercial with that witch doctor song as the backdrop. I was pretty young at the time, probably seven or eight, so I didn’t know it was actually a real song. I just thought it was made up for that commercial. It wouldn’t be until seeing the iconic story of first love, My Girl, before I learned it was a real song. That’s besides the point.
Since I didn’t have a Game Boy I played the NES version. Now if you think that made it any easier you would be wrong. See we were pretty poor so the spare TV I had set up in my bedroom that we used to hook the NES up to was one of those old little tube sets with the rabbit ears and the UHF/VHS channel dials on the front. It also didn’t have coaxial inputs, we had to use one of those adapters with the y shaped prongs, you know which ones I mean if you had an Atari or similar console. Anyways the real issue was, it was an old TV which meant it was black and white. Now this was the same TV that brought me the magical wonder of the Atari in all it’s glory, so I was pretty used to playing games with no color. My first experience with Super Mario Bros. in fact was on that black and white set. So let me tell you the fact I got good enough to beat level 20 playing on a black and white TV should tell you how dedicated I was to that game. Oh, and it was a 3-day rental so I had to learn the game and get good at it in a very short time span. I instantly fell in love with that game.
Dr. Mario, for those that don’t know, is a puzzle game where the goal is to line up multi colored pills to match colored viruses. It sounds easy but if you take the colors out it’s much harder. This was back in the NES days when I still flipped through the manuals to read the story. I forget what it was but the fact it actually had some sort of narrative to justify Mario throwing pills into a jar was really cool to me. I kind of miss the days where you really had to use your imagination to flesh out the story for our video games. I kind of get sick of playing interactive movies. Not that I think modern games all suck, but still there is something special about a simple game with a straightforward objective, in this case clear the screen of colored viruses.
One thing I enjoyed about the game was the animations the viruses made. The way they danced around the petri dish in rhythm with the music. Or the way they would fall down kicking and screaming when you killed one of the viruses in the bottle. The game was pure magic. I even picked up the Game Boy version a few years later. I didn’t play it much. I wouldn’t actually play a handheld version again until I got the Classic NES edition for the GBA.
I also loved the music in this game. Like many puzzle games you really didn’t have very many tracks to chose from. But the few you did were still really great. I preferred the slower, angrier track to the happy up beat circus sounding music.
This isn’t so much a review of the game as just a trip down memory lane. I would spend hours playing this game. I had a few other versions over the years too. I bought Tetris/Dr. Mario for the Super NES during it’s heyday. I skipped the N64 Dr. Mario but I did have the Classic NES one on GBA. I also played Dr. Luigi on Wii U and there was a Dr. Mario On Wii but I think it was online only and I skipped that one too. I try to stick to the NES as my preferred way to enjoy this classic puzzle game starring my favorite video game character by far.