Video Game Review: Dr. Mario 64

Arguments for: Dr. Mario is the perfect puzzle game, and in the N64 version, an excellent multi-player amusement as well. In a puzzle game, you are looking to occupy your hands and mind without causing undue stress. Games are supposed to be escapist, not infuriating: Dr. Mario is exactly that. A calming vacation for the overworked brainiac, and a soothing inactivity for the victim of a throbbing ‘morning-after’ headache.

Comparing Dr. Mario to Tetris is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are excellent games, both involve organizing falling objects, but they operate on completely different principles. Tetris will challenge your awareness of spatial relationships and shape reorientation. Dr. Mario uses a different, less logical, more artsy part of the cerebellum; colour matching, flexible strategizing (moving between vertical and horizontal plays), and in the four player version, anticipating where halves of pieces will land to double-up plays and create the diversion of falling pieces on your competitors. All the while, still killing viruses on your own screen, of course.

As your skill grows from slow to medium to fast, the whole tone of the game changes. The ability to think up and down grows useless as the jar of viruses becomes packed to the brim, and the only way you can make progress is by working left to right. The replayability of this game is very high, especially at parties where it’s a spectator sport and trash talking becomes part of the fun.

Arguments against: A lot of people are saying that, with the exception of the split-screen 4-player option, the N64 version of Dr. Mario is identical to every other version we’ve seen. True. But why fix it if it ain’t broke? I can’t attack the truth of their words – the game is essentially the same – but it’s all about being platform-appropriate.

On the old Nintendo, 2-player was as good as it got, and televisions at that time would have choked on a 4-player split screen. The resolution would have been wretched. On the GameBoy, you really only want a tidy puzzle to play on the road, by yourself or with a friend. But the N64 gives the option for attractive but not too-flashy graphics, old school music, and multi-player parties, where you can finally defeat the friends who so often used the “only two controllers” excuse to backseat play and criticize your drops from the sofa while you were battling with your single opponent on the floor in front of the TV.

So, for anyone who would argue that something like Tetrisphere is a superior puzzle game just because it’s more difficult and has more bells and whistles, well, I think you’re missing the point. Tetrisphere has me clenching my neck into knots after 3 mins of play.

Personal bias: I’ve been playing Dr. Mario in one form or another since the 1990s, so it’s difficult to be subjective about it. I love it, I’m addicted, and I can’t endorse it enough, for any platform. What’s that? I didn’t mention Flash, Story, Marathon or Score Attack modes, the main upgrades to this newer version of Dr. Mario? Hmm… it must be because they are *totally irrelevant* to your enjoyment of and/or reason for purchasing this game.

Like This Game? Try… Bejeweled, Kirby’s Avalanche, Pokemon Puzzle League

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