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Bob Muir avatar 11:49 AM on 04.02.2009  (server time)
Who the hell actually likes Dr. Mario?

Seriously, does anyone enjoy the game?

Just the other night, I was using my original DS to play a GBA game, since my DS Lite had run out of batteries, and I realized there was already a GBA game in the slot. A while back, I had bought a copy of Dr. Mario & Puzzle League, since I'm a huge fan of Puzzle League, and slapped it in there for the next time I'd want a back-up game on the road, then never played it. Remembering this plan, I took a moment to boot it up and play some Puzzle League, since playing with a friend's copy of Planet Puzzle League had me itching for more puzzle goodness lately. Needless to say, this iteration was just what I was looking for, if a bit bland in aesthetics.

Before it got to late and I turned in for the night, I decided to take a quick look at Dr. Mario, a game I had no real exposure to beyond three-second microgames in the WarioWare series. For those not aware, this iteration is an updated version of the NES original, with pretty much the same mechanics, though closest to Dr. Mario 64. I knew the gameplay concepts well enough - drop multicolored pills on viruses, lining up four in a row or more to clear them until all the viruses are gone - so I jumped right into a mid-tier level.

Woah. Big mistake. The game was far too fast for someone inexperienced with the game, leaving me completely panicked as pills stacked up higher and higher. I decided I would start at level 1 on low speed and work my way up to level 20 to "complete" the game for the hell of it. The first few levels were insultingly easy, but they did get me more used to the intricacies of the game. And by intricacies, I mean annoyances. For example, rotating a pill will let you squeeze it into some places...but rotating a pill has an incredibly annoying habit of moving it to the left as you keep rotating it, meaning that if you rotate it into a hole, you oftentimes can't rotate it out.

The problem with the pills extends further than that. In Tetris, if you rotate a shape, you have a very strong sense of how it will come down and fit with other pieces. However, every pill is the same shape: one color on one side, and another color on the other side. This means that the main difference in pill orientation is whether it's up or down. This caused a problem for me, for as time went on, colors begin to mold together, and you may think that the colors are landing where you want them to, but they are in fact the opposite due to a different kind of visuals from Tetris. Furthermore, after being trained in numerous puzzle games to accept that higher blocks fall if blocks underneath are cleared, it's infuriating to see only the pills drop and not the viruses, messing up chains you intended to create.

Then there's the problem of the start of the game. Once you get away from the incredibly easy levels, the increased number of viruses starts closer to the top of the jar. In many cases at levels 15-20, you only have several pills to place before you potentially lose the game. This creates an odd scenario in which the beginning of the level is much harder than the end of the level. Sure, by the end the pace has picked up and gets tensely fast by the time you have only two viruses left, but this is nowhere near as difficult as the beginning of the level can be. Far too often is the player given unhelpful pills, which can be utilized, but only if your mind is already completely in the zone, something that rarely is true at the start of a level.

(tl;dr? Skip here)

So my question is simple: why is this game continuously rereleased? Does anyone actually have fun with this crap? I know the puzzle genre is notoriously influenced by Tetris, so there is often a similarity to the blockbuster hit, but this just reeks of an uninspired knock-off with worse mechanics. Come to think of it, I have never heard anyone get excited over hearing the game's name. Mention Tetris, everyone will cream themselves over the Game Boy version (or, if you're an elitist, the Tengen NES version). Bring up Q Entertainment's Meteos or Lumines, and you'll hear a gushing praise. Speak of Puzzle Quest and people won't shut up about how they lost a day to its marriage of RPG and puzzle elements. Personally, I think no puzzle game can touch the addictive nature of Puzzle League (Tetris Attack, if you must), and I'm sure numerous people will back me up on that.

But Dr. Mario? Having not ever paid attention to the "series," I doubt whether people ever actually liked it in the first place, or if they just thought they did. Tetris mania was pretty intense back in the day, and I'm sure some people fooled themselves into thinking that Dr. Mario was an interesting alternative with some depth to it, when in fact it's just a rip-off with frustrating mechanics. The only thing really amusing about the game to me is that a plumber could manage to moonlight as a doctor without anyone crying foul. It may promote a world in which even a lowly plumber can become a well-paid, comfortably-wealthy, social-elite doctor, but that's about the only thing it's got going for it.

And speaking of Dr. Mario himself: he's a shitty doctor. I loved the way he handled in Super Smash Bros. Melee and used him quite frequently, but playing his original game even briefly has left me disillusioned with the character. You're supposed to be getting rid of these viruses, and what's his solution? More and more medicine! Just keep cramming it down there, they'll work somehow! Meanwhile, the player is freaking out trying to get the stupid pills to line up as they grow ever closer to the top, and Dr. Moron just keeps smiling, flipping them in there every few seconds. You don't need that many fucking pills! It's not like the viruses are even doing anything, they're just sitting there! They're not even moving around, you don't have to cage them in or anything, just take it easy!

In closing, screw you, Dr. Mario. You are a bad game for people who don't know better.

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