Sunday, March 5, 2023

Handheld Puzzle Game Review: Dr. Mario

Dr. Mario for the Game Boy is an adaptation of a falling block puzzle game that was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System on the same day. 

The game has Nintendo's mascot Mario as a doctor throwing the pills into the jar of a mix of three different shaded cartoon-styled viruses. 

The viruses are eradicated by pills that contained two sides with differing shades of grey, or green if it was played on the original Game Boy model. The color scheme is the main drawback of the Game Boy version of Dr. Mario. Unlike the NES version, which had blue, red, and yellow pills corresponding to the color of the viruses, the Game Boy has monochrome graphics. This made the pills different shades of grey, or green if it was played on the original Game Boy model.

Because the pills simply have different shades rather than different colors, it added a level of difficulty to the game. It will be a bit hard to play until you get the hang of which pill side is which.

The aesthetic retains the same comforting cartoon atmosphere. Even with the smaller screen resolution of the Game Boy compared to the NES, all of the game elements survived. One minor change to compensate for the smaller game space is that the viruses were moved from the left to the right and placed in a tight bubble within the game's user interface. That's not an issue, however, as the viruses still move comically, albeit a bit differently than the NES version.

Thankfully, the gameplay remains the same. The control remains satisfyingly simple, so players will be able to play it right out of the box. Pills are moved right and left with the four-way gamepad. Pressing the down button on the gamepad causes the pill to drop faster. Both the A and B buttons are used to rotate the pills. The A button will rotate the pills to the left whereas the B button rotates them to the right.

There are three speeds available, low, medium, and high, or low, med, and hi as displayed in-game. Levels can be chosen, with more viruses being added as the levels progress up to level 20, which has 84 viruses. The game continues past level 20, however, the virus count remains at 84.

The cutscenes in the Game Boy version are totally different than those in the NES version. Instead of hanging out on top of a tree, the viruses are at the bottom of a body of water. Bubbles rise up to the surface and different kinds of sea creatures pass by such as blowfish and crabs. It's cute and much less crazy than the odd things that pass by in the NES version.

All of Hirokazu Tanaka's soundtrack survives the NES to Game Boy conversion. The title screen, menu, and cutscenes still contain their respective tunes. Thankfully the two compositions that act as stage music remain as well. The slower tune retains the name chill and the faster tune is still fever. This is a relief, as I can't imagine playing a Dr. Mario game without them, especially the fever tune.

Dr. Mario for the Game Boy is as fantastic a puzzle game as the NES version. However, it is let down by its monochrome graphics as it is hard to distinguish between the two-shaded pills as opposed to the two-colored pills on the NES. This can be mitigated by playing on a system that has color filters such as the Super Game Boy peripheral for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the GameCube Game Boy Player, or the Game Boy Advance.

Thankfully, the controls remain easy to understand, and are very responsive, which is needed for a falling block puzzle game. All of the memorable music is here, including the fever and chill stage tunes. The cartoon-styled viruses are still wacky, although their moves are different when compared to the NES version. 

I recommend playing the NES Dr. Mario versus playing the Game boy version. The monochrome graphics make it difficult to differentiate between the two-shaded pills. If you play the game with Super Game Boy color filters or use the fan patch called Dr. Mario DX which converts it into a Game Boy Color game, it might be worth playing to see the cutscenes that are unique to this version of the game.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

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