The original Dr. Mario
Dr. Mario, a highly addictive video game that features a few similarities to the equally addictive Tetris, was first released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in July of 1990. The game's premise was a simple one: players cleared a giant bottle by lining up multicoloured vitamins with viruses of the same colour. Once the bottle had been cleared, the player progressed to the next level, which contained more viruses.
The point of the game was to destroy all of the viruses by lining up four segments of the same colour. Both the pills and the viruses counted as a segment; for instance, if a level featured two red viruses stacked on top of each other and the player placed a pill consisting of two red halves on top of them, this would clear the viruses. The six types of available pills were all-red, all-blue, all-yellow, yellow-blue, yellow-red and red-blue.
Players could also strategically create chain reactions — if a yellow and a red virus were placed diagonally on the screen, the player could line up three yellow-red pills horizontally, with the pill touching the higher of the two viruses, and use a fourth pill to clear the higher colour. The remaning pills of the other colour would drop onto the lower virus; provided there were enough pills to kill the virus, both would be taken out in one fell swoop. This didn't do much other than produce a sound effect in the one-player game, but in the two-player game chain reactions would cause a stream of pills to rain down on the other player's screen.
The game allowed players to customize their playing experience somewhat; in much the same way as Tetris enabled players to choose the speed at which the blocks fell, Dr. Mario allowed them to choose both the pill speed and the number of viruses that appeared in the playing field. The speed rates were low, medium and high, and levels between zero and 21 would determine how many viruses would need to be cleared.
While level 21 was the highest selectable level, like Tetris, Dr. Mario can go on forever so long as the player doesn't crash by stacking pills up to the top of the screen. The game does not go any higher than level 24, but players can continue to play at level 24 with new puzzles until they crash.
A Game Boy version, slightly modified to comply with the console's monochrome display, was released in 1990 as well. Rather than red, yellow and blue, players sought to match up clear, semi-shaded and fully shaded viruses and pills. The game made use of the system's cable link-up setup for multiplayer action, much like the Game Boy version of Tetris.
The game was enhanced and packaged with Tetris for Tetris and Dr. Mario, which was released for the SNES in 1994. The only major difference was the availability of "Mixed Match" play as part of the two-player setup. In this setting, a best-of-three matchup consisted of two different Tetris matches (A and B modes) and one Dr. Mario match.
Just as it did with many of its other classic titles, Nintendo released a reimagined version of Dr. Mario for the Nintendo 64 console in 2001. Due to the increased capacity of the new console, the game includes both a "classic" mode (the original game with upgraded graphics) and a story mode featuring a plot involving Mario, Wario and some other characters. Reviews were mixed, with some critics giving the game an almost perfect score and others suggesting it barely deserved a passing grade. It was, in any case, not the most popular or well-known of N64 titles.
The game has also been re-rleased in its (more or less) original format a handful of times, including for Game Boy Advance and on the Wii digital console in 2006 and 2008. These contain additions and enhancements to the graphics and sound but are, for the most part, faithful recreations of the original.
A version of Dr. Mario also appears in Brain Age 2, the sequel to the popular Nintendo DS title Brain Age, as a bonus game. Instead of using the control pad, players move and rotate the falling pills using the stylus. The cameo version is called Virus Buster and is not a training mode in the way that the other minigames are. That said, high scores are recorded for later viewing.
Those groovy tunes
The original game featured a grand total of four different musical selections: the title music, the game options selection screen music and two different background tunes used during game play, known as "Fever" and "Chill." It is, of course, the latter two selections that people tend to remember, and they have been used in every official Dr. Mario recreation or re-release to date. The games also provide the option of a silence, just in case those catchy pulsating baselines are too distracting.
"Fever" is a smoldering, bass-driven funk piece; "Chill" is a more of a quirky, upbeat jam. Years later, both songs were arranged and performed by a musician named Jake Kaufman, who goes by the stage name virt, as a medley called "Funky Pills." The arrangement is an imagining of what the pieces would sound like when played by a live band including a full horn section. Go listen.
"Chill" was also among the many songs performed in a medley of classic video game music by a school choir during a choral competition. (The YouTube video is here, in case you haven't seen it.) Besides these and other fan arrangements and projects, people also post videos of themselves playing the themes on every instrument imaginable — even using the Mario Paint composer. No, really.
Starting with Dr. Mario 64, two new songs — "Cube" and "Que Que" were added. They reappear in Dr. Mario Online Rx, but have been renamed "Cough" and "Sneeze" to fit the general illness theme.
The Brain Age 2 version includes both "Fever" and "Chill," rearranged to sound more relaxing.
The game remains popular even nearly 20 years after its release, though it is perhaps lesser known than Tetris. While any video game enthusiast could wax poetic about the game's universal appeal until the cows come home, it clearly owes much to its simplicity and addictiveness.
It's also notable for being the first non-adventure game to feature Mario in anything other than a non-cameo role. While he appeared briefly in many Nintendo-produced sports games in the early 1990s, often as a referee, Dr. Mario was the first game technically about him that didn't also feature Bowser and the rest of the familiar cast of characters. (Princess Toadstool, as she was still known back then, makes a brief appearance in the NES manual as a nurse.)
Years of experience and amusement