Dr. Mario (Game Boy) review
"Derivative but probably better than Tetris"
Mario had been in other games before but Dr. Mario seems to be the first to use Mario like a license, slapping Mario into a game that had already been in development. Previous games with Mario having a minor role, such as being a judge in Tennis, the pilot in Alleyway, or the guy in Pinball, didn’t use Mario explicitly in the title, but here it is right in the player’s face.
I remember seeing the cover as a child at a local rental shop. I honored it by making it the chosen rental of a seven year old, expecting something like Super Mario Bros 3 but I could throw pills instead of fireballs. Had I flipped the box over and seen the back, I would have seen a game that kid-me would not have wanted to play. I suppose the marketing worked.
Dr. Mario did not start out as a Mario game. The initial working title Virus can be found in prototypes dated with 1989. It is unique not just in its use of Mario but also as possibly the first game to release simultaneously on multiple platforms. Game releases were a process in the late 80s and early 90s, not an event. Retailers did not get games early and hold onto them until some big release event like they did in the 2000s. By most accounts, both the NES and Gameboy version of Dr Mario were released in July 1990 at the same time.
While I can’t find information about any prototypes for the Gameboy dating to 1988, there’s some evidence in the game that it was always intended to be multi-platform. All versions of the game use three colors for the viruses. Three colors for sprites is a hard limitation of the Gameboy, but all known prototypes on Famicom also restrain themselves to three colors. There’s also the game’s development team, R&D1, which was the same team that developed the Gameboy hardware and was focused almost exclusively on Gameboy software after 1988. Sequel’s to R&D1 creations like Metroid, Balloon Fight, Kid Icarus all appeared on Gameboy rather than NES.
A great amount of care went into making Dr. Mario work well on both platforms. Unlike Tetris, which had many differences between NES and Gameboy verions, Dr Mario is largely identical for both systems. The playing area where pieces are stacked, for example, is the same size regardless of which version is being played. The mechanics and physics feel identical as well. There are no differences in feature set either, unlike Tetris which famously lacks 2-player on NES. Even the layout of the screens is largely the same.
Community review by dagoss (May 26, 2021)
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