Dr. Mario 64

    The latest in a string of franchise updates from Nintendo, Dr. Mario 64 dutifully brings the pill-dropping puzzle gameplay of the 1990 original to the Nintendo 64. And though the basic play mechanics haven't changed, a number of new options help breathe new life into the game, especially the frenetic four-player and team modes.

 Mario, Wario, and friends
Four-player fever

    Dr. Mario pits the legendary plumber against a medicine bottle full of viruses either red, blue, or yellow in color. A never-ending stream of two-colored pills drop into the bottle from above, and the player is challenged to match four blocks or viruses of the same color to make the entire chain disappear. A simple concept indeed, but eminently playable and exploited well through the different strategies needed to succeed in different gameplay modes.

    The single-player game includes six modes, but focuses on a story entitled "Dr. Mario and the Cold Caper." Dr. Mario's megavitamins have been stolen at the height of flu season, and it is the player's job to chase down the thief while battling various enemies who get in his way. Though little more than an excuse for a series of increasingly difficult battles, this story is charmingly acted out through skit-like scenes between battles and offers the unique option of playing as Wario and seeing the story from his evil perspective instead.

One-player mode
Mario battles the ILOVEYOU virus

    A fairly steep learning curve awaits inexperienced gamers; even the "easy" mode demands fairly quick reflexes after the first few battles. Mastering the art of clearing multiple chains at once is vital, as each chain cleared beyond the first drops random "garbage" blocks in the opposing player's bottle. Beating the game on the hardest levels requires the proper mix of playing for these combos and eliminating viruses quickly. Too much of the former will distract the CPU but keep your bottle full, while too much of the latter allows the computer freedom to clear viruses without interefernce.

    Various other modes include Score Attack, which places a time limit on clearing the bottle, Marathon, which ups the speed after each stage until the player loses, and Flash, in which only flashing viruses need be eliminated. These options strike a good balance between playing for speed, score, or just survival. Most are also available for two-player battles, lending some variety to the basic idea of destroying your opponent.

 Weird Sceinstien
Chasing Mad Scienstien

    But the true appeal of Dr. Mario 64 lies in the new 4-player modes. Fast and slowdown-free, these modes result in more direct combat by allowing the player to control who they drop garbage blocks on. Starting a chain with a set of blue pills drops garbage on the player to your right, yellow goes two players over, and red goes three. You can focus on any particular opponent by starting chains exlcusively with one color, or even send garbage to multiple bottles by clearing multiple colors at once.

    Garbage sent to a player who has already lost has no effect, so paying attention to colors is just as important as causing huge combos. This adds a necessary element of skill to attacking specific players without making it impossible to choose who feels your pain. It also allows for varying styles of play, as it is possible to win without bothering to attack your opponents once or win by doing nothing but attacking.

    These features are expanded further in the team battle mode, where two teams of two players each compete. Garbage aimed at your teammate is instead stored in a "bank" to be dropped on the opposing team at once. Extra playable characters for these modes can be unlocked by finishing the story without losing a match, but the main difference between the 20+ characters is their CPU level of difficulty and a few new animations. Finishing the game on Hard without losing also unlocks the bonus Super Hard setting.

Training mode
Learning the basics

    Some puzzle games go the extra mile to compliment quality gameplay with quality production values, such as Tetrisphere's soundtrack or The Next Tetris' detailed backgrounds. Unfortunately, Dr. Mario 64 is not one of those games. Nothing here graphically is much beyond first-generation Nintendo 64 or last generation Super Nintendo fare, with the exception of a few backgrounds. The 2D style is charming for the story scenes, but in-game graphics are merely adequate.

    The music shares the same fate, offering four different songs that are equally inoffensive but far from inspiring. The original NES music returns in remixed form here, a move that seems less like nostalgia and more like an effort to save development time. The only disadvantage to nixing the sound completely is losing the audio cues for when garbage blocks are about to be dropped, which isn't really necessary to hear.

    If you weren't much for Dr. Mario when he first appeared, there are no dramatic updates here that will change your mind., as Nintendo has not chosen to try and rework basic gameplay. But the doctor has aged remarkably well, and this version of the game is more than comprehensive in gameplay where it lacks in presentation, especially in the variety of multiplayer modes. And at a retail price of $29.99, this is one trip to the doctor well worth the money for puzzle addicts seeking one last N64 fix.

Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.
Dr. Mario 64
Developer Nintendo
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Puzzle
Medium Cartridge
Platform Nintendo 64
Release Date  N/A
Dr. Mario 64 released
18 screenshots
4 character designs / Wallpaper
Box art