Could it be Mario has settled down? After numerous adventures in the Mario Bros, series, he's turned in his running shoes for a stethoscope. Now he's a medical researcher at Mushroom Kingdom Hospital, experimenting in the virus lab.
But of course, Mario is a trouble magnet. Everywhere he goes, something is bound to happen that only quick reflexes and superhuman hand-eye coordination can fix. So one day, just as Mario was beginning work, Nurse Toadstool came rushing in with news that something had gone horribly wrong. One of the experimental viruses was growing out of control inside a laboratory bottle.
Fortunately, Mario had just developed a new set of vitamins that should have been able to kill the viruses. Unfortunately, things got complicated. The vitamins worked, but each one was effective only against a specific virus, and only when enough of the vitamins were used. In desperation, Mario began throwing vitamins into the laboratory bottle, trying to get enough of the right ones to the viruses they could kill.
A Tetris Clone?
Dr. Mario is a fast-moving puzzle game that looks and plays a lot like Tetris. It also bears some similarities to Columns, a new game for the Sega Genesis. As Mario tosses the different-colored vitamin capsules into the laboratory bottle, they gradually fall from the top of the screen. Using the controller, you can steer the capsules left or right and rotate them to various positions. As in Tetris, your goal is to stack them up in just the right way.
The major difference is that instead of trying to eliminate horizontal layers, as you do in Tetris, your object in Dr. Mario is to eliminate the viruses that live in the jar. The viruses come in three strains: red, yellow, and blue. The capsules, you'll notice, also come in red, yellow, and blue. Most capsules are two of these colors, but some capsules are all the same color.
The idea is to line up four or more pieces of the same color, either horizontally or vertically. By "pieces", we mean a whole capsule, or half of a capsule, or a virus. When that happens, all of the matching pieces disappear from the screen. If one or more of the pieces were viruses, you get points.
Play continues until either all the viruses are eliminated from the jar, or the jar gets so full of capsules that there's no room for another one. If you succeed in getting rid of all the viruses, you advance to the next level, which is even more contaminated with viruses.
Although Dr. Mario (like Tetris) is basically a simple game, it's very difficult to master. The first few levels have only a few viruses, but pretty soon the jar gets so full of viruses that there's barely enough room for any vitamins.
Dr. Mario lets you choose from several options. You can select which level to start on (1 through 20); the speed at which Mario will toss in the vitamins (low, medium, or high); and even two different kinds of music ("Fever", "Chill", or no music at all).
You can also select a two-player mode that lets you square off against another person. The main difference in a two-player game is that two jars fit side-by-side on the screen. Vitamin capsules are thrown into both jars simultaneously, and the goal is to eliminate your viruses before your opponent does. If you succeed in clearing out all of your viruses (or if your opponent allows his vitamins to pile up to the top of the bottle), you win the round. The first player to win three rounds wins the game.
Perhaps the best feature of the two-player mode is that each player can select his or her own level and speed. This provides two players of unequal skill with a good means of "handicapping".
If both players start at the same level, they'll begin each round with equal numbers of viruses in identical positions. Furthermore, Mario will toss the same color vitamins in the same order into each player's jar. This gives both players a totally equal chance of clearing the screen and completely eliminates luck as a factor. Two-player games are contests of pure skill.
Another feature that makes two-player games more competitive is that when you clear two or more lines simultaneously (whether or not they include viruses), some random, unconnected pieces of vitamin capsules will fall onto your opponent's screen. The number of pieces that fall is equal to the number of lines you cleared (up to four). Although their colors and positions are random, they always seem to fall in the places that are most annoying to your opponent. Therefore, it's possible to make life more difficult for your opponent, even though you can't affect his screen directly.
Dr. Mario is one of those games with simple rules that can be learned in a few minutes - but, like Tetris or Othello, it actually involves numerous, complex strategies.
One key to shaping your strategy is to keep an eye on the upper right corner of the screen, where you can see the next vitamin Dr. Mario will toss into the jar. Although you can make the currently falling capsule fall faster by pushing down on the directional pad, you should probably just let it drop at its own pace. Use the time to look at what the next capsule will be, and figure out where it will fit.
It's also important to anticipate where broken pieces of capsules will drop. Each capsule consists of two halves, and if one half disappears when you match a row, the other half remains on the screen. When this happens, the half left behind drops until something stops it. If it happens to land somewhere to make another matching row of four colors, that row will also disappear, and any halves left behind will also drop, and so on.
It should be pretty obvious, therefore, that when you match a capsule to a row, you should also think about where the odd half will drop. How will the leftover piece affect the piles of capsules below it? The key to beating Dr. Mario - especially at the higher, more contaminated levels - is getting the knack of lining up capsules so that when one half disappears, the leftover half can drop somewhere useful.
If you drop a capsule on top of a different-colored virus, there are only three ways to clear the virus later. The first method is to simply pile on more capsules of the same wrong color until they form a matching row and disappear, leaving the virus uncovered. This method is the most common, and it works, but it also takes time. In addition, the halves left behind might cover other viruses in the process, so careful planning is essential.
The second way to clear a virus that's buried beneath wrong-colored capsules is to match it with a horizontal row of pieces. This is probably better than method #1, but isn't always possible. Again, careful planning is the only way to keep those lines clear.
The third method is even more difficult - form a vertical stack by building up matching capsules beneath the virus. This is possible because viruses, unlike capsules, do not fall toward the bottom of the screen when there's nothing to support them. They hang in midair, and sometimes you can slide capsules into place underneath.
Like other Tetris-style games, Dr. Mario is an exercise in thinking ahead under pressure. You can usually recover from mistakes, but it always takes time. And the longer you take to clear a level, the faster Dr. Mario tosses in the capsules.
Unlike other Tetris variants, however, Dr. Mario has viruses, and you can see them magnified in the lower left corner of the screen. When the jar fills up and you've lost, they'll laugh at you, too. Ever hear a virus laugh?