Dr. Mario (stylized as D℞. Mario) is a 1990 action puzzle video game produced by Gunpei Yokoi and designed by Takahiro Harada. Nintendo developed and published the game for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy consoles. The game's soundtrack was composed by Hirokazu Tanaka.
In this falling block puzzle game, the player's objective is to destroy the viruses populating the on-screen playing field by using colored capsules that are tossed into the field by Mario, who assumes the role of a doctor. The player manipulates each capsule as it falls, with the goal being to align similar colors which removes the viruses. The player progresses through the game by eliminating all the viruses on the screen in each level.
Dr. Mario received positive reception, appearing on several "Best Nintendo Games of All Time" lists. The game has been ported, remade, or has had a sequel on every Nintendo home console since the NES as well as most portable consoles, including a re-release in 2004 on the Game Boy Advance as part of the Classic NES Series. Modified versions of Dr. Mario exist as minigames in WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!, Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day!, and Brain Age: Concentration Training. A Wii U spin-off game, Dr. Luigi, was released in 2013 as part of the Year of Luigi celebration.
Dr. Mario is a falling block tile-matching video game in which Mario assumes the role of a doctor, tossing two-colored medical capsules into a medicine bottle representing the playing field. This area is populated by viruses of three colors: red, yellow, and blue, which stay in their starting position until removed. In a manner and style considered similar to Tetris, the player manipulates each capsule as it vertically falls 1 unit of space at a time, able to move it left or right and rotate it 90 degrees in either clockwise or counter-clockwise. When four or more capsule halves or viruses of matching color are aligned in vertical or horizontal configurations, they are removed from play. Any remaining capsule halves or whole capsules which are now not supported by a virus or capsule will fall to the bottom of the playing field or until it hits another supported object, and any new 4-in-a-row alignments created from this will also be removed. The main objective is to complete levels, which is accomplished by eliminating all viruses from the playing field. A game over occurs if capsules fill up the playing field in a way that obstructs the bottle's narrow neck. After each 5th level is completed on Medium or High difficulty, up to level 20, a cut-scene is shown where the virus trio is sitting on a tree as music plays and an object flies across the screen.
Players are first brought to the options screen, where the starting level, game speed, and music can be chosen. The initial level chosen is a value between zero and twenty that determines the number of viruses to clear, and the three-game speed options change how fast the capsules fall within the bottle. The player's score is based solely on the elimination of viruses and the chosen game speed, with bonus points for clearing more than 1 in a single line. After level 20 you can continue playing to accumulate points, but the number of viruses to clear remains the same.
Dr. Mario offers a multiplayer gaming mode in which two players compete against each other in separate playing fields. In this mode, the player's goal is to clear their own playing field of viruses before the other player does. Eliminating multiple viruses or initiating chain reactions can cause additional capsules to fall onto the opponent's playing field. A player wins a single game upon eliminating all the viruses or if the other playing field fills up. The first player to win three games wins overall.
Development and releases
Dr. Mario was produced by Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the Game Boy and Game & Watch handheld systems, and designed by Takahiro Harada, who also acted as producer of the Metroid series. The game's music, later re-used and arranged in games such as Super Smash Bros. Melee, was composed by Hirokazu Tanaka, who later became president of Creatures Inc., an affiliate of Nintendo that owns one-third of the copyright regarding the Pokémon franchise.
Dr. Mario spawned a number of remakes and ports that were released on various Nintendo consoles. The original version's multiplayer portion was ported to two Nintendo arcade systems in 1990: the Nintendo Vs. System (under the title Vs. Dr. Mario) and the PlayChoice-10.
An enhanced remake of Dr. Mario was paired with Tetris in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System compilation game Tetris & Dr. Mario, released on 30 December 1994. This version of Dr. Mario was re-released in Japan on 30 March 1997, as a downloadable title for the Super Famicom's Satellaview peripheral, under the name Dr. Mario BS Version. It was re-released again in Japan as a downloadable game for the Super Famicom's and Game Boy's Nintendo Power cartridges.
The NES version was ported twice to the Game Boy Advance: first in 2004 as one of thirty games in the Classic NES Series (known as the Famicom Mini Series in Japan), then bundled with a version of the Puzzle League series in 2005 under the title Dr. Mario & Puzzle League, this time with updated graphics and new music to choose from. On 20 May 2003, Nintendo released the "GameCube Preview Disc" for the GameCube, which allows players to download the NES version of Dr. Mario to their Game Boy Advance consoles using the Nintendo GameCube – Game Boy Advance link cable. The original Game Boy version was made available on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console in 2011 and 2012. The NES version was released on the Wii U Virtual Console in 2014 and was included as one of the launch titles for Nintendo Switch Online on September 19, 2018.
Dr. Mario and its re-releases received generally positive reviews, although some parents were critical of its premise due to its inclusion of medicine in a children's game. One notably negative review, by ACE, scored the Game Boy version 510/1000. It criticized the game's uninspiring graphics and repetitive play. The review also said the game "reeks of plagiarism", stating it is worse than the original games it is modeled after.
Reviewing the NES version, Allgame praised it, stating that on its release, "when puzzle games were flooding the market, Dr. Mario stands out as one of the best, combining a smooth learning curve, playful graphics and memorable tunes" and "fundamental concepts may be simple, but the addictive gameplay becomes progressively more complex as the speed increases and additional viruses are added."
GamePro gave the Tetris & Dr. Mario compilation a rave review. They praised the Mixed Match mode and the SNES enhanced graphics and sounds, and concluded "Sharp controls and absorbing action are what make these two classics even better as a pair than they were alone." Next Generation, in contrast, said the compilation was only significant for being the first appearance of Tetris on the SNES, summarizing that "Yeah, it's great, but chances are you own a copy of one or both of these games already." They did, however, praise Nintendo for having the "cojones" to package their Tetris-inspired game with Tetris itself.
Dr. Mario was rated the 134th best game released on a Nintendo system in Nintendo Power's Top 200 Games list, by ScrewAttack as the seventh best Mario game of all time, and by IGN as the 51st best NES game of all time. IGN also rated the game's soundtrack, composed by Hirokazu Tanaka, as seventh in its list of the top ten greatest 8-Bit soundtracks. GamesRadar ranked it the 13th best NES game ever made. The staff called it "one of the most celebrated of the [puzzle] genre." Game Informer's Ben Reeves called it the seventh best Game Boy game.
The Game Boy Advance re-release as part of the Classic NES series holds a rating of 66/100 on Metacritic based on 10 reviews. Most reviews pointed out the game's addictiveness and praise the addition of wireless multiplayer, but some questioned the relevance of the game's re-release as a standalone title. Eurogamer said the game was "still as playable, addictive and maddening as it was back in 1990" but criticized Nintendo for re-releasing classic games as standalone titles in the Classic NES Series instead of as a compilation, like Atari's Atari Anthology or Midway's Midway Arcade Treasures. Craig Harris, in his review for IGN, sarcastically expressed unease over the game's use of medicine. He enjoyed the addictive gameplay, but criticized the black-and-white manual which made it difficult to understand the color-based gameplay mechanics. While 1UP.com noted that the game's "color-matching action is more engrossing than Mario Bros.' turtle-punching platform hopping", the reviewer strongly questioned whether this re-release is worth its sale price by itself when a version of Dr. Mario was included in another Game Boy Advance game, WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!.
Following the commercial success of this game, Nintendo released several follow-up titles in the Dr. Mario series. Dr. Mario 64, released in 2001 for the Nintendo 64, features Wario and several Wario Land 3 characters, and offers numerous game modes, including a story-focused single-player mode. The game also supports simultaneous multiplayer for up to four players at once. Dr. Mario 64 was subsequently released in Japan in the compilation game Nintendo Puzzle Collection on the GameCube. Dr. Mario Online Rx, released in 2008 on WiiWare, offers online multiplayer via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Dr. Mario Express, released in 2009 for the Nintendo DSi, does not support multiplayer gameplay. Dr. Luigi, released in 2013, features Luigi as a playable character and has all the modes in Dr. Mario Online Rx, as well as a new mode with L-shaped capsules. The latest installment, Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure, was released in 2015 and introduced power-ups to the series. There is also a mobile game called Dr. Mario World.
The character of Dr. Mario appears as an unlockable playable character in the 2001 fighting game Super Smash Bros. Melee, where he attacks by throwing capsules known as "Megavitamins". There are two ways to unlock Dr. Mario as a playable character, either by completing Classic, Adventure or All-Star mode with Mario (using no continues) or by completing 100 melee battles. The game's sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, does not feature Dr. Mario as a playable character, but it includes the Melee remix of Dr. Mario's "Fever" background music theme and a version of the "Chill" theme music arranged by Masaaki Iwasaki, who had previously composed for Magical Drop as part of the Data East Sound Team. Dr. Mario characters also appear in the game as collectible stickers. Dr. Mario would later return as an unlockable playable character in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
A version of the game called Dr. Wario, which replaces Mario with Wario, is included as an unlockable minigame in WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!. A simplified version of Dr. Mario also appears in Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! as a minigame called "Virus Buster", which is played by using the system's touch screen to drag the capsules around the playing field.
The viruses appear as enemies in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. In that game, they change colors every time they are attacked, and they are all defeated when they are all the same color, in a similar fashion to how they are defeated by the same color of the capsules in Dr. Mario.
- U.S. Patent 5,265,888, which covers the game