There is a kind of … B stage from Nintendo puzzlers, right? Things like Yoshi’s Cookie and Warios Woods. We would argue, perhaps unsuccessfully, that Dr. Mario fits into this small group more than the really A-class stuff. On Switch, in particular, there is an embarrassment over mysterious riches that we would prefer to this. But why?
We know it’s a bit of a controversial position because it’s definitely a classic game, but Dr. Mario 64? It kind of sucks. Please don’t get upset. You love dr Mario, I’m sure of that. Throwing those pills in that huge jar has an admittedly goofy appeal. Viruses of different colors appear. Mario throws different colored pills into the jar to string them together and destroy the viruses. The catch is that each pill is made up of two segments, each of which can be one of three colors. You have to twist and maneuver the pills to match four colors, either pill or virus, and at that point they go away. As it always was. The problem is, we just don’t find it particularly funny or interesting.
Aside from one generally not-so-pleasant premise, it seems that Dr. Mario is simply unsuitable for skillful play and competitive fun. In theory, you can “chain” your pills and viruses by dropping loose segments into the jar as you separate, but peeling them off is cumbersome and annoying. Unlike many other versus puzzlers (Puzzle League, Puyo Puyo), we have found that one wrong move can throw you completely off balance with no meaningful recovery possible. Essentially, the mandatory nature of virus placement means that things have to be set a certain way and you inevitably have a lot of junk on the screen that won’t really help you later in a round, unlike the better games mentioned above which you have a chance of recovery even in very bad situations.
There are many modes here, but basically they are all exactly the same. The Poundland Paper Mario Story mode consists of the villain gallery from the Game Boy Color hit Wario Land 3 at the time, which was interesting for us as Mario super fans. The problem is that we ran into tremendous trouble in story mode as Dr. Mario 64 is shockingly difficult even on the standard difficulty. Pills drop quickly, the controls feel less responsive than they could be, there is little visual feedback as you turn your characters, and computer players are intelligent and aggressive and make few mistakes. We wondered if we were just Bad with it, but the NES version never seemed as rough as this, even though it was ostensibly the same. It’s hard to qualify what exactly changed in the game’s balancing, but something fundamental broke on the way from the 8-bit version.
It’s no fun in single player, and multiplayer only made us crave Puyo Puyo Tetris. So we played that instead and everyone had a good time. We tried, but ultimately, Dr. Mario 64 looks like a weak version of a weak game.