With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition (NA) / Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (PAL), we're going to provide short profiles of all 30 games included on the system. This time around we look at Dr. Mario.
In the titles we've covered so far in this series, the first-party efforts have mostly been arcade ports and efforts that reflected their status as early arrivals in the NES home console era. As we reach Dr. Mario, though, we're looking at an entirely different era - when it arrived in October 1990 (NA) / June 1991 (EU) we were at peak Mario, particularly in North America. At this point the Super Mario Bros. trilogy was complete in North America (though not quite in Europe), the NES was long established and hugely successful, and Mario branding was a guarantee for success.
Another genre that was popularised in big way in 1989 (1990 in PAL territories) was falling block puzzle games, with the iconic Tetris playing its part in helping the Game Boy to achieve major success. That game, perhaps more than any other, helped the genre to flourish and become a mainstay in gaming.
When you combine those two factors - the huge popularity of Mario and the emergence of Tetris - it must be said that Dr. Mario was inevitable, with a version also released on Game Boy. The NES iteration was the better choice simply due to the fact it had colour, an integral mechanic in the game. Like so many Nintendo games of the era, too, this is a title that had serious pedigree in its development team. Design was handled by Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi, while Hirokazu Tanaka composed its terrific music (more on that to come).
Though Dr. Mario is in the block falling puzzler category, it's spin is that you're trying to clear pills from the screen through careful combinations. Rather than being a simple game of clearance, stages start with a pre-ordained layout of pills that you need to work around. For those used to the more instinctive challenge of games like Tetris or Columns it can take some adjustment, but this gameplay loop has helped to ensure that Dr. Mario remains a notable favourite for plenty of gamers.
Beyond the core NES release (and the Game Boy equivalent), this game was yet another Nintendo title to emerge in the arcades as Vs. Dr. Mario; a number of Nintendo games were released in arcades this way. As you'd expect this homed in on the multiplayer aspect, which is naturally also a welcome feature in the NES original.
As an IP, Dr. Mario has remained popular both in its own games and in some notable cameos. The series has consistently had re-releases or new entries throughout hardware generations, on both portables and home consoles. In this current generation there was a spin-off with Dr. Luigi on the Wii U eShop, a twist in honour of the 'Year of Luigi'; it was a fully featured entry that also included online play. Dr. Mario Online RX on WiiWare also included online play, though naturally those servers have long since been shutdown.
We've also had this NES original on the Virtual Console, too. In addition the brand has featured in other games - for instance challenges based on this NES entry can be found in NES Remix 2, which showcase how careful placement of pills at the start of a stage can ramp up the puzzle element of the gameplay. Dr. Mario also starred in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS as an unlockable character. He'd made his debut in that series in Melee, though had skipped Brawl on Wii. Some particularly popular Smash Bros. music is the remix of the classic Dr. Mario theme.
All told, this is a smart inclusion on the NES Mini, as its addictive gameplay formula will suit both solo play and competitive two-player matches. We suspect this one will get decent playtime on the miniaturised system.