I was planning to open this week’s column by saying that I wasn’t an especially big fan of puzzle games, but on musing further, I think that would be slightly untrue. I can certainly list some games in the puzzle genre that I have enjoyed, such as Kula World on the PlayStation and Portal on the Xbox, and I can’t deny that there’s something just generally pleasing about sitting down and using your brain a bit more than you would in other video game genres. This week we’re going to look at possibly the most famous “puzzler” of all, along with one of its puzzle brethren, as we dive into the world of Tetris & Dr. Mario on the Super Nintendo.
Developed by Intelligent Systems and released towards the end of 1994, Tetris & Dr. Mario was one of the last games to come out for the SNES, with the idea being to take the popular puzzle games and port them over to Ninty’s fourth gen machine. As a result of being on more powerful hardware, the games have been spruced up from a presentation perspective, with plenty of bright colours and 16 bit remixes of all the well-known tunes, such as “Theme A” from Tetris and “Fever” from Dr. Mario. Obviously, there is only so much you can do to dress up what is already a pretty barebones game like Tetris, but they manage to make it pleasant to look at, and some of the sprites on Dr. Mario are really well done.
As far as gameplay goes, there should be little surprises found for anyone who has played both games before as the base games are pretty much identical to their handheld and NES versions. Tetris’ gameplay comes down to you trying to align different shapes so that they form an unbroken line, at which point they will disappear and you will score points. You can move which way the blocks face, but each block is limited to exactly how much you can change it. You can see one block ahead thanks to a handy box at the top of the screen, so you can plan ahead somewhat, but as you progress further and further, the speed at which the blocks will fall down the screen will increase, giving you less time to work out where you want to put them. If the blocks get too high, then it’s game over.
Tetris is still as playable as ever, with it getting that mix between simplicity and difficulty just right. It’s a game that anyone can pick up, play and get the hang of, but it’s also one that gets increasingly more difficult and challenging the further you progress, meaning that it’s something that more hardened players will want to keep playing so they can finally master it. In short, it’s as close to perfect as you can get for a game in the puzzle genre, which is why it’s continued to endure for all of these decades. It would have been so easy for Intelligent Systems to try and mess with the formula, but they realised what people liked about Tetris and decided just to give it to them, which is so unusual for a video game developer that it’s almost refreshing.
I’d personally say that Dr. Mario is a bit less accessible to your typical casual player, but it also provides an enriching experience once you come to grips with it. Playing as the titular Dr. Mario, you have to throw different coloured pills into a jar in order to kill off primary coloured viruses to cure the patient. Each pill you throw will either be one colour or a mixture of two, with the colours corresponding to each virus. Each pill is split into two segments, with you being able to decide whether the pill is vertical or horizontal. If you match four segments of the same colour together, then they will disappear, with a virus counting as one segment. Thus, you need to manoeuvre the pills so that they land on the viruses to take them out.
Though the general game mechanics of Dr. Mario take a little while to get used to, once you fully understand what is going on, the game becomes pretty instinctive to play and provides a different experience and challenge from Tetris. In a lot of ways, combining two games like Tetris & Dr. Mario on one cart is a stroke of genius as they are different enough that they stand out from one another but similar enough that it isn’t too sharp of a 180 for a player to switch between the two.
Not only are both Tetris & Dr. Mario pretty much perfect ports from a gameplay perspective, but being on a console as opposed to a handheld makes multiplayer loads easier as all you need is a friend and another controller for them to use. You can play both games on their own as multiplayer games, or you can also indulge in Mixed Match mode, which allows you to switch between the two games with the person with the most points at the end being victorious. You are given the chance to play with the settings to give one or both players a handicap of some kind, and it adds replayability to the experience. If you have another Tetris & Dr. Mario-loving pal , then you can have oodles of fun together.
Tetris & Dr. Mario is a game I’d heartily recommend if you have an SNES, especially if you enjoy puzzle games and like the sound of playing the multiplayer mode with your friends. Aside from Mixed Match and the graphical/sound touch up, you really aren’t getting anything especially new from Tetris & Dr. Mario, but you are getting two great games in one cart, so for convenience’s sake alone, it works out as a decent investment and definitely something worth having in your collection for when friends come round.