I recently started playing Dr. Mario again. Every couple of years, I have a little stint of Dr. Mario and gorge myself, playing in half-hour increments, sometimes a few times a day. Not on my NES; my cartridge is sadly unreliable. On the Wii. It’s an updated, downloadable game, and it’s amazing. The gameplay is the same as in the original: drop bicoloured pills onto “viruses” to eliminate them, in a sort of amalgam of Tetris and Connect Four. Perform combos to drop extraneous pieces onto your opponent’s game board. The difference in the Wii version is that you now have the option of playing online against randomly-selected opponents. The online arena is where shit gets real.
Well, sort of. You certainly don’t get much information about your opponent. Everyone is represented by their Mii (a custom, Wii-specific avatar), and their username. I find it kind of fun to guess if people’s Miis are meant to be real likenesses (mine is) and to judge their username (“Lucy”; yeah I’m boring like that). I’ve always been amused by the high frequencies of the names “Mom” and “Dad.” Mostly Mom; if Miis are any indication, Dr. Mario seems to be played more by women than men.
The only available communication between players occurs before and between games, and is limited to ten canned statements: “Hah!” “Ouch…” “You got me!” and so on. The most contentious, to me, is “Good game!” There are some players who say “Good game!” after every single match. I know that there is some kind of sportsmanship thing going on here, but seriously. We did not just play a sweaty, grunting, hour-long game of soccer on opposing teams; we spent 45 seconds pushing buttons without even laying eyes on each other. I always feel obligated to echo the sentiment, lest I be seen as a poor sport. (Why I do even care, in such an anonymous environment? Human nature is fascinating.) I don’t mind a “Good game!” after a particularly close or drawn-out game, but generally, I prefer to be the strong silent type. However, and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit, I feel a tinge of genuine delight on the occasions when I decide to randomly throw in my favourite of the available statements: “Neener neener!”
You might think you’ve played games that are fast-paced, but have you played online Dr. Mario? High-level players drop pills so fast that it’s almost impossible to imagine that a human being is on the other end of the connection. I consider one of my special skills in life to be the ability to maintain a solid game of Call of Duty Zombies while simultaneously playing indoor fetch with my dog. When I play Dr. Mario, dog toys pile up on my lap as I am forced to ignore Bieber’s hopeful prodding.
The level of precision required to rotate, align, and drop a pill in fractions of a second, using muscle memory rather than conscious planning, is astronomical. I used to think I had two perfectly functioning Wiimotes, but it only took one minute of Dr. Mario to realize that one of them is ever so slightly off, as it occasionally jumps my pills an extra space to the left. I honestly believe that no other game would have revealed this minute misfunction.
I’m reasonably skilled (though this time around, after a few years away, pretty rusty), but some of these players are jaw-dropping. I’m always intimidated when I see someone whose number of wins (one of two stats available, the other being a weirdly uninformative “rating”) has maxed out the four digits available at 9999. (These players are often named Mom.) I won’t reveal my win count, because I don’t even like to acknowledge to myself how many minute-long games of Dr. Mario I’ve played, but I will say it’s a four-digit number.
I’ve been playing for about a week, and I can already feel myself become sated. It’s for the best. Dr. Mario makes a good little snack between proper, full-length games, but the pace burns you out quickly. I’m glad to say I won’t reach 9999 wins… at least not anytime soon.
What have been your experiences with Dr. Mario?