Since its release in early 2012, Puzzle and Dragons has become a cultural phenomenon. The mobile game has been downloaded by some 41 million users around the world on iOS and Android, and this runaway success has turned its originally small-time Japanese developer GungHo Entertainment into a major publisher.
Indeed, I put a huge amount of time into the original game on iOS during 2013 – I was hooked on its match-three RPG gameplay for months, and even ended up spending money on the free-to-play game.
You start with a little creature that can be one of five different colors – each representing an element, either Water, Fire, Wood, Light or Dark. Then you jump into a dungeon, which is basically a series of confrontations with the monsters that reside within. To attack with your creature, you simply match three gems that match the color of your monster, and punishment is dished out. Additional gem combos of any color will boost that attack, resulting in devastating, and sometimes even one-shot kills to your enemies if you can pile on sufficient combos. There’s also a sixth gem type that heals your creatures when matched, vital for survival since enemy monsters can attack you between each round.
Where things start getting a little more complicated is that dispatched denizens sometimes drop items that you collect upon completion of the dungeon. These sometimes contain allies, giving you more creatures to play with, and you can use them to build a team of up to five – essential for tackling higher-level dungeons. Other items can be used to evolve your creatures, making them more powerful and giving them special skills, which give you additional advantages during a dungeon fight. Examples of these are reducing damage of a certain type or adding multipliers for specific attacks.
Like your allies, enemy creatures are aligned with one of the five elements (or a combo of them), and each of the elements has a counter-element in typical rock-paper-scissors style. So obviously, certain combinations of creatures in your team will give you a distinct advantage against some enemies, and a disadvantage against others. Thus, the creature-collecting part of the game becomes a really big thing, because success requires your team to have different monster combinations depending on what they’re fighting.
So that's the Puzzle and Dragons premise. The 3DS version has two different versions of the game – Puzzle and Dragons Z, and Puzzle and Dragons Super Mario Edition. Both feature the same basic gameplay outlined above, but add typical Nintendo-style presentation layers, turning the originally free-to-play game into something a little more substantial.
Puzzle and Dragons Z incorporates Pokémon-style RPG overtones and a storyline in which you play a dragon tamer who's on a mission to save a world that has been torn into differently shaped puzzle pieces. There's plenty of dialog – albeit sometimes silly and drawn out – and elements of adventuring as you wander the landscape looking for the means to piece the world back together again, which essentially involves tackling typical Puzzle and Dragons-style dungeons.
While the story and adventuring elements certainly add an additional layer of complexity and character to the game, I can't say I was particularly enamored with them. At least to me, who has little patience for this sort of thing. I think some people will probably enjoy it – but it just seemed to get in the way of the best part of the game, which is basically the original Puzzle and Dragons gameplay.
The Super Mario Edition is far more immediate, however. As you might imagine, the Puzzle and Dragons gameplay is Mario themed, the creatures are all Mario-based, and all the visual and audio cues will be familiar to anyone who's played a Mario game before. There are some presentation layers in terms of tutorials, and progress is made through a linear map where each dungeon essentially represents a stop along the way to the boss character on each level, but the action is far more straightforward than Puzzle and Dragons Z. Because of that, I enjoyed this version of the game a lot more, simply because there's no messing around with dialog, or wandering the world figuring out what to do next. Here, you just move from one dungeon to the next and concentrate on building and evolving your team.
As a double-pack, this Puzzle and Dragons duo offers great value for money. Both games are surprisingly deep, enjoyable versions of the original Puzzle and Dragons game. While there is a little simplification in terms of fewer creature types than the original game, the gameplay is, for the most part, very solid. Neither game is quite as immediately addictive as the game on which they're based, but they do both grow on you. Particularly Puzzle and Dragons Z, which takes it time to get going, but once it gets into the swing of things, it's really quite entertaining - assuming you're not averse to sometimes inane dialog and silly jokes.
To me, the star of the package is the Super Mario Edition, which is the closest version to the original game, and concentrates more on what made it such a success. But then Puzzle and Dragons Z is perfect for those who want a bit more depth to their match-three puzzling. Either way, both contain the same fundamental gameplay that gives puzzle fans plenty to get their teeth into.
The tutorials cover everything reasonably well, and generally speaking the game is nicely presented.
Although their basic gameplay is simple, both versions of Puzzle and Dragons are surprisingly deep.
The Mario Edition features all the series' bells, whistles and jingles you'd expect. Z's music and effects are simple and generic.
Both games look good - although neither contain much that you won't have seen before in other games.
Puzzle and Dragons Super Mario Edition offers more immediate gameplay, while Puzzle and Dragons Z adds a storyline and RPG elements. Ultimately, both offer puzzle action that's addictive, fun and surprisingly deep.