When I was told that a copy of Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition was en route to my mailbox, I didn’t know what to think. First off, I’d never heard of the popular, free-to-play mobile game it’s based on, which has been downloaded over forty-million times. I’ve also done my best to shy away from reviewing puzzle games, as it’s a genre that tends to put me to sleep no matter how much I try to befriend it.
I’m not one to shy away from playing something out of my comfort zone if need be, so I opened the package, inserted its game card into my 3DS and gave it a fair shot. Still, neither one managed to turn me into a fan of puzzle games, or entice me to spend hours attempting to hone my skills in order to overcome their unfair difficulty spikes.
Having moved away from the comfortable confines of mobile gaming, and done away with its real-world currency desiring micro-transactions, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition gives us a chance to experience the series in a new way, via Nintendo’s handheld 3DS. The transition was a smart one, given that lots of people love to take puzzle games with them as they commute to their jobs or go away on vacations, and the developers deserve kudos for going the extra mile here. After all, this cart not only features one full game, but a second, Mario-themed, side game as well. Together, they make the package’s thirty US dollar price tag easier to digest, although some will still find the idea of paying money for a previously free-to-play game tough to deal with.
For better or worse, Puzzle & Dragons Z is a match-three puzzle game that borrows heavily from other series. Not in a quiet, unassuming way, either; it’s obvious that inspiration was liberally taken from other puzzle games, as well as Japan’s ever-popular Pokemon series. So much so, in fact, that I almost felt as if I was playing a Pokemon RPG during time spent outside of battle.
After choosing to play as either a young boy or girl, you conveniently wake up on the top floor of your mother’s house. She’s calling from downstairs, too, in order to alert you to the presence of your two friends and to tell you that you need to get ready for your big day. That’s because things begin on the day of your test, wherein you will do your best to prove that you’re a suitable candidate for the town’s protective dragon master team. Think of it as proving your worth to Professor Oak from Pokemon, although with more of a town guardian focus.
When you walk into the captain’s high-tech military base, complete with a state of the art dragon laboratory, you’re given three elemental dragons: one fire leader, one water-based specimen and one that is leaf-based. Then, you’re tasked with going into a virtual reality dungeon to prove your skills against digital evildoers. This scene takes a while, though, so don’t assume that you’ll breeze through it, because there’s far too much dialogue in this game. You’ll be reading quite a bit while itching to actually play.
Shortly after the introductory sequence, the world begins to shake and then starts to separate into different puzzle pieces. It’s the work of an evil league, whose leader wants to rule and cause chaos at the same time. Conveniently enough, his minions (who appear in dungeons and pester you with bad dialogue and annoying questions) are also dragon trainers, so you’ll know what to expect. If you don’t, then you haven’t played much Pokemon, if any.
The idea here is that you’re the young recruit with something to prove. You meet a strange creature, add it to your party and then tell your superiors that you’re strong enough to go out into the dangerous world in search of its several hidden world pieces. Those landmass-based puzzle pieces are the key to reuniting the continent and defeating the evil that threatens it.
As mentioned previously, Puzzle and Dragons Z is a match three game with an RPG twist. It’s nothing unique, and tasks you with building teams of collected monsters, all of whom have different elemental abilities, be it fire, water, leaf or light. You then unleash them against enemy creatures and other masters inside of on-rails, first-person dungeons.
In order to do well, you’ll train yourself to look for combo opportunities. This means matching three to five of the same coloured orbs in a way that allows for more sets to fall in line, adding extra elemental damage to your attacks. Plus, depending on which coloured orbs you match, something different will happen. Red will cause your party’s fire creatures to attack, blue will instigate a water attack and pink will replenish some of your health.
Things began as a breeze, even with my lack of puzzle game talent, then quickly became frustrating as I encountered bosses. I’ll admit that I suck at this type of game, but I didn’t find much fairness while battling giant monsters who were able to take large chunks of my team’s health bar away with each attack. I’d spend more time using my characters’ special abilities to heal, or matching pink hearts to try to get some health back, and would still get dominated by the beast. If I tried simply attacking, it’d happen faster, because my attacks — even those special abilities I referenced, which are more powerful than most and require earned ability points — would only cause a moderate amount of damage, if that.
Puzzle & Dragons Z seemed like a game that was newcomer and casual friendly, based on its art-style and Pokemon-like design, but it’s not. Even if you evolve your heroes into better forms and play intelligently, you’re still likely to get your ass kicked unless you’re a puzzle game vet.
Now, I’ve spent all this time talking about the first game, and have yet to touch on Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition. It’s because it comes off as more of a side game than its peer. That’s made evident by the fact that it doesn’t have much in the way of a story and simply tells you that Princess Peach has once again been captured. Orbs have also appeared in the Mushroom Kingdom, so you must use those to save the day, instead of simply jumping on the heads of baddies.
While I found the more relaxed atmosphere of Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition to be appealing, it suffers from the same difficulty issue as its peer and is also far from unique in its design. I played it after my time with Z and ended up becoming bored rather quickly.
What’s important to note, though, is that this side quest features worlds akin to what you’d find in a traditional Super Mario Bros. platformer. You move from one stage to another, taking out enemies that appear in first-person, using orbs that are coloured in the same way as they are in the other game. You’ll be able to add different leaders to your team, though, and will also get to choose a helper (like in Puzzle & Dragons Z), who then aids you in battle. The general idea is similar, though: Move through the land kicking ass, recruiting enemies of different types and finding new leaders to join your party. Level them up, evolve them into their better states (such as little Mario into Super Mario) and then do so again.
Presentation-wise, it’s tough to be very hard on this release as it does look nice, employing 2D visuals that are reminiscent of both Pokemon and Super Mario Bros. complete with lots of colour and detail. Marks can be taken off for some low-resolution menus, though, as well as Z‘s grating music.
Needless to say, it’s tough to wholeheartedly recommend Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition to the average gamer. Only those who love to play puzzle games and do so often will get the most out of this challenging and unoriginal package.
This review is based on the Nintendo 3DS title, which we were provided with.
Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is an interesting tale. On one hand, it's an alright match three puzzle game with nice presentation facets; while, on the other, it's full of borrowed mechanics and features unfair difficulty spikes that occur far too early on.