Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition may win the award for the lengthiest game title, but match-three puzzler fans have plenty to look forward to in this double dip.
GungHo Online Entertainment’s Puzzle & Dragon series began life in 2012 and blends puzzle, RPG and strategy elements together into a particularly addictive formula. Case in point is that it’s since been downloaded more than 41 million times worldwide, and it’s now the turn of the Nintendo 3DS to get in on the action.
This localised release bundles Puzzle & Dragons Z, which released in Japan way back in December 2013 to enormous success, alongside the entirely new Mushroom Kingdom-flavoured Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition – all for £24.99. Bargain.
Puzzle & Dragons Z has a distinct Pokémon flair to the experience outside of the match-three puzzle gameplay, not least in part to how the game’s overarching narrative begins. Having overslept on the day that you are due to take the Dragon Tamer test, your Mum yells upstairs as your friends Nick and Sara patiently wait outside.
A short dash across Zed City to the Ranger HQ, Captain Watari gifts the three of you receive your very own D-Gear – a device necessary to store any monster’s body as digital data that may then be deployed in battle situations. As part of your training, you are given red, blue and green eggs which can be hatched by using Ranger HQ’s ZEUS machine, analysing an egg’s genetic code to synthesise a monster from it. It’s all particularly clever and while as fantastical as Puzzle & Dragons Z’s setting, is an important component in how you can so easily build a loyal dragon army.
While tutorials will swiftly take you through GungHo’s masterfully considered match-three puzzle mechanics, more on that later, we soon shortly learn that all is not right with the world. After a minuscule dragon suffering from a bout of amnesia falls from the sky, you name it Syrup after it rejects Nick’s suggestion of Fuzzy the Pumped-Up Muscle Dragon as an alternative. This somewhat adorable companion flies around after you in the overworld, which reminded me of Pikachu calmly waddling behind you in Pokémon Yellow.
It has a somewhat important role to play when secret organisation Paradox led by Dogma the Charismatic Destroyer suddenly tears jigsaw-shaped pieces of land from the world. Hellbent on destroying everyone’s way of life, under Syrup’s guidance you set out to claim the World Pieces. Their power was once used to create the world, and they must now be recovered to avert disaster.
We’re back in the Mushroom Kingdom once again in Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition. When mysterious glowing Orbs suddenly start to appear, Princess Peach sends an invitation to Mario to investigate precisely what they’re for. Excitedly making a dash for Princess Peach’s Castle, the portly plumber soon learns from Toad that Bowser and his goons have once again kidnapped her.
After attacking the castle to capture the Orbs for their own devices, Kamek tampered with the Orbs causing them to suddenly overflow throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. With a more careful approach to using the power of Orbs for good, you set out for Bowser’s Castle to rescue her.
This simpler tale inevitably makes the game far more accessible by being far less text-heavy, players instead more readily thrust into the action with familiar characters that we’ve all grown to love.
Their narrative direction may differ, but at their core Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition are fundamentally similar experiences. Where you travel the lands battling your way through dungeons to activate World Pieces in one, you steadily progress through the Mushroom Kingdom’s differing Worlds in another. Where mighty dragons fight by your side in the world’s hour of need, Mario and pals set aside their differences to call on the likes of Koopas, Goombas, Piranha Plants, Banzai Bills and Cheep Cheeps.
You can form teams out of any characters that you’ve assembled so far in your quest. Although these can only comprise of a Leader, four dragons or allies and a Helper. Each has their own respective element(s), so it’s important to take a look at which enemies you’ll be facing to balance your team accordingly.
The match-three puzzle gameplay may seem simple at first glance, but take time to scratch beneath the surface and more deductive moves will reward you with a tactical advantage. Tapping and dragging an Orb will begin a countdown timer, during which you must position the Orb to line up vertically or horizontally with others that match its element. Do so successfully, and the Orbs will power up the attack of anyone in your team with the corresponding element. The attack’s strength can be heightened by other Orbs falling neatly into place once they’ve disappeared, the lengthier Orb chain widening the targets you will attack whereas clearing multiple lines of Orbs sparks a combo chain that will multiply the damage dealt. Phew.
What makes Puzzle & Dragons different to similar match-three puzzlers is that as you drag an Orb around, those that it passes over are nudged to the space that it just moved from. This can take an hour or so to completely comprehend, but will soon result in you neatly aligning Orbs to deliver mighty blows.
Orbs contain several elements – namely Dark, Fire, Light, Water and Wood – that each has their strengths and weaknesses against one another as you’d expect. Whereas your survival in battle will also rely on you closely monitoring your health meter, and turning to Heart Orbs to heal whenever needed. It doesn’t end there either, with combos building a separate skill meter that will allow you to use a special move that may let you switch an Orbs element, protect you from taking so much damage, or temporarily strengthening your attacks.
Victory will reward you with experience and currency to steadily level your team. You can also gain eggs or computerised chips in Puzzle & Dragons Z, while Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition will give you allies and items that you’ll recognise from your previous Mushroom Kingdom travels. Rush back to Ranger’s HQ or Toad’s House, and these can either be swapped into your team or sacrificed for an experience boost that can help to significantly level your favourite choices. On the other hand, chips and items can be used to evolve characters in your team, which is worthwhile but will result in their level starting over from scratch.
What’s surprising is that while Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition’s inclusion will undoubtedly help to draw more curiosity toward GungHo’s irrefutably addictive puzzler, it is Puzzle & Dragons Z that delivers the more worthwhile experience. Take away the sheen of the Mushroom Kingdom’s recognisable stars and rolling primary colour hills, and you’ll realise that Nintendo’s creative spark hasn’t burned as bright this time around. There’s also a notable discrepancy with Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition’s difficulty, which can be particularly punishing in places if you don’t take time to steadily grind your team to match.
Still, as a complete package Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is an irresistible double dose of puzzling goodness that’ll see addiction welcomingly set in. Bursting with content that will keep you busy for hours on end, this portable puzzler duo is well worth the modest price tag.