Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Drew Hurley 29.05.2015

Review for Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition on Nintendo 3DS

Puzzle & Dragons is a social gaming phenomenon in Japan. In the West, it had a measure of success, but the casual mobile market here is already overflowing with King Entertainment's games, such as Candy Crush Saga in all its versions. With GungHo's game making the jump to Nintendo 3DS, does the same attraction of the mobile version come with it? Without the mobile gaming style of microtransactions, random chance on collecting monsters, and amounts of lives geared around a time-based system, how does this two-in-one edition featuring Mario translate?

For those new to the concept, Puzzle & Dragons is a simple "Match-3" game, but with some unique twists. First off, instead of being able to swap adjoining symbols à la Bejeweled and Candy Crush, any symbol can be selected and moved freely around the board for a limited time. As it moves it pushes along every other symbol in the way, making it so that numerous combos of matches can be caused all across the board, pushing and rearranging the symbols in their path. As opposed to most puzzle games, the stages are not completed by hitting a set score within a set amount of moves or the usual common win conditions. Here, enemies are battled against, and by making matches, damage is dealt to enemies, or health can be regenerated. Each of the enemies then has a countdown of moves until they can reciprocate attacks.

To battle these enemies, a party must be crafted from dragons and other creatures that can be acquired randomly as stages are travelled through, which can then be levelled up and evolved. The Pokémon-esque elements of collecting, levelling, evolving and party building are some of the strongest aspects of the game. There is the usual rock, paper, scissors-style element-based combat system behind the symbols used in the matching. Fire beats Wood, Wood beats Water, Water beats Fire, and Light/Dark are effective against each other, along with a heart symbol that when matched results in healing. Each of the creatures can have one or more elements, and building an effective party to battle against the menagerie of fantastical enemies is essential.

On top of the elemental-based strengths and weaknesses, there are special moves for each monster, combo bonuses, special powered-up orbs, and more, making for so much more than a simple Match-3 puzzle game. Defeating enemies can reward with new creatures to add to the party or to use to power up other creatures, and special items to later evolve them.

Screenshot for Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition on Nintendo 3DS

The big draw of this game finally hitting the 3DS in the West over the free version available on mobile is the ability to play whenever and as much as is desired. Players of the original mobile game, or indeed most freemium mobile games in general, will be very familiar with the model of having a set amount of lives or stamina that restrict how much they can play, and those awkward moments that are born from this when they have time to play more but can't, unless, of course, they're willing to part with some cash.

As already mentioned, this release is actually a bundle of two games - Puzzle & Dragons Z and Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition - and each of the offerings feels geared toward a different audience. Puzzle & Dragons Z seems to be aimed at newcomers to the game, as it's a lot easier, and even puzzle newbies will find little challenge in the stages throughout. P&DZ also offers more of a rounded gameplay experience; unlike the mobile game, there is an overarching story to follow and a world outside of the puzzle stages and dungeons.

Originally released in Japan way back in December 2013, P&DZ places users in the shoes of a young boy who wishes to become a Pokémon trainer… No, wait, a Dragon Tamer… The story starts in his room, where his mum sends him off to get his first Poké… dragons! However, the evil organisation Team Rocket… No, wait, Paradox… want to abuse dragon powers, and… Well, it's not difficult to predict. The whole plot, and indeed the entire feel of the game, are heavily derivative of - and lifted wholesale from at points - Pokémon. In the worst examples, it seems very much like a cheap imitation of the earlier Pokémon games. Thankfully, the world outside the puzzles is limited, but the "story" and world exploring aspects are certainly one of the weakest aspects of the "Z" part of this double pack.

Screenshot for Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition on Nintendo 3DS

The other side of this two-in-one title, the Super Mario Bros. Edition, is fairly new both here and in Japan, being released just April this year in the East. The concept of other franchise's characters being included with Puzzle & Dragons is nothing new, as there have been numerous collaborations with the mobile game already, including being able to acquire Superman and Batman while battling Joker and Darkseid, capture Frieza and the Ginyu Force from Dragon Ball Z, and even recruit EVA Pilots to battle against the Angels of Evangelion.

The Mario Bros. Edition seems more geared to those who have already experienced the traditional game. There are a handful of tutorial stages, which quickly throw the gamer in the deep end, and then a series of stages one after another with little deviation. There's no real story, other than Bowser has kidnapped Peach… again… and Mario sets off across eight worlds battling and recruiting the inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom. It's kind of a strange premise, really, to be able to craft a party of Goombas and Koopas to battle them against Bowser, alongside the usual Mario, Toad, Yoshis, etc.

The eight worlds are very fun to play through and offer an experience closer to the original mobile version of the game - just back-to-back battling with no story and a higher difficulty level than that found in P&DZ. Moves need to be really thought about and planning ahead appropriately in order to not be wiped out is paramount. The enemies are rarely able to be taken out with a single move and can counter with some special abilities that make the battles more interesting, such as locking out members of the party, hiding some of the symbols on the board, and changing symbols around. It makes for some great puzzling battles.

Screenshot for Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition on Nintendo 3DS

The difficulty is still a small issue in the Mario Bros. Edition. Experienced Puzzle & Dragons players will find little challenge here, and while the removal of the stamina restrictions on playtime is great for binge playing, it means there is no real downside to failing a battle or a dungeon - they can just be tried again and again. There's easily 30 hours or so to play through the main game, and even after it's done with, there's a lot to provide entertainment, including playing through each of the worlds for the rare dropped creatures. On top of this, there are a significant amount of creatures to collect, special dungeons that can be unlocked, time attack and score attack modes, party makeups to experiment with, and, of course, the addictive nature of the core puzzle gameplay that all makes for a game that entices fans to come back for more and more.

Collecting the creatures will be a focus for the majority, as both games have numerous ones to acquire and evolve, from all the different flavours of Goombas and Koopa Troopas in Super Mario Bros. Edition, to some fan-favourites in the mobile version of P&DZ. It's not just for cosmetics, either; thanks to the different creatures' stats and special abilities, they make for a whole deeper level of party building and gameplay.

On the whole, this release is a fantastic experiment in giving complete freedom in the type of game where actions are constrained, and it has had a very surprising result. While both offerings in this double pack are a lot of fun and offer a perfect entry point for newcomers, owners will likely be split between Mario Bros. Edition and Z based on what they find best about the game. For the quick access, pick-up-and-put-down user, Mario Bros. Edition is the real draw, and for those that want a bigger world and story around their game, it's Z. Bundling the two was a great idea, with most finding something that will appeal. There is a reason Puzzle & Dragons remains in the top ten of YouTube gameplay videos - it is a lot of fun to play and ridiculously addicting, and along with that, there are real levels of skill and complexity inherent to the game that only the best can really exploit to impress. A lot of this has carried over, and this 3DS game will definitely result in more people picking up the mobile version.

Screenshot for Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Bundling the two games together in this pack and releasing it for a lower price point makes this title all the more worthwhile. Although Puzzle & Dragons veterans will likely find little to keep their interest over the mobile game, it's a superb standalone puzzle title for the wider audience, and will likely be the gateway to the mobile version for many.

Developer

GungHo

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Puzzle

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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