Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition Review (Nintendo 3DS)
While Puzzle & Dragons Z centers on dragon tamers who are determined to bring harmony and world peace to their world, one battle at a time, the Super Mario Bros. version has Luigi, Mario, and a slew of their cronies attempting to rescue Princess Peach once again from the clutches of Bowser. Standing in your way of success are numerous enemies who are guarding the baddie's castle, which translates into a ton of puzzles to conquer. The obvious selling point for Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition is that it's two games in one. Thankfully, it's more than just a grab bag of match-3 puzzlers to wile away your time, and if you're into immersive gameplay this enchanting adventure should steer you in the right direction.
Although match-3 puzzlers can be simplified to a fault, Puzzle & Dragons adds a subtle amount of breadth to the genre. Your goal is to match different colored orbs during the fights, and the more combinations of orbs you match during one turn, the higher damage you'll inflict on the enemy. Various colored orbs will match a certain fighter in the group, and once, say a series of green orbs are matched, the brawling tactics of Bash will be unearthed Bundling up several blue orbs douses your enemies with water, while the red orbs introduce a fiery attack into the mix. The heart based orbs are not tied into any one of your fighters, but when matched together they will increase your group’s overall hit points. Since the goal is to get as many combos per attacks, figuring what colored orbs you want to group together isn’t as important as matching the orbs, which in turn could set off a chain reaction of combos. Thus, there’s just as much luck involved as strategy when battling it out.
After a series of successful battles, skill tactics will be unlocked to help you deal even a greater blow to your adversaries. For example, one of Bash's abilities is the "tackle" feature which, when chosen, will deal twenty times the amount of damage to a specific opponent. Unlike many match-3 titles wherein objects can only be moved within a certain a location, you can move any orb on the board with your stylus to find the perfect match. With the skill tactics feature and the free roaming of the orbs, Puzzle & Dragons is much more immersive than the average pick up and play puzzler.
The game's strongest asset is the abundance of its customization options. If you want to power up a particular character, just merge that person with another member of your group. That member who is then effectively "de-powered" no longer exists, while your chosen fighter's skill set incrementally increases. During your adventures, random items will be collected and added to your inventory, and if you have the right amount of a certain object, you can spend it and "transform" one of your members into a slightly different type of warrior. For example, Red Koopa grew wings once I transformed him; he is now dubbed Red Koopa Paratroopa.
The only real drawback behind Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition is that even though each level ends with a Boss match, the game is relatively easy to play. Even if you don't get the right match combos and actually lose to your opponent, you have the choice of either ending the game or continuing the fight. Although it's a wonderful cheat, having no particular repercussions after losing a battle lessens the game's overall stakes. Though I may not wish for a Fire Emblem permadeath to permeate the Puzzle & Dragons universe, adding a bit of difficulty to the proceedings would have been welcome.
While the Mario Bros. version is set within the sunshiny environs of the Mushroom Kingdom, Puzzle & Dragons Z has a slightly darker tone, as some of your adventures set within the confines of a dungeon. Along with various dragons serving as your party members, a diminutive dragon named Syrup is by your side trying to help you save the world (although your fellow dragon tamers are featured in the cut scenes for exposition, it's the dragons who join you in the fights).
Although both titles have the same customization elements and gameplay aesthetic, Puzzle & Dragons Z is overwhelmingly dialogue- and story-driven, giving it a deeper RPG feel than Mario's world. If Puzzle & Dragons Z was a standalone feature, the idea of wading through countless minutes of chatter before getting into battle would have been frustrating, but it also serves as a refreshing counterpoint to the action driven construct of Mario's universe.
Even with the lack of gameplay difficulty in both universes, the abundance customization features and the innate addiction inherent to match-3 puzzlers kept me glued to my 3DS for hours on end. Whether its channeling your Khaleesi or rescuing Princess Peach from danger, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition keeps the adventure fresh and exciting, and even if I'm easily resurrected from death a thousand times over, I'm more than happy to spend a little more time in the Mushroom Kingdom.
This review is based on a retail copy of Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition provided by the publisher for Nintendo 3DS.