Puzzle & Dragons Z Review: Role-Puzzling Game


Developer: GungHo Online Entertainment

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: May 22nd

This review (and its score) will focus mainly on Puzzle & Dragons Z, although Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition will be discussed.

As games companies abandon the console and handheld gaming platforms to hop onto the mobile bandwagon, it’s rare for the transition to go the opposite way. So is the case for GungHo Online Entertainment’s Puzzle & Dragons Z, with the franchise making the jump from iOS and Android phones to the Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo is even repackaging the original 2012 mobile title by reskinning it with Mario characters. There is a lot to be excited about, on the surface. Unfortunately, the depth of gameplay remains but surface deep.

Puzzle & Dragons Z is an oddity among the “Match 3” style of game, in that it has a substantially lengthy story. Keeping to its Nintendo handheld RPG core, you play just a regular teenager, trying out to be a Dragon Tamer in order to keep the world safe while helping out fellow citizens. On your first day, the planet is invaded by the supernatural Paradox order, breaking it up into jigsaw-like pieces above the sky. Using the power to harness small dragon-like creatures and their power orbs, you set off to seek the world’s mythical dragons in your quest to restore world order.

If you replace mythical dragons with badges and dragon-like creatures with Pokemon, you would see where Puzzle & Dragons Z takes heavy inspiration from. Everything about the game’s aesthetic screams Pokemon knockoff, down to the character portraits and Team Rocket-esque villains you encounter along your journey. This game is a casual puzzle title first and RPG second, and the attempt to cash in on a fellow Nintendo-partnered company’s titles is clear as day.

Thankfully, it is within actual gameplay mechanics where Puzzles & Dragons Z starts to make a name for itself. You start with a few dragon eggs that hatch into fire, water and earth-type creatures at level 1. Along your journey, you will encounter wild monsters that need to be attacked using the power of lining up power orbs in a row. In an RPG twist, each of your creatures has a set of stats that increases upon leveling up with XP, including a base collection of health, attack and defense. Furthermore, each of your creatures will carry its own special skills that aid the progress of battle, including special attacks, defensive measures and temporary stat boosts. You can also evolve certain creatures once you obtain enough monster-specific data chips, which are obtained as drops alongside additional monster eggs that can join your party.

Puzzle & Dragons Z does “Match 3” combat in a unique way by allowing you to drag an orb wherever you want on your bottom screen in order to match multiple sets of colored orbs at once. For example, look at the above image. One could drag the green orb (near the top right corner) up one slot, dragging the yellow orb down to match 3 in a row, while continuing to move around the grid for a short period of time. That way, you can maximize the amount of combos you can do in a row, in turn maximizing your damage output. It is here where skill comes into play in tandem with strategy.

I have to say; never in my life have I played quite a game like Puzzle & Dragons Z. Its departure from the simple Match-3 mechanics by evolving it with RPG elements brings a level of variance one isn’t quite used to. Each stage, dungeon and temple you come across has monsters of a certain type (fire, water, earth, light, dark), with certain orbs of their likeness dropping in and out of the grid’s rotation. You actually need to plan out multiple teams in order to optimize your combat skills, attacks and defense. Bringing light creatures that do light attacks in a level with no light orbs present is a costly mistake, and shows that the game actually grows out of its basic trappings into something where you need to constantly pay attention to what you’re doing.

As the game progresses into its later stages, however, you start to realize that the extent of its gameplay becomes rather stale. In Puzzles & Dragons Z, once you figure out what you’re doing in maximizing damage output, defensive measures and evolving/powering up your team, gameplay becomes a monotonous timesink. The same sorts of similarly looking monsters will appear along the basic-designed hallways with minimal progress forks across roughly a half-dozen different lands, with minimal sidequests that amount to “fetch this item from this chest on this level so I can give you a bonus item.” It is in that manner in which Puzzles & Dragons Z is a mobile title dressed up for the 3DS platform; a quick introduction to mechanics as monsters’ health and attacks increase in damage to pad the length of play.

Puzzles & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is more representative of the classic mobile title, except now it includes Mario characters. Somehow, similar to Nintendo convincing Musou gameplay wasn’t a repetitive bore with Hyrule Warriors due to Nintendo IP’s involvement, basic gameplay is spiced up by including the likes of Goombas, Koopa Troopas, plus variants of Mario & Luigi. This edition is even more pared down than Puzzles & Dragons Z: follow a (mostly) straight line full of enemy encounters across 8 different worlds. Some of them automatically join you after a level (World 1-2, 2-3, etc.) is completed, which can be used to feed into leveling up other characters. Furthermore, evolutions require fewer items, with even more straightforward gameplay progression.

There is a solid base gameplay mechanic at heart for both these titles, but it’s clear that it was designed for a specific casual audience that is more accustomed to basic progression creeps that fill up app stores. When I see groups of dragon-like creatures pair up to do damage numbers in the 40,000+ range from battle #1, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Puzzle & Dragons Z’s changes to the Match-3 system make it more viable as a basis, but when you get close to 10 hours’ worth of playing focusing on it, the allure is mostly gone.

At the very least, Nintendo did the humble thing and bring two games into one package that was completely devoid of microtransactions, while at a reduced price than standard 3DS fare. Previously, real-life money could be pumped into certain stages, meaning the outcome of matches has a heightened sense of urgency. Now, in Puzzle & Dragons Z there is no sense of urgency for losing battles. You still get to keep the same XP, items and bonuses accumulated, and now you got to try again with a stronger team. There should have been changes made to character progression in order to give weight to losses. Instead, the only penalty of loss is your time.


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If Match-3 is the type of gameplay style you most enjoy out of anything else in the games industry, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition is a pleasant offering with dozens of hours ahead in waiting. For the majority of others, the puzzle-RPG nature should provide an alluring tease that is squandered by basic difficulty progression that is usually reserved for games trying to squeeze as many microtransactions out of you as possible. Even though that aspect has been removed, there is no evidence that it had been replaced with significant advances in its style. Simply put, it’s as appealing as mobile game designs on a handheld gaming platform can be.

A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.

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