Mobile gaming was such a nice dream back in the day, huh? We’d all be carrying these little computers in our pockets that could play all kinds of fantastic games! Of course, these days we know that’s not how it turned out – aside from the odd gem like Implosion: Never Lose Hope, mobile games are mostly money-and-time sinks that pervert the rewarding aspect of games into a cash-grubbing treadmill. If you can endure being nickel-and-dimed, there are a few mobile games out there that are still worth a look – one of those is the mega-hit Puzzle and Dragons, now available on 3DS with the absurdly long title Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Edition. This gives us a chance to see what happens if you unshackle a mobile game and give it a real home.
The basics of Puzzle and Dragons are the same across both versions of the game. If you’ve played Bejeweled or Puzzle Quest, you might be familiar with the concept: there’s a board full of orbs and your job is to slide them around in order to make matches of three or more. Unlike most match-three games, you’re able to freely move a single orb around for a short period on each turn, allowing you to manually create chains of matches.
P&D’s gimmick is that matching these orbs allows the monsters on your team to attack. Each monster is associated with an element, and matching the correct orb will result in an attack that turn, with larger matches resulting in increased damage. Since you can customize your own five-monster team, this means that there are two basic schools of thought: a multi-colored or “rainbow” team includes one monster of each color, resulting in attacks from any match, while a mono-colored or “mono” team, resulting in more powerful attacks from particular matches but nothing from others. Meanwhile, every turn brings the opposing monsters one step closer to taking their own swings, causing damage and potentially losing the match if you run out of HP.
The 3DS title uses slightly different mechanics from the mobile version of P&D. The most obvious aspect of this is that all the abusive microtransaction nonsense is gone, which may make this a bizarre experience for players switching from the phone to 3DS versions of the game. Monsters that used to be available only from the cash-gobbling Rare Egg Machine are now freely available and up for grabs, for instance. What’s more, leveling your monsters is now much less of a chore, so it’s far easier to try out new monsters. Oh, and there’s no stamina system. Play all you want. Play until your eyes bleed. Play forever! You probably will – P&D is a great time, especially now that it’s not begging you to pay up every five seconds.
This enhanced version of the game is actually two titles in one, and the specifics of how things work vary depending on the game. Puzzle and Dragons Z is a traditional JRPG using P&D mechanics for combat, while Puzzle and Dragons: Super Mario Edition features classic Mario characters and a more direct approach to the game, eschewing most of the JRPG aspects. It’s probably easiest to look at the two games individually.
P&DZ was originally released by itself in Japan and basically plays out like one of the Pokemon clones that used to be all the rage back in the late 90s and early 2000s. You’re a plucky preteen (of course) who joins a do-gooder organization (of course) called the Rangers (of course) to battle a villainous group’s evil schemes (of course) using your team of monsters. Of course. Not to imply the plot’s a complete waste of time, except it kind of is. You didn’t come here for the plot, after all, you came here for some puzzling, and that’s exactly what you’ll get. The dungeon-crawling aspect of things is a little more developed, featuring treasure chests to open via the P&D mechanics (cool!) and branching paths, which you have to choose between using the P&D mechanics (huh?)
This game features a variety of the classic monsters players might know and love from the mobile game – and, as mentioned, they’ll all much more readily available here. There are plenty of new faces as well. Monster skills, which are individual to each monster and used to offer an edge during battle, are powered by a charging bar system here as opposed to the cooldown system seen in the mobile game. Monster evolution functions in a slightly different manner, requiring the use of Chips randomly dropped from monsters. One quirk is that Chips for later evolutions are only available later in the game, so you might be stuck at an evolutionary hurdle with some of your monsters for quite some time.
Finally, as in the phone game, you’ll select a Helper before each stage – basically a sixth monster that provides an additional source of attacks and a passive boost like your own Leader monster. In the mobile game, these consist of your friends’ leader monsters, but in P&DZ, the selection of Helpers is pretty awful and is slightly randomized between stages. Essentially, this means that it’s difficult to maximize your team’s effectiveness for no real reason. Despite this, it’s still P&D at heart, so you’re bound to have a good time with P&DZ.
Meanwhile, the Super Mario Edition focuses on trimming out all that fat. There’s a classic Mario map screen and you’re going to be roaming around it, playing “stages” using P&D mechanics. It’s basically just P&D with a Mario skin slapped on top of it, though since it was developed later it uses slightly different mechanics than P&DZ. For instance, it features the cooldown-based skill system from the mobile game. While this could have easily been a throwaway gimmick to help sell the title in a market that’s less familiar with P&D, there’s actually quite a bit to do here and it does play out like another separate game.
The sheer amount of content available here combined with the fact that it’s tied together with one of the best puzzle games around means that Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Edition is a fantastic value. It’s also a great example of exactly how much mobile game concepts hold back potentially amazing games. When you take away the stamina system and nickel-and-diming, it turns out Puzzle and Dragons can easily stand on its own, and you can’t say that about many mobile games.