The 3DS puzzle game double-pack shows a lot of promise.
Puzzle & Dragons is coming to 3DS in May, and GungHo Online Entertainment, the original publisher for the series, had both Z and Super Mario Bros. Edition, which are being sold together in one package, at their PAX East booth this year. Even though my time with both demos was brief, it’s tough not to see a bit of promise in the double-pack.
Puzzle & Dragons is a match-three game with a nice coat of paint. In other words, on the bottom screen, the point of the game is to rack up points by matching three or more of the same color gem/orb/power-up (in Mario’s case). Rather than building points, the games are framed as RPGs; when you do a great job of matching your gems, you do element-based attacks with a team of monsters you collect and deal a certain amount of HP damage to your enemies. Combos deal more damage, and using special attacks that help clear the board result in more damage.
Both Z and Super Mario Bros. Edition structure this in different ways. In Puzzle & Dragons Z, the game is a full RPG with some kind of RPG story, leveling, monster collection and battling, and more. I fought one of the game’s main bosses, a wood-element dragon, and despite the fact that I was ostensibly playing a puzzle game, it really did feel like a challenging JRPG battle. There was no time in the demo to level or get a good feel for the story/dialogue, but the look of the game made me think it was going to have a light-RPG attitude similar to Inazuma Eleven.
Super Mario Bros. Edition uses the exact same style of gameplay, but rather than an RPG structure, the game is set up like levels in a Mario title, with a 1-1, 1-2, boss stage, and so on. You can choose a leader character like Mario or Luigi (as opposed to the protagonist of Z), and your team, made up of Bowser minions, can be customized and evolved (as in, Goomba would evolve into Paragoomba). You fight some minions, go through a beautiful, crisp looking visual approximation of a Mario level, and at the end you fight some kind of boss. I fought a big Goomba in the demo, but it appears that the Koopalings will be making boss appearances as well.
Because the RPG part has been diminished for the sake of Mario trappings, this one seems like it will be easier to get into. However, the second part of this demo, which took place in a darker, later world than the first (which was just a traditional Mario plains world), was extremely difficult, so it looks like the challenge of this series isn’t going anywhere. I liked this game a bit less than Z, as I felt the RPG mechanics suit this game more than Mario gameplay, but I definitely preferred the inspired aesthetic of Super Mario Bros. Edition to the monsters in Z.
I enjoyed my time with both. They are truly very similar games with a different wrapping, but I can see a little bit of the reason why these games are so popular. By taking a puzzle game and making everything surrounding it Pokémon combat, most issues anyone can have with puzzle games go away. I personally don’t play many traditional puzzle or matching games because I’m bad at them and they always tend to get repetitive to me after a while. I’m feeling none of that with these two games, and that’s really refreshing.