Traveling to a magical land where dragons reign surpreme!
We’ve previously covered the Puzzle and Dragons Super Mario Edition portion of the upcoming two-pack of puzzle goodness. Where that version quickly gets you to the action, Puzzle & Dragons Z builds up a world and RPG around it. Despite it coming in a package with the one of the most famed characters in video games, Puzzle & Dragons Z made even more a believer out of me and that is quite wonderful.
You are transported to the world of Draconia, which is a land where humans and dragons live in harmony with one another. Certain personnel, named Dragon Tamers, have the power to enslave these creatures and make them listen to their every command. This is where you come into the picture, as your character is a brand new recruit trying to help out the world. You have come at the right moment too, because a mysterious power is tearing Draconia apart and turning fragments of it into puzzle pieces. Now you have to travel from dungeon to dungeon and destroy anybody who is in your path. This includes a host of rogue monsters, but also the mysterious organisation known as Paradox. They have plans to destroy the world and change it to how they see it fit. The story edges somewhat on Pokemon territory, but it has enough interesting turns to make it really tick.
Luckily, the game isn't all serious matters. While the images on the screen are static, the game really knows to pull some comedic punches as well. Paradox members will talk about the most random things and all of the side characters have their own quirky themes to them. Next to that, you will also befriend a dragon named Syrup who actually talks to you. His dialogue gives an impression that he talks with quite a British accent to boot, but sadly, I will have to imagine the voice in my head for the time being.
Unlike the Super Mario Bros. Edition, Puzzle & Dragons Z features a hub world for you to explore. The primary thing here is the Ranger HQ, which is where you prepare for your next journey. New dragons don't join you instantly like the Mario characters and they come in the form of eggs. These eggs will feature one of the five prominent attributes, but for the rest, it is mostly a surprise what you will be getting. You can also use these same eggs to power up other creatures that you have on you and it becomes a rather rough call. Once you sacrifice an egg, it will be gone and the dragon inside will never see the light of day. Choosing between a big varied collection or a smaller stronger one is a decision that only you can make in the end. Along your journey, you will also be collecting chips and these can further enhance the skills of your monsters and evolve them to new beings.
Next to your preperation at the HQ, you will talk to the citizens of Zed City. The citizens will give you various quests and rewards to boot, which gives you a good chunk of extra content to tackle. You can also visit special dungeons by giving special artifactes at The Shrine or fight your way through virtual arenas in the Dragon Colosseum. It is a time attack mode in the sense that you have clear it within five minutes and get the best score possible. The best thing about these virtual dungeons is that they offer routes for various different skill levels, so it really continues being fun.
The real star of the show is the story mode though and it is here where the game shows its true colors. You have all sorts of areas to tackle and the worlds are named things like Horai and Nirai Kanai. The worlds each have various destinations to them and each of these gives you a number of dungeons to tackle. While the gameplay is not much different from the SMB version, Puzzle & Dragons Z offers refreshing twists and turns that make the experience quite an engaging one. There are more branching paths in the dungeons and you will have to think more about your steps. Each path gives you different objectives to tackle and that makes the replay value for each level quite decent. There is a purpose to them as well as hidden monsters and special items appear to make your day!
The various bosses you fight at the end of the stages are way more interesting as well. They have original designs that are directly striking and eye catching. Their looks are backed up by some heavy attacks, so good orb swiping skills are certainly must against them. If you happen to fail, you will have to start from the beginning as there are no options to revive yourself like in the Super Mario Bros. Edition. This makes every decision carry more weight and make you truly consider your puzzle combo options. The difficulty ramps up also quicker here and there is less hand holding when compared to the other version. I actually quite like that as it leaves you some stuff to uncover on your very own. The stages are also slightly longer in Puzzle & Dragons Z, which is understable, thanks to the dialogue and extra possibilities.
The presentation features pixel art while you walk through the Zed City, while the dungeons offer drawn animations. While it all looks sharp, I do find the imagery of the characters and monsters a bit too static. You get used to it after a bit, but considering the heavy 3D usage, I think that a lot more could have been done in theory. The music is excellent though and it brings the right spirit of adventure to this fully packed adventure!
Puzzle & Dragons Z is, so far, a very fun take on this mobile classic. It is packed with all sorts of content and there seems to be a reason to replay levels often. The progression is also faster than the Mario edition, which should please most players. While the presentation could have been better, the story's dialogue is witty and brought a smile to my face. The whole RPG wrapper just feels right for the Nintendo 3DS, and yet, it doesn't lose the simple pleasures of swiping on your beloved touchscreen. You can't ask for more!