Review: Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition for Nintendo 3DS

This is the story all about how my games got flipped, turned upside down…

You were probably expecting an image of Mario and friends in the banner, weren’t you? Funny story about that: there weren’t any good images from the game that would fit.

Okay, so that wasn’t very funny. My experience with the game might elicit a chuckle, however.

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I had no particular interest in Puzzle & Dragons Z when it was revealed that it would be brought over to North America on the Nintendo 3DS, but when I heard that there was a Super Mario Bros. version coming with it? As you might imagine, that immediately got my attention. I’d never played Puzzle & Dragons before, but this seemed like the perfect way to introduce myself to it — more so, because Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition is touted as being the “for new players” version of the game.

Well… I suppose that they weren’t entirely wrong, in a sort of “throw the baby in and let them learn how to swim” sort of way. Or, in more contemporary terms, like Piccolo training Gohan in Dragon Ball Z Abridged (a little Not Safe For Work, that).

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At first, things went well enough. You move along a New Super Mario Bros.-styled world map to different levels, entering and facing groups of enemies you dispose of by matching three or more colored orbs to trigger attacks from your various party members who share those colors/elements. Defeat one batch, move on to the next, and continue until you beat the level. Simple, right?

Well, yes and no. While this is a puzzle game on the surface, Puzzle & Dragons is a role playing game at its core. As such, there are all kinds of stats, abilities, traits, and other things to build your party and strategies around. What’s more, these change from one level to the next. “Oh, this level has no fire gems, so my fire guys are useless.”

I tried this, even as much as I hate sacrificing up Little Goombas and Koopa Troopas to buff up others of the same, and yet… as you progress just a bit into the game, so much of it seemed to come down to chance. Bosses like the Koopalings have a tendency to slaughter you wholesale, even if you bring your best, and the randomness of the gems you have to work with don’t always help — though I did completely annihilate Lemmy in one round with one shot, which was pretty cool.

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To be honest, that’s why this particular review took so long to come out. Granted, I’m not always the most timely with these, but in this particular case, I felt like I just wasn’t getting it — that despite the presence of Mario, this game just wasn’t for me, and to review it would likely do a disservice to what seems to be a well-regarded franchise.

I didn’t want to just give up on it, though. I’d put it down, but come back to it and try some grinding, and I tried replaying levels — sometimes just using pure attrition until something clicks or breaks works, which in itself is not a gameplay tactic I favor — but it just was not working out for me. Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition may be just right for someone, but I’m sad to say that it’s not for me. And I hate saying that about any Mario game — the last one that made me feel this way was Mario Pinball Land. Heck, any Mario game with the Penguin Suit (oh, and Poison Mushrooms, of course) should be an automatic win in my book.

In the process of dealing with it, I did notice something — namely my wife playing much, much more of the “more advanced” game, Puzzle & Dragons Z. Two games in one, right? Might as well give the other one a shot.

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Oh, what a fool I had been! At least, that’s how I felt upon playing Puzzle & Dragons Z.

The game is a little more RPG-like, insomuch as it has an overworld to explore instead of the Mario-styled map progression, and the basic premise feels like your basic kid-oriented anime fare — your Pokemon, your Yu-Gi-Oh, whatever else features a group of plucky young protagonists learning to control powerful monsters and save the world from an evil organization full of colorful characters. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either, but how you receive such concepts might play into how much you enjoy this or not.

That said, as a fan of dragons and other fancy mythical creatures, I really like the designs. And for those interested, you can also choose to play as a boy or girl avatar of your choosing, the ever-reliable “silent protagonist” in either case. Some of the dialogue is kind of fun and funny, too.

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The game otherwise plays by and large like its Mushroom Kingdom counterpart, but I found it altogether less brutal and a lot more fun. That isn’t to say I just breezed through, but the difficulty seems to ramp up appropriately as you progress, rather than the leading-a-lamb-to-slaughter jump that Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition takes.

In truth, I wish I’d gone with Puzzle & Dragons Z from the start. I found it to be the much more enjoyable of the two games, despite the puzzling swerve that says newcomers ought to try the Mario side first.

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Both games do share some tendencies I found irksome, though. In particularly, you’ll come across items that require you to fulfill a task on the puzzle grid — clear away five Water gems, for example. But sometimes, you won’t have what’s required to beat the challenge at all, and you come away feeling a little bit cheated.

Your ability to actually match gems is restricted in both to a turn-based format as well, and after just moving (not even matching) one gem, you’ll often have to wait for the enemies to attack before you can do so again, and that includes watching their battle animations. Fortunately, you can turn those animations off (or at least make them less elaborate) to speed things along, which is the route I took.

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Generally speaking, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition is a great deal for the already low Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. Puzzle & Dragons Z is worth it on its own, and while I sadly can’t really say I feel the same way about Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition, it isn’t without its value. If nothing else, those who want more of a challenge can look to Mario and friends to really take things up a notch — almost like a free second quest with a Lost Levels edge.

N3DS_PuzzleandDragons_pkgPuzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition was released for the Nintendo 3DS on May 22nd, 2015 at a price of $34.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.

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About the author

David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.