Puzzle & Dragons Z’s story goes a bit like this. You play as a young Dragon fighter, who has to deal with a group of baddies called the Paradox. They are led by a really nasty fellow named Dogma, who has broken up the world into puzzle pieces. You have to fight your way through Dogma’s army to put the world back together, while still dispatching Paradox fighters along the way. Pretty straightforward stuff.
To be open and honest about my experience with Puzzle & Dragons Z, I have none prior to this game. I have read that it started on the mobile platform, but the idea of a game that looks nothing more than a rip-off of Columns certainly would not have peaked by interest upon first glance had I caught this on my iPhone. It seems from a distance that there is nothing to it other than trying to go Candy Crush on circular gems and eliminating a bunch at a time, right? Wrong.
The gameplay in Puzzle & Dragons Z is far different than what it looks like it might be. It certainly does allow for matching of 3-4-5 gems at a time in a horizontally/vertically manner, while looking for combinations to make the ultimate blow in the game more powerful. That is understood and could be compared to games like Candy Crush or Columns. Now, what makes it incredibly different than other games of its genre is the fact that you can take gems and move them anywhere on the board to better strategize and make it a less ‘lucky’ experience when executing combinations. That is vital and a huge important factor in separating this game from other puzzle games on the market.
For new people like me, I guess you’re wondering why you want to strive to make combinations? Scoring can’t be the only reason, as that reason has been beaten to death. Well, attached to this puzzle gameplay is a firm role-playing game element. By executing multiple combinations, this translates to actual damage to your opponent (dragons, blobs, whoever). This damage is intensified by more combinations and will equal out to treasure, as well as XP. The XP translates to higher levels for your band of characters, which also opens up skills that you can use during battle. Yes, you read that right, ‘skills’. So, for example, you might have a character that can breathe fireballs to do major damage or a character that obtains the skill of healing the party. These RPG elements help to engage and motivate you to continue the game. Regardless, you have RPG elements firmly embedded into the puzzle game(s), which makes the experience into something wholly other.
In addition to these things, you also get a bevy of characters to cultivate and create teams with as you go along. On the Puzzle & Dragons Z side of things, you obtain eggs to hatch and create more dragons with different attributes attached to them. You can take these dragons and form multiple teams (Team A/B) and have different types of teams with different strategizes attached to them. This option opens up all sorts of possibilities to complete missions and dungeons.
Sounds fun so far, right? It’s a freaking blast to play this game and all of these elements add up to an extremely addictive type of gameplay. Puzzle & Dragons Z is one helluva way to waste time during the day (I mean that respectfully).
Now, if the initial game wasn’t enough, included with the PD release is a Super Mario Bros. version of the game. The gameplay is essentially the same underneath, but with some varying differences in structure. For example, the game runs like New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii U is laid out. You have multiple spots on the game board to go to with a castle and floating Bowser ship waiting for you at the end. Internal gameplay is the same as Puzzle & Dragons Z. You have enemies you meet/greet and you try to dispatch them with tile combinations.
The RPG side of things is still the same, as you gain XP and defeat enemies, you unlock new allies and are able to form teams (Koopas, Toads, etc.) with Mario-esque skills intact. The familiarity of the Super Mario Bros. side made the game more entertaining, but I have to admit that the Puzzle & Dragons Z side of things looked and felt fresher. That’s not a knock against Super Mario Bros., but it is the truth of the situation.
The graphics and characters on the PD side of things looked more vibrant and were superb in 3D mode. They reminded me of a mix between Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon characters. The dramatic story helped to move things along as well, as did the defined universe PD laid out. Anyway, the graphics for both games were unique to their own styles. The Super Mario Bros. game looked like it was straight from the Wii U. It felt completely different than PD, which is a great thing to see, as both games felt like they came from separate worlds. It was two very separate titles in one package. That’s value added, folks. Anytime you can make people feel like they’re getting 2-for-1 (and that’s a very strong ‘2’), then you’re selling something worth having.
Speaking of which, and potentially the most important question, are the games fun? Yes, the games are unbelievably fun. There are some caveats to the PD game, like the enormous amount of dialogue you have to swim through sometimes, as well as to the Mario game (the game forces you to try things out in some spots), but overall there are far more pros than cons with this release. What’s interesting, and something I feared when we received it for review, is that I would have to go through another puzzle game that had a cheap theme attached it. I’m glad the game proved otherwise, and I’m happy that all efforts to create a Super Mario Bros. world were given. This truly does feel like a Mario game. Ultimately, Puzzle & Dragons Z – Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition is a really great game, folks, and I usually don’t endorse puzzle games. I haven’t felt this compelled to play a game like this since the NeoGEO Pocket’s SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash (that was a card game that turned out to be epic).
Anyway, give this game a hard look. There’s a lot to like in this package.