Many cultures regard dragons as keepers of secrets, but all the dragons of literature and reality won’t stop me from dropping this dark little fact I’ve kept under lock and key in my heart since childhood:
I don’t like Tetris.
I don’t like Dr Mario, either. Or Yoshi. Or the aforementioned Yoshi’s cookies. And if Wario’s Woods got munched up by a backhoe, I wouldn’t flinch.
It’d be easy for me to say “I don’t like puzzle games,” but that’s not true. Whichever angel slopped my brain into my skull (good job, dude) simply channeled all my puzzle-related enthusiasm into the match-three genre. Something about linking up same-colored pieces and watching them disappear in a burst of light and sound just really excites the corner of my mind that never left kindergarten.
[Affixes a button reading “I CRUSH CANDY” onto lapel]
So I’d been playing GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons on mobile for some time before Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition was announced — and I’m going to go ahead and refer to each game on the card by their separate names whenever necessary, because whoa nelly.
Having played both Puzzle & Dragons Z and Super Mario Bros Edition, I’m left with an interesting mish-mash of feelings. Both games are different from each other, and at the same time, both of those games are quite different from GungHo’s free-to-play mobile title.
Is that a good thing?
Beginners, Tread Ye Not in the Mushroom Kingdom
Word of warning: Though the main menu preceding the game pair says Super Mario Bros Edition is the easier of the two games, don’t believe a word of it. It’s all lies. Puzzle & Dragons Z is by far the easier game. Enemies don’t hit as hard, they frequently drop the power-ups necessary to evolve your team, and you have access to a lot of monster skills based around healing.
Also — and I find this very curious — Puzzle & Dragons Z has a much more comprehensive tutorial than Super Mario Bros Edition. Even as a Puzzle & Dragons veteran, I found myself stumbling through Super Mario Bros Edition at times.
So, advice: Start off with Puzzle & Dragons Z. When you think you have a handle on things, give Super Mario Bros Edition a try. The latter isn’t impossible, but it doesn’t coddle you, and success requires some level-grinding. Otherwise, you’re going to get some Koopa shells shot straight at your nose. Prepare yourself.
Whichever version of the game you choose to play, the mechanics are largely the same. You trek through several levels, each of which presents you with a host of enemies, and a grid lined with jewels.
You have a stable of tame monsters that fight on your side. Even Super Mario Bros Edition lets you command traditional Mario baddies, which is neat.
Good or bad, each monster subscribes to an element, which is represented by the jewels on the grid. When you match up three or more gems of the same element, the monsters belonging to that flavour launch an attack.
However, matching up three gems is kids’ stuff. If you want to make the bad guys hurt, you need to make as many matches as possible in a turn, and with as many jewels as possible. This is accomplished by selecting one gem and dragging it around the bottom screen to “knock around” other pieces, hopefully sliding them into favourable positions.
There’s a reason why Puzzle & Dragons is practically a registered religion in Japan. This is no piddly run-of-the-candy-factory match-three game. Pushing around gems and subsequently roasting your foes with dragon fire that’s been stoked by ten combos is sweet, sweet, sweet.
Stingy Plumbers, Generous Dragons
Puzzle & Dragons Z and Super Mario Bros Edition let you utilize enemy skills that charge up after a certain number of turns have passed. You can also power up your little army via monster recruits you don’t need (usually doubles of monsters you already have).
This is where the games make a curious departure from one another, and where Super Mario Bros Edition delivers a challenge that teeters dangerously into the territory of epic frustration. Puzzle & Dragons Z lets your monsters dip into a communal pool of skill points, which recharges rapidly. There are also plenty of monsters with healing skills, so if matching up hearts isn’t patching your team’s boo-boos fast enough, you should have an emergency medic on-hand.
Moreover, monster drops in Super Mario Bros Edition are incredibly stingy. Levelling up your comrades so that they’re fit to take on hard-hitting bosses (especially the blasted Koopa Kids) takes a significant amount of grinding.
It’s baffling, because the free-to-play Puzzle & Dragons game is quite magnanimous about giving you spare monsters to power up your team with. Puzzle & Dragons Z has no issues supplying you with nourishing critter eggs, either. So what’s Super Mario Bros Edition’s deal?
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One–
It’s hard to shake the feeling Super Mario Bros Edition was an afterthought for Puzzle & Dragons Z. It’s hard to get too irritated at this realization, however, because Puzzle & Dragons Z is a fun little RPG / puzzle mash-up, and a great entry point for Puzzle & Dragons fans that don’t want any truck with the series’ free-to-play trappings (which admittedly aren’t at all bad, but that’s a long-winded opinion for another day).
Mind, Puzzle & Dragons Z pulls material from every page of the Big Book of Ten Cent JRPG Clichés. The hero (you!) is a hyper-talented dragon tamer, and the only one who can save the world. Your sidekick is an adorable Digimon-looking thing. There’s an evil organization doing evil things. Heck, mom even wakes you up on your life-changing morning.
But what makes all this schlep more than tolerable is the game’s dialogue, which is all very light-hearted and downright hilarious at times. When I first saw Syrup the dragon, I silently hoped he’d make a wrong turn into an Ur-Chimera’s mouth. Halfway through the game, I started wondering if they make plushies or toys based on him (verdict: Yes).
Also, your dad is a Shinto shrine keeper, and he thinks he’s really cool.
Finally, and Puzzle & Dragons Z has some pretty amazing-looking monsters with imaginative designs gleaned from legends and cultures around the world. I want them all to be in my team, but it can’t be that way. How sad.
Look, I like dragons, OK?
Two For One
Super Mario Bros Edition is a bit of a let-down, but the solid fun of Puzzle & Dragons Z is more than enough to carry its brother’s weight. Besides, Mario’s foray into the Puzzle & Dragons universe is nowhere near unplayable. Just give it a go only after you’ve trained some Z-dragons.
Review copy of Puzzle & Dragons Z and Super Mario Bros Edition provided by Nintendo of Canada