Puzzles & Dragons has found a home on mobile devices since 2012, but it's garnered enough popularity that Nintendo is willing to give the series a go on the Nintendo 3DS. They're hoping audiences will give the games a chance and looked to gauge their interest by bringing Puzzles & Dragons Z + Puzzles & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition to this year's WonderCon. Crowds gradually began to build up for the puzzle game and it's easy to see why after going hands-on with both games. It's got that addictive hook, but hides a surprising complexity.
Both Puzzles & Dragons games operate on the same principle. It's a match-3 puzzle game on the surface, but there's more to it than that. Players build parties, as they would in most standard RPGs, with each member specializing in a certain color-coded element, like Fire, Wood, Water, Light, and Dark. In order to get a party member to attack, players must match the corresponding color. The first thing to understand is that players are not switching tiles. Moving a tile means shuffling around any surrounding tiles. Understanding that is the key to creating combos. Once a tile is held down by the stylus, a timer starts to run down, giving players moments to come up with their next move. Approaching this as a standard tile-switching match-3 is folly and will often result in creating matches that lead to no one attacking.
The two Puzzles & Dragons games included in this package feature their own unique structure. Puzzles & Dragons Z feels like a standard JRPG. Players will take control of a main character and explore a central hub. They'll talk to townsfolk, find various pieces of lore, and learn more about the quest ahead. Certain NPCs will offer quests or side-quests that will require the player to explore dungeons that are filled with monsters. The monster battles will unfold in the aforementioned match-3 format.
Meanwhile, Puzzles & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition operates with individual stages. In the case of this demo, Mario and Luigi each had their own party of Mario foes acting as allies to take on Bowser's forces. Enemies progressed from Goombas to Koopa Paratroopas to a Giant Goomba boss. In terms of structure, Super Mario Bros. Edition feels more likely to appeal to the puzzle fan, as it eschews the RPG formula entirely.
It should, once again, be noted that both Puzzles & Dragons games are deceptively difficult. For Z, I took a shortcut to approach a mining area's boss. What I wasn't prepared for was the boss to cut my entire party down in just a pair of moves. As for Super Mario Bros. Edition, while the first demo was a nice introduction, the second demo was brutally tough. It immediately started by putting my party against a sextet of Buzzy Beetles, who sliced through my party like butter. Health is not restored in-between battles, so survival is tough and there are definitely "Game Over" screens that will send you back to the start.
Those looking to sprinkle in some difficulty to their puzzle games will likely be pleased by both Puzzles & Dragons Z and Puzzles & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition. They're simple to pick up, but mastering combos and exploiting enemy weaknesses will take more than an afternoon of demos. And really, a puzzle game with that kind of depth feels welcome.
Puzzles & Dragons Z + Puzzles & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is coming to Nintendo 3DS in a single cartridge. The games are set to release on May 22.