Title: Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition
Release Date: May 22, 2015
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
Puzzle & Dragons is something of an oddity in the world of gaming. The mobile game, with over 6 million downloads in the US alone and many more in Japan, has finally taken the leap from the smartphone screen to the handheld console. The question remains, though, about Puzzle & Dragons. Its origins lie in the realm of micro transactions. Can all the random elements that are tailored to such a model work on the 3DS? That question and more will be answered in today’s review.
The English language version of Puzzle & Dragons is split into two games with similar interfaces. One is the 2013 puzzle-RPG hybrid Puzzle & Dragons Z, while the other, which this review will focus on, is Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition, which pairs the world of the Mushroom Kingdom with the color-matching gameplay of P&D.
Gameplay in P&D: Super Mario Bros. Edition is near identical to its mobile counterpart. After selecting your team from amongst various characters and enemies from the Mario World, you proceed through a linear series of battles against other teams of monsters. You then must fight back by connecting a series of glowing orbs on the 3DS bottom screen. These orbs come in five different colors and elements, Green/Wood, Red/Fire, Blue/Water, Black/Dark, and White/Light, and must be matched in groups of three or more in order to make monsters of the element matching those orbs attack. Matching several series of orbs at once will allow for higher damage, while special glowing orbs will boost damage to a nearly ridiculous degree. After conquering several monsters, players are treated to a more difficult boss battle, typically against either evolved forms of other monsters in the area, or Bowser’s various children at the end of each of the game’s eight worlds.
This sort of gameplay is analogous to other match-3 puzzle games, such as Bejeweled, but stands out on the fact that rather then moving playing pieces one at a time, the player can actually rearrange the board as much as they like as time is left on the clock. This allows for huge, board clearing combos that require quite a bit of skill to truly master and imbues P&D a sense of accomplishment rarely found in this sort of game. Similarly, there is also an art to constructing a team of monsters so that your elements, skills, which can be activated in battle after a certain amount of turns have passed, and leaders all work together in a synergistic manner. In other words, building a team is often just as important as your skill on the battlefield.
Sadly, learning all of the things I talked about above takes quite a bit of time. Thus P&D lends itself to a rather steep learning curve that begins simply enough, but later ramps up towards the heavens and never relents until Bowser has been defeated and the credits roll. Even someone like me, who has spent countless hours messing with the mobile version of P&D, had quite a bit of difficulty with Super Mario Bros. Edition‘s later levels and even found them a bit frustrating at times. This is due in part to both later enemies having absurd amounts of HP and the fact that the leader monsters, those who have static abilities that affect your entire team, simply do not provide a high enough damage multiplier to kill these same foes in any reasonable amount of time. This combined with the fact that certain elemental combinations, such as water and fire, carry with them a resistance that halves all damage of a certain type, often means that you can sit for some time while butting heads with high HP monsters and thus wasting resources. Such is the paradox of P&D: Super Mario Bros. Edition, while the folks at GungHo have provided a wonderful playground for us all to mess with, at the same time, they more or less forgot to give us the proper tools to enjoy it without banging our heads against the wall in frustration.
That aside, the Mario theme of the game is well done and will keep the attention of those normally turned off by P&D proper’s plethora of giant lizard monsters and cute anime girls. The roster of monsters from which you draw your team has some depth and consists largely of such classic Mario series antagonists as Goombas, Koopas, and Piranha Plants. Each of these monsters can then evolve into several more powerful forms of themselves as you collect the items required for these changes. Sadly, while most enemies are true to their original role in other Mario games, the actual variety of monsters, which number roughly 90 or so, is rather lacking. Most playable critters evolve either into larger versions of themselves, grow wings, become zombies or team up with other monsters for group attacks as they evolve. The sheer number of evolutions drowning in these tropes is often ridiculous at times and by the time I found that a Goomba can evolve into two Goombas and then later into three Goomba’s I had given up hope entirely of finding any true variety amongst the pile of colorfully rendered foes.
Leader monsters are equally lacking and consist entirely of various versions of Mario and Luigi in increasingly silly outfits. While classics such as Super Maro or Fire Mario are more than welcome, things like a ghost with Mario’s trademark mustache and hat seem forced and goofy even in a game like this. After you’ve chosen your favorite iteration of the plumber brothers, you will find that the sub-leader slot isn’t much better. As despite the fact that the role of sub-leader heralds the arrival of such familiar faces as Toad and Yoshi to the game, after you will find that your selection consists of roughly five of each of the prior mentioned characters plus the same version of Mario and Luigi available as main leaders, it is very that you likely soon became tired of it all and simply select whoever has the best ability, rather then based on what character that skill represent. Sure, once you beat the game, you do unlock more interesting characters like Bowser and Princes Peach, but by then most will simply want to move onto greener pastures, rather than torment yourself with eight more worlds worth of grinding and orb matching.
For casual fans of the P&D franchise and newbies alike, Super Mario Bros. Edition is a solid game that is nevertheless far too difficult at points and completely lacking in variety when it comes to both character and monster selection. It also manages to streamline the interface of the original, by allowing monsters to level up from experience points earned from battle, rather than exclusively by sacrificing unused allies to them, and even makes evolution far easier by relying on relatively easy to earn items, instead of the mobile games many evolution-related monsters. This makes for a package that many will enjoy, and thus a great way to kill a bit of time on the train, plane, or otherwise on the go and even has just enough depth to warrants simply sitting down and playing in its own right.
For those, like myself, who have played and enjoyed the mobile game however, this is another story entirely. Though Super Mario Bros. Edition does away with some of the mobile game’s more obnoxious elements, such as needing stamina to enter dungeons or specific currency to try for a random rare monster, it also takes away some of the nuance that makes the original Puzzle & Dragons interesting in the first place. Firstly, monsters can only have a single awakening ability, compared to the half a dozen most have in the original. This makes monsters more or less a set of numbers and a one-shot ability, and can be a bit annoying for those used to building teams based around this facet. Also, even for the monsters that do possess awakenings, a rare item only found late in the game is needed to access them. Making it likely that most players will never even use the feature in the first place. Secondly, the preset leader and helper system is rather annoying and limits your freedom to select a leader from among monsters you’ve raised yourself. This is also a rather annoying move in that most leader monsters have abysmal stats, meaning they had little beyond their leader skill to your teams overall effectiveness. While a nitpick at best, there were times I felt being able to pick a leader yourself would make the game a far more fulfilling experience overall.
So there you have it, Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is streamlined version of its mobile progenitor that focuses on pleasing new fans, and does it well, while in return stripping away some of the originals more interesting features. For these reasons, I give Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition a 7/10.
Please join me next time, when I will be diving into the world of Puzzle & Dragons Z. Till then, make sure to follow us on Twitter, @APGNation.