|Dev: GungHo Online Entertainment|
|Release: May 22, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes|
by Becky Cunningham
Call them “casual games” all you like, but we know that the competition between pick-up-and-play titles is particularly hardcore. Though upstarts like Farmville and Angry Birds claim the spotlight from time to time, there's one genre of casual game that rules them all: the Match-3 puzzle game. Between the aging monarch Bejeweled, the newcomer juggernaut Candy Crush, and the many imitators and permutations in-between, you'd be hard-pressed to find any gamer who hasn't swapped gems for hours on end at least once.
That's why it's easy to overlook Puzzle & Dragons at first. Another Match-3 game? Meh, been there, done that. Except Puzzle & Dragons is different. Instead of simply swapping two gems, this Match-3 permutation allows you to freely drag a single gem around the play board, rearranging the entire thing to your liking until your time runs out. That seemingly simple change makes the game far more strategic than luck-based, and the RPG systems baked into the game turn it from a casual affair into something designed for hardcore gamer sensibilities.
This cocktail of strategic puzzle gameplay and RPG-style party building has snared millions around the world in the game's mobile incarnation, and now we have the chance to experience it on the 3DS without the artificial barriers designed to inspire you to part with some sweet, sweet microtransaction money. In fact, we have two chances to do so, the Pokemon-esque Puzzle & Dragons Z and the slick Puzzle & Dragons Z Super Mario Edition, both baked into one big package of gem-matching mania.
Let's talk about the basics that you'll see in both editions of the game. You've got to gather a team of monsters by defeating them on a gem-matching battlefield. Each monster has an elemental affinity that corresponds to one or more gem color, and matching gems of the appropriate color causes your monsters to attack. Enemy monsters will retaliate, taking chunks out of your team's shared hit point bar. You can heal up by matching heart gems or using a monster's healing skill.