Puzzle & Dragons Z + SMB Edition: A matching pair

June 1, 2015


Puzzle & Dragons is an odd beast. The game taps into my love of puzzle games and an appreciation for awesome artwork. Still, the mobile original’s never-ending grind and constant prompting to spend to build a better team makes playing less of a delight and more of a chore. Without the pressure of stamina and with a definitive beginning and end, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition avoids those pitfalls and plays into the concept’s strengths. Still, is it worth investing $30 in an experience so similar to a free-to-play phone game?

The concept of Puzzle & Dragons is simple: match three or more of the same colored orb in a 6-by-5 grid. Unlike most puzzle games of this type, you’re able to move the grabbed piece as much as you’d like — for a short amount of time — before it’s locked in place. Because of this, you can switch many pieces and form combos.

When the pieces are cleared, monsters of the same color element will attack enemies on-screen. Weaknesses are applied in the typical rock-paper-scissors format for fire, wood and water, and dark and light are each weak to each other. Your team, consisting of one leader, five monsters and a helper, can be customized to your liking, and adjusted based on the challenges in a particular stage.

From the start, the game asks you to choose which game you want to play. If you haven’t played Puzzle & Dragons at all, the Z side is a good place to start. The game eases you into the mechanics of the game, and all the knowledge you gain here can be used in the Mario side.


Puzzle & Dragons Z was actually released as a standalone game in Japan in 2013, a year after the initial release of the mobile version. While this game takes the mechanics in a different direction, you can definitely see its experimental elements and the progression of the formula since by comparing it to the other editions.

The Z side actually has a plot. In typical RPG fashion, you’re a youngster living in a land where dragons and humans live together in harmony. You take an exam to become a Dragon Tamer and wield the D-Gear needed to control these monsters. Not long after passing your exam, an evil organization known as Paradox literally breaks the world apart, into a series of, well, puzzle pieces. You befriend a dragon who seems to have the knowledge to counter all this destruction and chaos, and you’re tasked with defeating this organization and restoring order to the world.

You start with three monsters of the beginner elements, using them in battle to gain more by clearing out dungeons both in the main quest and through side characters and events. Otherwise, the game has you doing the same thing over and over: receive quest, go through dungeon, beat boss, repeat, with an occasional break to evolve and hatch new dragons. Despite its cliché plot devices, the story does hold its own, thanks to the wit and quirk found in its characters.

Some mechanics differ in Z, like the Active Skill System, which can be triggered as long as you have the skill meter charged enough activate an ability. It charges when you pull off combos during your turn. The Z side also lacks the dual-element characters of both the mobile game and the Mario version, since that was implemented after Z‘s development.


The Mario side, while it plays more like the mobile version, is the more difficult of the two (despite the game’s insistence that it’s newcomer-friendly). While the first two worlds are rather easy to breeze through, the difficulty spike is unforgiving after the gloves come off in the third and beyond. Since it has more modern P&D elements, a bit of strategy and an understanding of your orb movement is required. The modern game mechanics, such as dual-element monsters and an Active Skill System based on each party member charging individually for for a number of turns, are present on this side.

Missions are strewn throughout both games as an extra challenge. Some require you to complete a certain task (like “clear 10 light orbs” or “perform six combos”) in a set number of turns. Others have you choose a direction of a branching path by matching more orbs of one color than the other. These are unique to the 3DS installments, as the mobile original doesn’t have multiple-path dungeons.

In the mobile version, material-specific dungeons allowed players to farm for certain items to evolve and strengthen units, but they’re not found in either 3DS game. Because of this, the grind to find items becomes rather tedious due to the low drop rate, and the constant need to return to older stages makes it outright frustrating.


Neither game penalizes you for dying or quitting, either. Once a character earns experience or items, there’s no way to lose it. There’s almost no risk for messing up. Deaths in the mobile version meant waiting for your stamina to restore, losing all your loot and having to retry the entire dungeon all over again. The two games have you gaining experience after each phase, rather than receiving the collective after you complete the dungeon. This eases the difficulty, and lowers the stakes just a bit for the sake of lessening frustration.

While both games have their ups and downs for both beginners and veterans alike, they’re definitely worth checking out. Those who love puzzle games but want to see their combos mean more than just a high score will find a lot to love in this package.

Pros: Simplistic and fun gameplay, pleasing aesthetics
Cons: Grind-heavy progression, steep difficulty curve

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.