Thursday, June 25, 2015

Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition (3DS) Review

Puzzle & Dragons released on the Nintendo 3DS last month in a dual release. One part of the $30 retail or digital package was Puzzle & Dragons Z, but that's not what we're going to deal with today. Instead, Bean is going to be talking about the other half of the package, Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition. Here's his take on the game, a nice break from reading my thoughts of games all of the darn time!

Note: All I did with this review was format it, as well as add pictures and captions. Bean did the brunt of the work!

Drag on... to victory!


Puzzles & Dragons is a game by GungHo Online Entertainment that took the world by storm when it was released on mobile devices a couple of years ago. Nintendo, in their effort to try and partner with many third-party companies decided to lend out the Super Mario property for a 3DS title. It's an interesting idea, trying to take what was a freemium game and making it into not one, but two games inside a $30 3DS cart. As it turns out, this is actually a pretty decent idea. This review, however, will only be covering the SMB Edition of the game. A potential further review will be made for Puzzles & Dragons Z, the other game on this cart, at a later date by Phil. For now, let's get right to Nintendo's first mobile-esque foray, and from the look of things, a rather fun one.

Mario and Luigi are once again on a quest to save Princess Peach yet again from the clutches of Bowser. That's no surprise, but the thing is that tons of orbs have descended down into the Mushroom Kingdom from out of nowhere. Rather than dispensing justice with their usual Goomba-stomping tactics, the Mario Bros. are instead going to be shuffling around said orbs on a puzzle board to make their way through the game's eight worlds and save the day. The maps themselves should give off vibes of the New Super Mario Bros. games. The music takes some cues from that title but also mixes in a few tunes from Galaxy, 3D World, and a few others from stuff like NSMB that has been remixed. It's nothing special, and it is kind of jarring to switch soundtracks, especially when it happens in mid-level. Still, if it's Mario music you want, this game has quite a bit of it.

Why, this looks a bit familiar for us New Super Mario Bros. fans.
But that doesn't explain how the game works. Well, the board on the 3DS' bottom screen is five orbs high by six orbs wide. Your goal is to take one orb, hold on and drag it across the board to try and make rows or columns of at least three matching orbs together. There are five different elements that these orbs can come in. Fire (Fire Flowers), Water (Penguin Suit), Wood (Super Leaf), Light (Super Star), Dark (Poison Mushroom). Fire beats Wood but loses to Water. Wood beats Water but loses to Fire. As for Light and Dark, they both beat down on each other while doing normal damage to the other three elements. There are also Heart orbs to replenish HP. Both allies and enemies have an elemental affiliation as well as corresponding strengths and weaknesses as a result. Moreover, you're only allowed to attack if you match an element that is your affiliation. For instance, matching three water orbs together won't do anything if you're playing as Mario, who starts off as Small Mario, because he's a fire elemental. This is where the team aspect comes into play because you aren't alone in your journey. In fact, the game flat-out hands you two Baddie Blocks that contain a Goomba and Green Koopa Troopa that join your team. You'll get more as you defeat enemies along the way. Some allies as well as forms that Mario and Luigi unlock have two elements that they are affiliated with. It's better to bring a few ones like that on your journey instead that have a couple of chances to hit your enemies instead of staying with single-element characters.

Slide and drag your way to glory (and the defeat
of this duo of Koopa Troopas).
So therefore, it won't take you long to get a full party of six. You have one slot for the Leader, whether it be Mario or Luigi (and any of their respective forms that you'll unlock over the course of your adventure such as Fire Mario/Luigi, etc.), four slots for enemies that you convert into allies by getting a Baddie Block, and a Helper slot for either the other Mario brother you didn't choose or Toad and other friends you'll get as you continue along. The best combinations of teams are generally ones that utilize the power of all the elements to make sure you land hits on your enemies instead of just waste your turn. Again, it doesn't do any good to bring a team filled with one element then not go for three-orb rows or columns that don't match the powers you brought along! Some courses also don't use all elemental orb types, so it would be silly to bring in partners that aren't going to be any use for you in that course.

It won't take long to learn that it's not enough just to get a small three-orb row or column. The game expects you to get multiple combos per pass, and the more orbs that are connected together, the more punch your team will be packing. In fact, if you aren't making combos, many enemy groups that you'll face in the game's levels can easily take you down in a couple of turns otherwise! This can also work in your favor as once you get over a combo of eight, a 1-Up Mushroom will appear on the screen. If that combo rises to twelve in a single turn, you'll earn an extra life, and believe me when I say that these will become necessary as you move along. Getting a combo of ten or more also has the benefit of forcing enemies to give you an item drop if they are carrying anything or turns them into Baddie Blocks and another new partner for your team! This might not sound like a big deal if you unlock a duplicate partner like a Goomba, but you will eventually unlock an ability at a Toad House to make them power up the partners you do care to use. My favorite enemies to come across are known as Coin Coffers. If you can get them on your team, a lone one can power up a partner a good twenty levels or so in the early going! That's way better than going through courses and grinding for experience, I'd say, and the difficulty curve of this game definitely tries to encourage that at times.

Chain combo chaos!
Along with using some allies to power up other allies, you'll also get the chance to transform your friends into more powerful versions, somewhat similarly to how Pokémon does it. Even though transformed forms of allies like the Paragoomba are stronger, it's better to wait until you first reach their level cap to do so. The one thing I don't like about this is that it requires certain item drops, and while some courses have item block puzzles such as lining up five Fire Flower orbs in a row, it's not a guarantee that you'll get the ones you want. Plus, even when you are eventually allowed to spend coins that you win from battles, you're not allowed to just flat-out buy the items you want. Instead, you get a random pickup from one of three item blocks for a whopping 100 coins per use. This is the one aspect of the game that really bogs things down as you'll find yourself grinding not for experience, but rather, money for the potential of the items that you want. I know I went a good world or two before I could transform a partner into a more powerful version because I just didn't have enough items to do so, and when it takes four or more items for each transformation, this can get monotonous and fast.

Coin Coffers yield great benefits not only coin-wise,
but also experience-wise for other partners on your team.
You can also use items to power up skills of characters because each one comes with their own unique ability. Some abilities include being able to instantly attack with 10x damage from one character on all enemies without wasting your orb-shuffling turn. Another one lets you move any orbs for six seconds instead of being stuck with just moving the one around. Then there are others that lower defense, raise attack power, shift elements to one or two types instantly... Yes, skills are great to use, but you'll sometimes want to hang on to them for the boss battle that each level contains as it might just be your ticket to victory. In addition to skills, leaders and helpers all have special abilities. Boo Mario and Luigi each have a skill where your attack power will be multiplied by 2.5 times their usual damage output if you can create a three-element combo. These abilities stack, so if you bring both bros along, your attack power will once more be multiplied to a total of 6.25 times their usual strength. It doesn't take long to take down some enemies like this, and you'll want to keep using upgraded forms instead of sticking with basic ones, even if that means starting from that character's lower level.

Match either Light orbs or Fire orbs to proceed
down one of these two paths.
Honestly, while I found repetition setting in at times, I also felt compelled to keep on playing. The game is very good about handling its difficulty curve and trying to get you to play better to handle said encounters more than anything. Before I knew it, I had gotten much better at the game and played it for a good thirty hours! The match-three style that Puzzles & Dragons has can definitely be addicting if you can get the hang of it. It's certainly not for everyone, but I do think that there's more than enough fun in trying to mix and match orbs in a speedy manner that it will appeal to plenty. I'm definitely in the group that found this fast-thinking style of gameplay appealing, even if the grindy aspects of item collection try to bog the game down a bit. Still, Puzzles & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition offers you quite a bit of bang for your buck, and it's only half the goodness on this cart. I don't know how Z differs at the moment, but I can say that even on its own, the Super Mario Bros. Edition side is worth it.

[SPC Says: B-]

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