And Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice
The Puzzle and Dragons series is perhaps known as a mind-blowingly popular mobile game, but I spent most of the summer of 2015 grinding through the dual release of the game on 3DS. Of the two games in that 3DS package, I ended up putting the majority of my time into the original Puzzle and Dragons Z RPG as opposed to the Mario-themed version. When Puzzle and Dragons Gold was announced for the Switch, I was hoping for a somewhat briefer version of Z and was surprised to find it was essentially Puzzle and Dragons Stadium. Though that may be slighting Pokémon Stadium.
The core gameplay of Puzzle and Dragons is a twist on the match-3 puzzle game. Using the touchscreen—the Switch version is only playable in handheld mode—you move a single piece around a 6x6 grid and swap the positions of the orbs you pass over. The objective is to create as many matches of at least three as possible to create a long combo and do as much damage as possible to an opponent, while also mitigating the damage to yourself. In Gold, the battles are always against an opponent, and both competitors have four life bars to defend for eight turns. The battlers can equip a team of six monsters who have abilities that can modify damage, affect the board, or change the time allowed for orb movement from the default 10 seconds. It took me a little time to readjust to the movement speed required after five years away, as the tutorials were a little limited.
Although the game is touchscreen only, all of the menu navigation can be done with buttons, in addition to the touch option. Touch is required to move the pieces around during the “Puzzle Phase”, or to select the monster attacks. Although I used a stylus, most players who don’t have swollen fingers should be able to manage even with an index finger or thumb. This isn’t all that surprising, considering the series’s roots as a phone game. I was also playing on a Switch Lite predominantly, so I was able to forego the stylus entirely when playing on a dockable model.
There are a few modes in the game, but they all seem to come with caveats. Even though there is a story mode, even with a choice of two characters you can probably roll credits twice inside of a half hour. This serves to unlock a fight that allows for an evolved version of the game’s mascot character to be available in the other modes, but that fight requires constant 10+ combos to clear with a team you can’t change, and the first turn also blocks the ability for new orbs to come in after your clears (a standard feature) so good luck not falling behind immediately. Once done with that, most of the time will be spent in the Battle modes which offer Vs CPU, local multiplayer (which I wasn’t able to test) and online multiplayer. All of the Battle modes allow for custom teams which can be bought in full teams or with a capsule machine that thankfully runs off an in-game currency.
Early returns for the size of the online community are not looking promising. In testing during North American prime time the day after the game came out, it took multiple attempts to get a match. There is an element of skill-based matchmaking, but I never actually received a skill ranking because I couldn’t find enough matches, and the way it re-searches involves expanding the skill range until you connect to a player either well above or below your current skill level. This doesn’t make for an enjoyable online experience because I’m either winning in a comically easy fashion or getting stomped.
The handheld limitation of P&D Gold means it could be optimized to run well, yet I found the battle scenes to run slower than normal: this may be a dramatic effect or slowdown; I couldn’t really tell (the effect was there both on the Lite and an undocked rev 2 Switch). The puzzle movement is fine, however. I did have one unresolvable soft lock during play as well—thankfully, it was during a Vs. CPU match. The graphics are adequate for what the game requires, and when moving the orbs there is a distinct shape in each orb to accommodate colorblind players. There’s a good selection of tunes for the battles, but most of the voice work is children screaming in Japanese so your enjoyment may depend on your tolerance for that.
As someone with a casual interest in the Puzzle and Dragons series, I’ll probably re-roll the 3DS version of Z if I want to get a fix of it. It’s neat that they brought the core game to the Switch, but I doubt anyone who’s put an extensive amount of time (or, Naga forbid, money) into the mobile version won’t have an incentive to make the jump. This is likely why my online requests keep timing out: there’s not really a market here. And that’s sad.