I'm a fan of puzzle games in general, and I'd heard of how hugely popular Puzzle & Dragons was in its native Japan even before Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition for 3DS was released in the US. When it was announced I did try out the iOS version, but I got bored with it very quickly. I like the core gameplay mechanics of the series in general (yet another variation of match three mechanics, although in this case you can drag a piece around the board and as a result cause many pieces to change places in just one turn), but the iOS version felt barebones to me. There are cute little monsters you can collect and all that, but the "dungeons" aren't evocative at all and the progression of levelling up and evolving monsters felt slow. There's a mechanic where you can get strangers online to lend you helper characters you can use, but this seemed to destroy any balance in the game as the helper characters were vastly overpowered for people like me who were just starting out. The game was a free-to-play game, but I didn't play it enough to get a sense of if those mechanics were balanced or not, but it seemed palatable.

I wasn't expecting much from Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition, but the game did keep that obsessive switch in my brain flipped for quite a while. Having the familiar Mario characters and setting helped draw me in, and unlocking all the alternate paths (which doesn't seem to actually reward you with anything worthwhile), capturing enemies and then using them on your team, planning our your team for each specific level, and evolving your allies was pretty fun... up to a point. The game gets pretty difficult pretty quickly, but as with games likeĀ in the Pokemon series, you can grind while trying to catch characters you don't have yet, so it's not too boring. The bigger problem for me, though, is that unlike in Pokemon, the evolutions of the characters you end up working hard to achieve end up being distinctly underwhelming. Many of them are just predictable variations (e.g. a Koopa Troopa can evolve into a Dry Bones), and there are a lot of really boring ones where it's just a pair of enemies (e.g. a Blooper can evolve into a Koopa Troopa riding a Blooper). Similarly, the increase in special attacks are generally the predictable "+20 attack increases to +40" variety. The story is flimsy, and the New Super Mario Bros. setting is reproduced rather too slavishly.

The game also features a minor diversion in the form of score attack modes, with or without set teams. Attempting the score attack mode without a fully levelled up team is pointless, though, so I didn't bother looking into that much. The StreetPass features are similar to the original in that you gain helper characters, but since levelling is so slow I found that all the people I StreetPassed who had the game weren't any higher than I was anyway.

One of the selling points to the game is that it comes with another entirely different game, Puzzle & Dragons Z, on the same cartridge. P&DZ apparently changes up the regular mechanics more than the SMB Edition, and I spent a bit of time trying it out. The story progresses Pokemon style, where you take on the role of a plucky youngster who saves the world by battling with his collection of critters. The aesthetic is completely in line with all the rest of its breed, and the story is equally banal and unsurprising. I doubt I'll be pouring significant amounts of time into it anytime soon, though.

I enjoyed immersing myself in P&D: SMB Edition, and I'm not too disappointed that my obsession was relatively short-lived as grinding could end up being a major time suck. The game unlocks an even harder mode once you rescue Peach and all the bosses become recruitable, but I think it's going to be a long time before I feel inclined to pick this one up again.

Puzzle over these Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition links:
- Official site
- A lot of useful info at mariowiki.com, including a page that details the earliest stage you can recruit certain characters and a complete listing of the special item drops
- Video overview of the game on Nintendo Minute
- Tips for both games at pocketgamer.co.uk
- List of unlockables at GameFAQs

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