So, here’s a funny story: I was checking out the titles on offer in today’s Google Play update, and one of the titles leapt out at me: Puzzle & Dragons. Yes, it’s very true that I love puzzles and I’m reasonably fond of dragons, but the title seemed familiar somehow. Probably because of all those stories about how this game is bringing in $2.5 Million per day and the company behind it, GungHo Online Entertainment, is suddenly worth more than Zynga. GungHo is claiming over 12 Million downloads in Japan, the game’s making the jump to the 3DS, and major telecom companies all want a piece of that puzzling dragon pie. It seemed high time to try the game for myself, and now I’m here to report that I resent writing this article because I could be spending this time playing Puzzle & Dragons.
The appeal of Puzzle & Dragons doesn’t come through at first glance: pick it up, and it looks a lot like a match-3 game with RPG trappings, not dissimilar from Puzzle Quest, 10000000, or King’s Guard. To be fair, the art and music are quite lovely, so that much is apparent right away. The gameplay twist is, you’re delving through a dungeon with a team of battle creatures, and when it’s time to fight, the puzzle board represents your potential moves. Match three red tokens and your fire monster will attack; match three yellow ones for your light creature, and so on. Right away, the ability to assemble a customized team and change up the game board lends a new strategy to the usual match-3 formula. Populate your team with multiple fire beasts, for example, and a red match will cause them all to attack together, plus there are fewer colors on your board to worry about.
Then, of course, Puzzle & Dragons tricks up that strategy by adding in elemental strengths and weaknesses to all its monsters. You can populate your team with all ice beasts if you like, but if you come up against a plant monster, you’ll have issues — so variety is called for, to some extent. Then there’s the matter of finding all of the different creatures, and combining them to level them up, so you’ve got an SMT-style obsessive-compulsive-experimental factor at work.
Then there’s the matter of the battles being not just about making matches to attack, but seeing who to attack, and when: your foes can be manually targeted, which is good because they each have a visible countdown as to when they’ll be counter-attacking you (each move you make ticks you one turn closer to being smacked). Do you prioritize the enemy who’s going to hit you next turn? Or do you go a few moves without attacking so you can set up a massive full-team combo, or a five-token attack-every-enemy-in-one-go move? And choose carefully — you have to beat several battles in succession with the same HP bar, so getting pummeled now may bite you later.
Let me sum up: Puzzle & Dragons takes every clever mechanic that’s ever been applied to a match-3 battle system, and puts them all together in the same game, wraps it in beautiful art, monster collection, and a handful of social systems. It’s free to play a few battles at a time, and very easy to see why one would happily pay to keep going. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my adorable fire dragon isn’t going to evolve himself.