Despite a mixed Metacritic score, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition was a little known gem of a game on the 3DS. They took the popular mobile gem matching puzzle original and made a big JRPG around it. You’d be hatching monsters to make up a team and powering through a fantastic dungeon crawler-lite experience. There’s a separate Mario Bros story mode and it made the game a fantastically addictive gem that still holds up incredibly well today. When I found out a Switch edition had dropped out of nowhere to celebrate 10 years of Puzzle & Dragons I was ready, when I found out it was £3.21 I was sceptical and when I first loaded it up, I was super disappointed. Now that initial disappointment has passed I’m happy to report despite not being a big JRPG like the 3DS there is more than meets the eye and a fair chunk of content on offer.
In Puzzle & Dragons NSE the core puzzle game is the same. Use the touchscreen or button controls to shift a coloured orb around to be matched together when you let go. Unlike a usual puzzle game where you’re limited in moves Puzzle & Dragons NSE limits the time to move the piece. Essentially touch an orb on the screen, move your finger to get everything shifted around as fast as possible and watch to see how many chains and combos you get. The better you do the more your team will damage the enemy and this counts as a turn in combat, the enemy will attack doing damage to your health bar, changing the orbs in different ways and you go again. It’s incredibly addicting as it always was and the satisfaction of triggering a team attack from a large combo to kill a boss and clear a stage is still great.
You have pre-set teams of monsters and characters in Puzzle & Dragons NSE and cannot create your own. This lack of tinkering does detract a lot from the experience but once you get a few teams your focused more on just playing the puzzle than micromanagement, it’s a simplification of the systems. Puzzle & Dragons NSE is incredibly simple in almost everyway. There’s no real choosing of skills, just picking a pre-made badge set that fits your playstyle. You’ll gain EXP for every game you play be it online, offline or even your own made levels. As you rank up your teams will level up accordingly. There are 3 sets of achievements one for single player, one for PVP and one for general ranking and such.
Unlike typical Puzzle & Dragons entries Puzzle & Dragons NSE has a difficulty curve rather than the usual sharp spikes that require grinding. Each time I’ve been stuck I’ve swapped to a team that fits against the element or focused more on a different strategy. For better and worse you’ll easily jump in and be matching orbs trying to get the most out of every turn but you won’t find it all that deep. A lot of the extra abilities and stats have been boiled down to set features of a team and the focus is a lot more on clearing the in-game achievements to unlock more stuff and free pulls for the egg machines.
The biggest issue and why I was so incredibly disappointed at first with Puzzle & Dragons NSE is the Egg Machines. To unlock new avatars, teams or cosmetics you need to use the gatcha/loot crates. These are £1.97 each or £6.58 for 5. I realise the game itself is only £3.21 but it should simply be free to play instead or these shouldn’t be charged. I’ve managed to play through the game without a single purchase because thankfully Puzzle & Dragons NSE has enough unlocks as you progress through the linear single player missions that you’ll have a few teams, avatars and awakened badges. Every stage has an achievement clear condition but these are simply to clear the stage without needing a continue.
Some will argue that Puzzle & Dragons NSE has the double dipping of money to support the online. There’s never a reason for both but the online is one of Puzzle & Dragons NSE’s only unique features. There are 2 online modes; A big PVP mode where 8 players compete to pass the stage as fast as possible. This has events to unlock timed avatars and different stages to pick each time. The PVP works well but you can expect to finish in the lower tiers regardless of skill as Puzzle & Dragons is much bigger in Asia and they’ve been playing it a lot more. There’s also a custom mode to create your own solo runs but these are quite limited depending on what you’ve unlocked and the online page for the uploaded ones doesn’t really explain why something is popular as there’s no voting system.
Creating stages is surprisingly easy and enjoyable to do, it’s nothing more than putting monsters in pre-made slots but you also chose the levels of them and have to be able to clear them before uploading to the plaza. It’s a balancing act that’s more enjoyable that it first appears to be. The niggling issue with Puzzle & Dragons NSE is how everything is always not quite as fleshed out as you’d want and I realise it’s a cheap game but Puzzle & Dragons NSE becomes such a light experience because of it. It sits somewhere between a full priced indie title and a free to play client. You can play it local multiplayer with up to 8 players but it’s best off played solo with the console in your hand swishing away to clear the single player stages as fast as possible.
Puzzle & Dragons NSE is an incredibly easy puzzle game and despite the monetization there is a lot to like. Unlike other free to play games there’s no push to the extra pulls. You’ll be unlocking stuff from the achievement menus without ever being tempted. The lack of advertising throughout is a nice touch for a game that at first was disappointing but the more I played the more I enjoyed. If you want a big Puzzle & Dragons experience stick to the 3DS game but if you want a cheap puzzle game that’s fun and addictive then it’s a good one to play.
5/10 – The Switch edition was more of a dragon than a puzzle