Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition are two games bundled into one for a wide release beyond the borders of Japan. See, Japan got Puzzle & Dragons Z way back in 2013. They got the Super Mario Edition on April 29, 2015, just a few weeks ago.

We're getting both in one package, and that already makes this a valuable offering. This once mobile online game from GungHo Online combines match-three puzzling with collecting, leveling and evolving dragons.

It's been a runaway success, bringing GungHo millions and millions worth of revenue. It's Japanese port to the 3DS did well, too, shipping more than a million copies in its first six months at retail.

So, here we are with two very different games that labor over the same core puzzling mechanics. Yes, there's a free-to-play mobile version of Puzzle & Dragons, but this is the only way to get it in RPG form and with a Super Mario Bros. flavor.

Welcome to the franchise, maybe?

You might be completely new to Puzzle & Dragons, so welcome aboard. These two games do a pretty good job of explaining the sometimes convoluted mechanics at work within.

I'm going to warn you outright, the game claims that the Mario edition is the easier of the two and better for beginners. That's a total lie, friends. You run into a difficulty wall much earlier on in the Mario version than the Puzzle & Dragons Z entry.

How this game works is exactly what makes it so addictive and so successful in the free-to-play arena. The core play is essentially a dungeon crawler with puzzle matching in order to battle. You've seen this done in games like Puzzle Quest. You meet monsters with an elemental base, and your team of monsters will attack them when you match jewels with their element. Fire beats grass, grass beats water, water beats fire… you get the point.

You're monsters gain levels, upping their stats until they hit their cap. You can pick leaders and helpers with passive and active skills. Skills can be leveled, too. Then there's the evolution that happens when you take monster drops and add them to your team.

With me? Now, Puzzle & Dragons Z takes that formula, which is the same in mobile form, and it puts it on top of a thin RPG story with walking and cutscenes much like what you'd find in, say, Pokémon. The Mario version does the same, except instead of an RPG story you have a stage based path very similar to the New Super Mario Bros. games.

That's right, Puzzle & Dragons is essentially a tightly wound mix of Puzzle QuestBejeweled and Pokémon, borrowing all the right stuff from each series and doing very well because of it.

Two very narrow RPGs.

Depending upon your perception and definition of role playing games, you might think that Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition uses the term RPG a little too loosely. For the most part, I agree with that notion.

Like I said, there is a complete story in both games, more so in Z. In fact, Z feels very close to that handheld RPG style with the player having their own character, raising a team and doing quests. It's just that Z isn't very liberal with the RPG stylings. Everything feels sort of halfway there, without ever being too complicated to conquer or follow.

The RPG element is just window dressing, really, so I wouldn't let that be a dictator of whether or not you should purchase this game.

It's even less there for the Mario Edition. You aren't one character or another. You're just this omnipotent guide that Toad addresses throughout the game. It plays more like a Mario sidescroller with stat leveling than anything else.

"RPG?" Not so much in either case.

Those stories and presentations are little more than an excuse for puzzling. The honest thing is that they can get in the way of the fun quite often, especially with Z. There are pretty long gaps of dialogue between puzzles there, and couple that with all the walking around the main hub HQ in order to evolve and hatch and you've got a game with too much padding where things could have just happened in menus.

The trouble with Mario is…

So, yes, two large puzzle games under one banner is great. It's weird, though, that I found myself with a vast preference for Z over Mario here.

I was annoyed by the padding of the RPG stuff, but I liked Z better because of the new monsters and dragons. With Mario, you're recruiting Goombas, Koopas, and Piranha Plants to your army. Your leaders are Mario and Luigi and Toads in unique suits. It's all been seen before, and there's no mystery when it comes time to evolve.

Your Koopa becomes a Parakoopa. Hooray.

The core gameplay is the same, and the Mario stuff is harder than what you have in Z, but I just found myself having more fun progressing the dragons and monsters in Z than the fodder enemies in Mario.

Think of Mario like skin DLC with a steeper challenge, and you'll be good to go.

Puzzle Dragon Super Mario Bros

Two huge puzzle games in one with minor problems makes this a well-valued package.

There's a lot of content in both of these games. Sure, the RPG stuff might be silly in Puzzle & Dragons Z, and the Mario-ness of Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition might not be as rewarding as its predecessor; however, there's so much to do in these games built around the core mechanics that their value is hard to beat.

The free-to-play version is lesser in every way. Perhaps look at it like a demo, though there's a demo of the Mario edition up on the eShop. With the full retail game, you won't be dropping cash on microtransactions in order to get your fill. There are none of those here, and that's rewarding in and of itself.

If you dig the core gameplay of match-tree puzzle games and you fancy yourself a fan of collecting and battling monsters, this is a good option. It probably won't ever drop in price substantially, since this is Nintendo, so genre fans should give it a crack. I know I've been addicted over the last week or so.


Disclaimer: We received a code to download and play Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition  for the 3DS from Nintendo.

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