Hey! Who remembers the newest Game Plan podcast? I do, but only because I was in it. Now if you fast-forward aaallll the way to the end, where Recommendation or Rant lives, you will hear me mention in not-too-little detail a neat free mobile game called Puzzle & Dragons. I have kept too silent for too long about its grandeur. I have dusted off my clarion and am ready to trumpet some praise.
Puzzle & Dragons, a most-dubiously titled game from GungHo Online Entertainment Inc., is a puzzle game alright. But there are dragons. Not just dragons, mind you, but sprites, goblins, ogres, gods and more. What’s most interesting is how these two very different things are mixed very well. An obvious-and-incorrect touchstone might lie in Puzzle Quest, but throw that out immediately. It’s really nothing like that.
So, what is it like? From the puzzle side of things, I really don’t know. It’s a match-three that allows you to drag gems anywhere on the board, leaving a wake of displaced ones in your path. You take one gem and just slide it; what was in front of you, now behind you. In this way you can plan out huge moves, trailing the displaced gems behind you to make hefty combos. It gives you the chance to make those oh-so satisfying chain reactions that we all love. Screw it, video here.
It also directly influences combat. Enter the Dragons!
The other half of P&D is about the monsters. While the puzzling aspects are hard to wrap words around, the whole “Dragons” aspect can be summed up in one word: Pokémon. Choose a starter, level him up, catch new monsters and level them up. Each monster has (typically) two abilities: one passive and one active. It’s up to you to make a party that is balanced yet not too wishy-washy.
From there, the game is all nuance and learning. For example, say you match three sets of gems — one green, one blue and one purple. Each monster of that color in your party would get 100% attack damage on that turn. If you have two of one color, both would get their attacks; if you didn’t have a monster with one of those colors, it would be mostly wasted. BUT! Since you got a combo of three individual matches, each of these attacks gets bonus damage, which is an additional 25% per combo. Imagine that on a 5×6 board with seven different gem types and combos that can get well into the double-digits.
There is more, though. Every enemy monster has a weakness and strength, defensively speaking, based on the color of gems you match up in your combo. Every monster that you field also has specific attack values and powers (the total of your party’s HP is your total HP, by the way). There is no small amount of strategy put into party composition. Lastly, you can bring a friend’s leader monster to fight with you who gives you access to its passive and active powers, too.
All in all, it’s a bedrock-of-solid-granite foundation. But the game does have a bit more to offer in the realm of continued play. There is — like most games of its ilk — incentive to login on repeated days. You will earn PAL points for helping others and your friends which go towards a slot machine of random monsters (mostly feeder fodder). For every dungeon you clear, you get Magic Stones which can be used for multiple reasons. Every day there is a unique Daily Dungeon and there are weekly and monthly Special Dungeons to crawl through if you tire of the standard “campaign” ones.
But where is the “but” that is sure to come? Well, I don’t really have one. I’ve been playing solid for three weeks. It’s 100% free and has scaled well as I’ve gone up in Rank. The money-making mechanic (Magic Stones) is incredibly non-invasive; I haven’t spent a dime. With limited-yet-upgradable Stamina, you never feel like you’re getting lassoed into paying to play. Seeing other people’s god-tier monsters that you randomly get matched with fills you with burning, green, envious flames. In fact, the biggest problem I could see is that there is zero multiplayer at all. No real partying and no trading. My group has to settle for texted pictures of our new finds and that kind of sucks. But — really — that’s nitpicky.
It’s all very well made, with even more nuance than I can fit in this article. Go check it out. Puzzle & Dragons is worth its weight in gold. And by the looks of the download numbers — they just hit 100k — the game is about to take off.