What is Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition?
Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is a double pack of games for the 3DS that packs loads of puzzles, dragons and match-three goodness into one cartridge. Both Puzzle & Dragons Z and Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition provide the same addictive mix of the monster catching, raising and battling of Pokemon, with the gem-matching action of Bejewelled, Puzzle Quest and Jewel Quest. It may sound like a bit of an odd combination - but it works.
How do you play Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition?
At its heart, Puzzle & Dragons is a match three game, with added battling tacked on. Taking a team of five or six dragons/Mario characters (depending on which of the two games you're playing) into various dungeons, forests and fields, you battle it out with various other creatures in take-it-in-turns battles by making matches of three or more gems on the Touch Screen. Each of your team of monsters is from one of six elements, and the colour of the gems you match decides which of your team-mates will attack - match some red gems, and your fire monsters will attack, for example. The more matches you make, the stronger your attacks become - but no matter how well you match things up, if you don't have a dragon of the corresponding element in your team, you'll do no damage. As you travel, you'll accumulate eggs/Baddie Blocks, which can be hatched into new dragons and Mario characters, and chips/items which can be used to evolve them into more powerful forms, packing more of a punch in battle.
How easy is Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition to pick up and play?
While Puzzle and Dragons may sound complex on paper, it's generally a rather forgiving game. For starters, unlike other match three games, players can pick up gems from anywhere on the grid, and drop them next to other like-coloured gems to make matches, meaning that even when you can't see a good combo nearby, you can create one. Also, enemies tend to only attack every few turns, depending on the creature in question, so you're generally able to get a good few blows in for every attack they land on you, making it somewhat easier to whittle away their health.
Cascades of matches are also nice and easy to trigger, and not only do the matches you make stack, letting you unleash a chain of several moves in a row - but it also makes it easier to restore your health, as any chain reactions often end up matching at least a few of the plentiful, health restoring heart gems.
One thing to watch for, particularly with younger players, is that you put together a balanced party. For example, if you were to head into a dungeon without a yellow dragon, and spent all your time matching yellow orbs, you won't actually be attacking the enemy, as in order to charge up an attack you have to match gems of that dragon's element. You do have five slots for dragons in your party, and with five different gem colours, it makes sense to take one of each.
For the youngest of players, despite being a fairly simplistic, easy-to-pick-up-and-play match three/Pokemon hybrid, Puzzle & Dragons does require a fair bit of reading to fully understand. While you could traverse the game's dungeons without reading a word, making sense of the overarching story, accepting side quests and other such bits and pieces is done entirely through text, with nothing in the way of voice overs, so a solid reading ability is pretty much required.
Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is as squeaky clean as its Mario tie-in title suggests - there's no blood, guts or gore in sight, and bad language and sex are likewise totally absent. Violence is pretty much non-existent too, with battles being more implied than anything - your attacks are shown on screen as the odd flash of light or exploding fire ball, but enemies simply flash when hit and fade away when defeated.