Combining a puzzle-themed video game with a role playing game (RPG) might seem like the equivalent of mixing apples and oranges. But in the case of Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition, for Nintendo 3DS, the results are pretty tasty. As one might guess from the title, it features characters and iconography from the popular Super Mario Bros. franchise, albeit in a type of game they’ve never appeared in before (which by itself is a pretty impressive achievement).
Once again, Princess Toadstool has been kidnapped by Bowser, and once more, it’s up to the plumber/adventurer duo of Mario and Luigi to save the day. This time, however, the heroes have a powerful weapon up their sleeve: orbs of various colors, which whenever matched in numbers of three or more, can be used to defeat their enemies. There’s the usual running across mushroom-themed landscapes, ducking down pipes into the underworld, and encounters with Goombas, Koopas, etc. But the actual game play revolves around the aforementioned orbs, as there’s an on-screen grid full of them.
The characters all have element-based abilities, which correspond to a particular color: Mario, for example, has fire-based attacks, which are strong against enemies of certain elements/colors, but weak against others. During a melee, players get him to attack by matching up the red-colored orbs, and how many orbs are matched up is another way to determine how much damage he inflicts. Similar to puzzle such games as Bejeweled, matched orbs disappear, only to be replaced by new ones; however, a single move might cause an entire chain reaction of matches, or combos.
Along with turn-based melees, the game’s RPG elements include building up a party of adventurers, which consist of enemies that experience a change of heart. By switching around which characters are in the party, teams can either be balanced enough to take on any threat, or tiered for a specific element. However, there are levels in which only certain types of orbs are featured, making it smart to switch out party members. As the adventure moves along, players can switch experience points from established character onto newcomers, thus making them ready for higher-level battles sooner; and there’s also special abilities that can be unlocked: For example, during melees, Mario can raise the strength of everyone’s attacks.
Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is a fun mash-up, and what makes it work so well is the clever blending of puzzler and RPG elements. At one point, there are squid-like enemies, whose ink-based attacks cause some orbs on the grid to become blacked out; players cannot tell what color they are, but they remain active and in play. Similarly, one character has a skill that turns every orb of a certain color into heart-shaped ones, meaning lots of opportunities to match up the hearts, which in turn, replenishes the party’s hit points.
The Puzzle & Dragons series has been a huge hit in Japan, and Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition comes with Puzzle & Dragons Z, a non-Mario version. Along with being addictive, the game isn’t difficult to learn, although Super Mario fans who are non-RPG players might need time to get used to the very different game play, special attacks, and how to best customize their teams. So the newest title featuring everyone’s favorite Italian plumber might still feature jumping, stomping, and kicking, but for once in the character’s universe, all of it will have to be reserved for outside of the game.