Puzzle & Dragons has been known since 2012 where it began as a mobile game. The action-puzzle formula and creature acquisition allowed it to gather lots of interested players, expanding its playerbase for many years until its fame let it jump to one of Nintendo’s biggest consoles to date, the 3DS. Released in 2015, Puzzle & Dragons Z and its expansion with a Mario Bros. theme introduced us to a great game filled with story, dungeon crawling and the same addictive gameplay that the franchise is known for. Now, GungHo has decided to repeat its winning formula for the Nintendo Switch by making a brand-new game from the ground up, Puzzle & Dragons Gold.
The story here is kept to a minimum. It’s based on the anime that was born from the franchise’s popularity. The story is centered around two characters, Taiga or Ryuji, two competitive and promising players of Puzzle & Dragons who want to win big time and be crowned champions of the P&D Tournament. As mentioned before, the story revolves around the anime and if you’re not familiar with it, it will be difficult to understand the relations between the characters because the game does a poor job at giving a context about the conflicts and backstory of their interactions. It’s also the same cliché story that we have seen before on an RPG, and it’s no longer than 3 hours.
Apart from the story being really short and simple, the game lacks a proper world to know, there are no NPCs to talk to, no dungeons to explore, even the RPG progression system is almost erased. The only thing that you can do in its story mode is advance in a series of matches using premade teams, pushing “A” through scenes with static characters, and finally, when you arrive at the end, it makes you question if it was a tutorial.
Puzzle & Dragons Gold offers players a grid where you must make as many color matches as possible within a time limit. Depending on how many matches you make, your combo counter and element type will power up your attack to defeat the other team. Each battle goes over eight rounds where the player can win by depleting the rival’s health bar or having the most health at the end of the eighth round. The health bar is divided into segments, and note that only one segment can be depleted at any time. Once taking a segment, your team will focus on the next segment, so players have to think carefully when to use a powerful attack if the rival team has only a small portion of health in a segment.
Players can use skills that will be charging through the match. Once done, you can activate them to force the rival into a disadvantaging position or get beneficial advantages. You can use these skills at the start of each round, and you can use as many charged skills that you have ready, but activating only skills will not be helpful if you don’t know what they do or in which order activating them. As an example, there are skills that lock orbs, causing the other skills targeting orbs to lose their effect.
Winning or losing a match gives you experience points to level up your character, but the only purpose of this “leveling” is to receive rainbow orbs that you can use later on the gacha. Puzzle & Dragons may not have microtransactions, but your team building is still somewhat limited by the random and apparently infinite characters of the gacha. Therefore, if you want a specific character, you will have to play the short story mode many times, do some online battles or solo to obtain these rainbow orbs.
Even if you get the pulls that you want, there is no such thing as training or building your dragons here; the feeling of “training them” is the simple act of unlocking two new abilities for them by using them for a number of battles. However, you’re limited to twenty leading Dragons that you can use to build teams for multiplayer use.
The other 500+ dragons’ ‘followers‘ to use to complete the remaining five points on your team are only art images that come with fixed skills and statistics. Mix and match can be entertaining and fun at the beginning, but since there is no real progression possible for them, it is difficult to stay involved in the team’s compositions or in the game in general.
This is the part where Puzzle & Dragons doesn’t seem to disappoint. With its amazing quality images, each of the leaders you can select for your teams has a gorgeous HD model in the arena, with great details and animations. Attacks from these leaders look pretty amazing, they shake the screen in a flashy way that makes you feel the power of your attacks when connecting, injecting some emotion into the otherwise boring experience. It feels weird that this game looks that cool, and fails in almost every other aspect of the same.
The game has good immersive music in the battles, the upbeat jams when the monsters attack, or the song playing while you match different orbs to rack up your combo meter feels really refreshing and comfortable to listen. It’s also possible to unlock music from previous Puzzle & Dragons games such as Puzzle & Dragons X and Puzzle & Dragons Z from battling specific characters. This is a nice touch for those who loved the music themes of those titles.
When playing this game, you might feel as though its online multiplayer portion might be the core of the game, having no great story at all and no level progression for you or your team. Its online play takes away the limitations of premade teams, giving you the freedom to edit and make custom teams. With this freedom, you’re able to make the perfect team that suits your playstyle (that is if you have unlocked the characters you want in story mode or from the gacha) then the ranking system will select an opponent of the same or above skill in order to progress on the ranks. The game does a pretty good job when playing online, running smoothly without lag or frames per second dropping when battling. The only inconvenience would be that it sometimes take too long to find a match.
If you dislike the competitive part of Puzzle & Dragons or just want to have practice matches with friends, the game gives you the ability to create your own private rooms with a password using the orb elements. Give a friend the password and they can join your room easily without the intrusion.
Puzzle & Dragons Gold is the failed experiment of the franchise at making an online multiplayer game, taking with it the best things that the series had been offering us in the past. It doesn’t have a proper campaign, it’s linear and has a very short anime-based story, and creature progression and team building is very limited. Having pre-made teams is not comfortable to those that enjoy the strategy of building the perfect team. Graphics look amazing and the music is really good, but having more cons than pros, this game will make you turn back to your 3DS and want to play Puzzle & Dragons Z. Let’s hope GungHo will take all the misses from this one, and maybe surprise us with another installment of the beloved franchise that will shine on the Nintendo Switch.
Final Rating: 4/10.