Puzzle & Dragons Gold — A Puzzling Effort

Battle mythical monsters, gods and dragons through competitive match-three gameplay in GungHo Entertainment’s Nintendo Switch exclusive, Puzzle & Dragon Gold

A series already well established on Nintendo’s 3DS, Apple iOS and Android mobile, Puzzle & Dragon Gold takes team vs team combat and mixes it with match-three mechanics to form hybrid puzzle battler. Players have the option of a number of Leader characters with which to front their team. These usually set out the type of player you are as each lead character also determines your focus on the grid. Some leaders increase their team power with higher combos where others need players to focus on larger matches of orbs in which to increase their damage multipliers.

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The Puzzle Grid

After selecting a leader, players then select a number of sub-characters to make up the remaining team. Again; each character has a number of available skills, each unlocked by utilising or winning matches with them in your selected team. Each sub-character is also aligned with a primary and secondary element matching the orbs on the grid, this also usually aligns to their given skill making team composition a powerful way to increase your likelihood of victory since if all your team elements matchup, your chance of high string combos increases.

For each battle, the minimised puzzle grid for each team is shown on the screen along with a portrait of each sub-character. These portraits are highlighted to notify players that a skill is charged although pressing on them at any time shows you the number of turns remaining to charge that skill or allows you deploy it if it’s ready. Leader characters are fully rendered in 3D on the field and; as puzzle matches are made; carry out attacks on the opposing team leader. In addition to standard attacks, leaders have custom animations for combo attacks and their own personal skills adding a fair amount of variety to any battle.

Puzzle & Dragon Gold offers players a nine-by-six grid upon which you must make as many orb matches as possible within each turns time limit. Dependent on your number of matches, your combo counter and type of elements matched can power up your attacks to help you defeat the opposing team. Each battle takes place over eight rounds with victory going to the team who either deplete the oppositions health pool first or have the most health remaining at the end of the match. Team health is split into a number of segments and only one segment can be depleted at any time, once gone your team focus on the next segment so landing an absolutely epic attack can simply be wasted if there is even a sliver left in the current segment.

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New Team – New Leader

As each match progresses, team leaders and sub-characters charge their given skills and utilise them to try to force a disadvantage on their opponent or advantage to themselves. Players have the option to utilise any charged skill at the start of each round or simply to skip forward to the puzzle phase. Players can deploy as many skills per round as they wish, with the only limitation being the actual number charged. It is not advised to do this since some skill effects can make others useless such as locking orbs; once locked on a given turn, no other skills can affect them.

During the puzzle phase, players must select a starting orb. Keeping your finger on that orb, players then slide that orb around the grid moving other orbs into match positions. A time limit for moving orbs keeps turns from taking too long and creates a frantic few seconds upon which your ability to spot paths to create large combos is tested. Some team skills increase your orb time whilst other reduce your opponent’s move time bringing players back to the strategy of the actual team composition.

The story campaign is illustrated in a 2d comic anime style with some high-resolution artwork on offer. There are two opposing paths through the story as one follows Taiga with the alternative following Ryuji. Both have differing teams with Taiga relying on high combo counts to increase damage whilst Ryuji needs to match more than three orbs in any match to increase his damage. Both teams have a composition to support those goals but the play-style is different for each. For new players, the story can be a frustrating affair as it pulls no punches but for seasoned players, it’s unfortunately only around 20 minutes in length.

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Tokamon Strikes

Outside of the fixed teams offered in Story campaign, Puzzle & Dragons main draw is the collection of Rainbow Orbs to allow the unlocking of new leaders, opposing teams or for spending at the Monster Box which rewards 100 Rainbow Orbs with a randomised new sub-character. Known for its depth of content on other platforms, Puzzle & Dragon Gold on Nintendo Switch is unfortunately extremely light on it and relies on players replaying the five match story or going into multiplayer online action in order to practise, earn rainbow orbs for the shop or a new challenge.

Puzzle & Dragons Gold only offers handheld play with no docked or tablet mode available for players. The game loads up docked but without touch screen access the game grinds to a halt when the actual gameplay begins since no orbs can be moved with the Joy-Con or skills selected. It’s a shame there isn’t a secondary control method but the fast-paced orb movement required to maximise combos during each turn would likely offer a large advantage to players using the touch controls over another.

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Story Time

Colourful, frantic and well-illustrated, Puzzle & Dragon Gold offers a fast-paced and portable puzzler which can be played for both hours and minutes depending on your location. It’s a shame the content level is so low in comparison to previous games as once you create the perfect team for your play-style the only place left to challenge you is online, which isn’t always available to portable players and defeats the point of the portable only offering.

Puzzle & Dragons Gold is available now on the Nintendo eShop.

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