The problem with video games of an addictive nature is that you don’t typically know something is addictive until you’re in the full, blurry-eyed throes of it, playing and playing until the clock confirms that you’ve been wasting your life for yours at a time.
The new Nintendo puzzle game with the spectacularly unfortunate title, “Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition,” is actually twice the usual dose of typical addictive Nintendo Gaming Substance. It’s a combo pack of two games for the Nintendo 3DS, a popular-in-Japan game called “Puzzle & Dragons Z” and a revamp of that game that uses Nintendo’s reliable stable of characters — Mario, Luigi, Koopa Troopa turtles, etc. — and plugs them into the same game mechanic and typical Mario-game world map.
Like the classic “Puzzle Quest,” both of these games are role-playing adventures wrapped around a basic gem-matching game structure. “Puzzle & Dragons” is a lot like “Pokémon” in that there is the element of capturing and raising dragons, upgrading their skills and unleashing them in battle. (Try to put ethical concerns aside.) It has goofy scientists, pre-teen protagonists and lands to explore. If you’re not a fan of these kinds of games, the story will feel like a complete drag, but the gameplay mechanics are solid and the urge to upgrade your dragons and see them turn into mighty warriors will eventually take hold.
“Super Mario Bros. Edition,” on the other hand, is just as fun, but a lot more accessible and fun if you’re a longtime Nintendo fan. The world maps are practically lifted whole from existing games, but it’s a clever gambit to allow players to switch back and forth between the two games if one should get too challenging. I found myself struggling in World 3, but then had a hot streak through World 4 that boosted my confidence enough to keep playing, devoting lots of time to the numerous upgrade options available for the stable of Nintendo fighters I had collected. By matching gems in the game, you throw volleys of attacks against foes and each character can develop attack and/or healing skills you can employ as well.
One problem I ran into: the game is incredibly stingy with the loot items you need to upgrade your troops, at least in the first few Worlds, and it takes an awfully long time to unlock the options that ease that gameplay issue. Maybe the intent is to make you go back and play the earlier levels again after you’re hit those upgrades, but by that point, the gameplay on those levels becomes far too easy to be interesting.
When the difficulty is just right, though, close matches become just shy of frustrating and very fun; the game does throw you some Continues, but even that’s not often enough to clear a dungeon of baddies.
If you pick up the game, you may find yourself playing one title much more than the other, or having more an appreciation for one from playing the other. At the end of the day, “Mario Edition” is just a skin of the other game, but it’s more direct and a quicker game to get into.
“Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition”
$30, for Nintendo 3DS
Rated E for Everyone