Apr 6, 2020

Puzzle & Dragons Gold Nintendo Switch Review

Light offering didn't keep me abs-orbed for long 🧩🐉



By Paul Hunter

With over 80 million downloads, Puzzle & Dragons is one of the biggest mobile games of all-time. A Switch version seemed inevitable given the console's portability and popularity—so it's no shocker that GungHo has released Puzzle & Dragons Gold.

What is surprising, though, is P&D Gold's short, surface-level campaign and heavy focus on competitive online multiplayer. For an RPG franchise so rooted in deep, single-player adventures lasting upwards of 50 hours, this is quite an usual offering. Instead of giving us a worthy successor to Nintendo 3DS' superb Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition, what we have here is essentially a Pokémon Stadium lite.

Whether that's good or a bad will ultimately depend on your preferences, but personally, I was hoping for a more traditional Puzzle & Dragons experience. There are some elements of this game I do like though, so let's get into it.


Puzzle & Dragons Gold details


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: GungHo Online
Publisher: GungHo Online
Genre: Puzzle
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)



Short stories based on the anime


The story mode in Puzzle & Dragons Gold starts off promising. You're given the choice of two protagonists, Taiga and Ryuji, each with their own campaign—giving you the impression there's lots of great content to follow. The colourful, nicely-drawn, anime cutscenes that begin each story further reinforces the idea that you're in for a pair of entertaining P&D adventures.

That illusion quickly starts to fade, however, once you realize just how shallow the stories are, especially in comparison to the usual meaty Puzzle & Dragons offering. For one thing, each campaign lasts just 90 minutes for a total of three hours' worth of content. And the stories themselves are extremely bland—all your heroes do is compete in and win the Puzzle & Dragons Champions Cup. The kicker is you only need to battle eight opponents to get the championship and roll the credits, that's it.

Both campaigns are based off the P&Z anime, which I haven't watched, so perhaps you'll enjoy them more if you're a fan of the show. As someone new to the series, the game really doesn't do a good job introducing the characters and world, it just dives right in like you already know. On the plus side, the protagonists are likable and the art style is great, so there are some redeeming factors.



Campaigns without a real purpose


What's also puzzling about the campaigns is they make little effort to teach you the ins and outs of how to play the game. You're instead thrust straight into rival battles and forced to learn as you go. Luckily, I'm a veteran of the franchise, but for newcomers having no tutorial is a strange omission given how complex Puzzle & Dragons gameplay is.

What's also odd is during campaign battles you're given preset teams consisting of a leader and five support monsters—each with their own element affinities. You have no ability to modify your roster, so you're at the mercy of the team chosen for you.

That means in some battles your opponent will have the elemental advantage, and you can't swap out monsters to even the odds. Choosing your monsters is at the core of Puzzle & Dragons' strategy, so it's a real head-scratcher why the campaigns lock you in.

Common campaign features we're accustomed to in previous entries are also missing in P&D Gold: there are no overworld maps, no NPCs to meet, and no dungeon exploring at all. The stat building and grinding have also been striped away, I assume to make the experience newcomer friendly. For longtime fans, though, the absence of all these elements makes both campaigns feel rather hollow.

Having completed both stories, I'm left wondering what the point of them are, other than to check off 'includes two campaigns' on the features list.



Awesome gameplay and presentation


Now onto the good news. For starters, the gameplay is just as excellent and addicting as I remember. If you're new to the series, the gameplay loop is this: each match round begins by choosing dragon skills to attack your opponent with, then you move to the puzzle phase where the goal is to strategically match as many orbs on 5x6 grid as you can within a time limit.

Skills are critical to winning as they can hamper your opponent in numerous ways, such as reducing their time limit or turning some of their orbs into junk. You can also use buff skills to give you an advantage, such as turning orbs into the elemental type you want to rack up a devastating combo.

During the puzzle phase another strange design decision pops up: you're forced to match orbs using the touchscreen. Because of this, the game is only playable in handheld mode—fortunate for Switch Lite users, but that means regular Switch owners (like me) can't use TV or tablet modes. The touchscreen inputs felt precise, but it would have been nice to have an option to use stick controls.

Once you get used to the rhythm of battle the gameplay really starts to click. Chaining orb matches to deliver punishing combos is super satisfying, especially when you line up the right elements to dish out extra damage. A minor complaint I have, though, is this time matches only last eight turns and if you haven't defeated your opponent, a winner is decided by who inflicted the most damage. I much prefer duels to the bitter end—they're just more satisfying.

One area where Puzzle & Dragons Gold really shines is its presentation. The graphics are stellar, and in particular, I love that the 20 main team leaders are rendered in beautiful 3D models. The beginning of each match shows your leader dragon posing and getting ready to battle, and this also serves as excellent eye candy.

The rest of the game—from the menus, to the dragon profiles, to the music—are all superb, too. No question this is the best a Puzzle & Dragons game has ever looked, or sounded.



Local and online battling


Puzzle & Dragons Gold makes it crystal clear this a multiplayer-focused entry. After you clear the skimpy campaigns, the only other content the game offers is local play or online matches with players around the world.

Fortunately, clearing the campaigns net you some preconstructed monster teams to get you started. Additional monsters can be won randomly through a gacha game using rainbow orbs received after each battle. There are over 600 monsters in all, which seems like a high number, but it pales in comparison to the thousands usually featured in Puzzle & Dragons games.

Local play can be very entertaining, especially if your friends are highly competitive. Online is a mixed bag though, sometimes I got matched quickly while other sessions I couldn't find opponents. Definitely frustrating considering there's not much else to do in the game besides online battles.

Another consideration to keep in mind: you'll need an internet connection to get the most out of this game, so playing on the go isn't all that fun (beyond completing the campaigns). This is a title best played at home or in spots with Wi-Fi.



The Verdict


Puzzle & Dragons Gold really has me conflicted. I'm a huge fan of the series—and I want to love this entry—but there's just not a lot of content to keep me coming back. Two short campaigns, and online multiplayer (with a seemingly low player base) isn't enough to hook me.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is it feels significantly less ambitious than the high bar set for this franchise on Nintendo consoles with 2015's Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition for Nintendo 3DS. That title featured two lengthy campaigns—including an inspired one featuring Mario characters—with tremendous depth and nearly 6,000 monsters to collect, train and battle. Ironically, P&D Gold made me want to revisit this superior version.

The silver lining is the gameplay and presentation: it looks great, it sounds great, and it plays great. Also, if you have nearby friends into the series then local play is where the real fun is at. However, core fans wanting a deep RPG experience should stick with the mobile versions or check out the awesome 3DS entry.


Final Score: 6/10 - Okay

A review code for the game was provided by the publisher.