My eyes practically tear up with joy as I manage to match five tiles. And then it happens; that masterful bit of matching allows me to unload a “Mass Attack”, unleashing an unbelievable amount of damage onto the crazed monster staring me down in the dungeon corridor. What was once a terrifying encounter, one in which I was down to my last dozen hit points, has been turned on its head. By mixing luck with a keen eye I turned the tables and laughed like a fool while doing so. These moments are what makes Puzzle & Dragons the iOS game I can’t stop coming back to play almost daily.
Puzzle & Dragons is deceptively simple, but shows a surprising amount of depth the more you play. Early stages are incredibly simple: you pick a starting monster and head into the dungeon. On screen, you have a grid of “orbs” (sorry, I’ll probably call them tiles at least a dozen more times, force of habit with this genre) of various colors. Match three red ones and you launch a fire attack, match three blue and it’s a water attack, three hearts and you heal your dragon/monster. Simple enough really.
As you keep playing you earnin magic eggs from defeated foes. These eggs could unlock rare or powerful dragons, which you can add to your group of monsters, thus creating one heck of a combat team. However, you could merge them with a currently owned monster via the “Fusion” system, and in doing so level up the main monster. Now you’ve got a party of monsters under your command, each has an attack that makes it even more useful. Maybe your Green Dragon can heal your party every 10 turns. Perhaps your Fire Dragon can unleash a heat blast for max damage against opposing elements. There’s real depth here if you’re willing to utilise it.
Fast forward 30 minutes and you’ve got an awesome mix of elemental attacks and power-ups under your bet, so it’s time to ‘mass attack’! Mass attacks are triggered by matching five orbs/tiles at once, it’s quite the sight to behold as every monster in your party blasts the dungeon baddies with their basic attacks, unleashing a ton of damage.
Puzzle & Dragons maintains its addictive nature by slowly feeding you these features, not “withholding” them to artificially extend the gameplay, but more to ease you into the subtle complexities of the game. You’ll never feel overwhelmed by gameplay options and features thanks to this slow trickle. When you go toe-to-toe agains a really scary pack of monsters for the first time you’ll be glad you were taught you how to play in this way.
Yes, Puzzle & Dragons is a “freemium” game, but its purchasing opportunities never lead you to feel like you bought your way to success. Frankly, I played for several hours before spending my first dollar and, if I had wanted to, I could have simply forgone paying to continue my game from the last battle and just restarted the current dungeon for free. You’ll never be accosted for money by the dreaded microtransaction, as they are always optional and don’t ever prevent you from playing the game.
It even looks great, with monsters and dragons being created with interesting character models and designs. However, if there’s one major issue with Puzzle & Dragons it’s the reliance on a very solid Internet or data connection as you game data can become corrupted if you’re cut off mid game. There are also some very unfair and downright ‘cheap’ monsters that deliver party-annihilating one-hit-kills. It feels like a way to ensure you either play for much longer or pay your way past.
If you like tile-matching games and are looking for something more, you can’t go wrong with Puzzle & Dragons. Boasting a Pokémon-styled collection of monsters and ‘catch em all’ attitude, combined with dungeon crawling and tile-matching, Puzzle & Dragons is a blast to play. Even if it has a couple of niggling issues.
Audio/Visual – 3.5/5: Some great art and character models.
Gameplay – 4/5: Addictive tile-matching and monster collection throughout.
Innovation –3/5: Takes classic elements from multiple games, but mixes them together thoughtfully.
Value – 5/5: You could play the free game and never feel a need to pay for extras, but the pay options are cleverly crafted so it doesn’t feel like a rip-off or “pay to win”.
Final Score: 4/5