GungHo's puzzle strategy RPG franchise has been going strong since 2012 so let's match some orbs in the latest Switch release.
For the unfamiliar, Puzzle & Dragons games are usually RPGs that feature dungeon traversal as you take part in a tile-swapping puzzle game which results in your equipped monsters damaging enemies. However, Puzzle & Dragons Gold is different in that it's focused on arena battles against fellow characters which is very reminiscent of the Pokémon franchise. This focus on battles means that the overall game is structured to cater to those who prefer competing online as well as those who have fellow Puzzle & Dragons fans in their lives as they can enjoy battling them via local network battles. There is single player content in the form of simply beating characters from a menu and a disappointingly short Story mode but I'll discuss those in more depth later. For now, let's take a look at how the game actually plays.
Battles in Puzzle & Dragons Gold consist of 8 rounds and whoever has the least HP at the end loses. Plus, competitors may perish before the 8 rounds conclude and each player has 4 health bars. Every round has 2 phases: Skill Phase where you select skills from your party of monsters that can mess with your opponent as well as help you out and Puzzle Phase where you try and match as many sets of orbs as you can. You do so by dragging a single orb across a 6-by-5 grid which swaps all orbs in its path. When you're done, the elements that you matched are tallied and your monsters then attack accordingly. All of this may sound simple but mastering the strategy element is something that'll require a great deal of practice and patience, especially once you dive into creating your own custom teams.
The core gameplay is a wonderful mix of strategy and puzzle fun that makes each battle a frantic and rewarding challenge. Meanwhile, the visuals and audio that tie it all together are fantastic with gorgeously-animated leader monsters, imaginative art for other monsters, lovely battle cinematography, and upbeat music that makes each match feel immersive and exciting.
As you play, you'll earn Rainbow Orbs that you can use to purchase preconstructed teams as well as redeem at an Egg Machine to unlock more monsters. You'll also increase your player level by earning experience after each match even if you lose. All of that being said, unlocking stuff takes much longer than you'd hope for 2 reasons. Firstly, you don't get many Rainbow Orbs from winning matches and secondly, the matches against CPU opponents can be downright infuriating how challenging they are. Couldn't they have at least included a difficulty option? On the plus side, there are hundreds upon hundreds of monsters to unlock which is just awesome.
Finally, allow me to discuss some odds and ends. First up; the non-multiplayer content is extremely limited as it only consists of a brief Story mode where you play through a few battles each as 2 different characters then you can challenge the super-tough AI via Practice mode. Needless to say, I wish there was a lot more solo content. Last but not least, the time limits take a lot of getting used to. Both battle phases have a strict time limit which means you'll have minimal time to observe your puzzle grid and form a course of action. What I found myself doing is staring at the board during the Skill Phase so I could devise a strategy which feels counterintuitive.
With some great games in the series' past, Puzzle & Dragons Gold is disappointingly stripped down yet it still offers an exciting combat dynamic, especially for those who prefer to flex their skills online.
- + Fantastic blend of strategy and puzzles makes for exciting battles
- + Lively graphics and sound
- + Loads of monsters to unlock
- - Not enough single player content
- - Could use difficulty options
- - Time limits are annoying