Most Puzzle & Dragons games have rich experiences for players. They have hefty single-player content, giving you different ways to acquire and build up dragons. You feel like you have control over your destiny, due to the ability to choose which characters you use and seeing them grow. There can be dungeons to explore. Even though chance plays a big factor, since you never know if the orbs will fall in your favor, there’s a sense of reassurance and knowing that if you invested time into your teams, it will make a difference.
Puzzle & Dragons Gold isn’t that kind of game.
Puzzle & Dragons Gold feels like someone went into a room of developers, told them what Puzzle & Dragons feels like and showed them some screenshots and a puzzle video or two, but then never let the people making the game actually play the mobile game or any of the Nintendo 3DS installments. There are parts of it that are fine. It has some satisfactory match-3 mechanics based on solid concepts Puzzle & Dragons originated, and the multiplayer works. It is even easy to find a match with someone else online! People who enjoy PvP could find themselves having fun with it. But so many other elements falter.
The story is a fantastic place to start, because Puzzle & Dragons Gold barely has one. This isn’t a necessity for a game in this series. The original game is great, and its primary focus is accumulating creatures, dungeon-diving, and forming amazing teams so you can keep doing those first two things. With the handheld games, of which Puzzle & Dragons Gold also qualifies since it doesn’t have docked or tabletop mode compatibility, a campaign is rather critical. Both Puzzle & Dragons Z and Puzzle & Dragons X had these. The former has the player, a Dragon Tamer, befriending dragons and fighting Paradox to keep the group from tearing the world apart. You take on quests, go into dungeons, collect monsters, and have a huge world to explore. Puzzle & Dragons X, which sadly wasn’t localized, is even better and has more Pokemon-like elements. You have a more detailed overworld, a more involved story with Dragon Callers trying to save the world, the ability to capture creatures during battles, and get to craft equipment.
Puzzle & Dragons Gold doesn’t do that. When you first start the campaign, you only have two storylines to go through. You can follow Taiga or Ryuji when you begin. They aren’t all that dissimilar, as each one is trying to become the Puzzle & Dragons champion. Which, in each route, consists of playing through four matches with a predetermined team you can’t change, having the champ tell you congratulations, and getting a “The End” screen. (Spoilers aside, I finished the entire nine-battle campaign in under two hours.) If you aren’t familiar with the PuzzDra anime series from Studio Pierrot, you won’t recognize any of these characters. Which is fine, because the 30-45 minutes you spend on each route doesn’t really make them seem that interesting.
Now, you’ll see up there I mentioned predetermined teams. While the other Puzzle & Dragons games have rosters that range from “large” to “unfathomable and growing every year” and give you different ways to acquire new dragons, Puzzle & Dragons Gold handles things differently. Preconstructed teams are immediately available, which can be used for online or offline versus. In the campaign, you have a preset team that each character uses. While the former is fine, since you can create a custom team of six, the latter is disappointing. It could mean you’re even less invested in the story, because you have no control there.
As for the custom teams, even those can feel a little hollow. Each has a leader character, and you are limited to around 20 choices that can be collected and fill that role on your team. (These can be earned from the campaign or by collecting Rainbow Orbs and buying the locked Preconstructed Teams they lead.) These are the only ones with 3D models that appear in the arena. You also have additional dragons that can be added in the other five slots to round out your six character team. These are earned by going through the campaign, buying the locked Preconstructed Teams, or earning Rainbow Orbs through playing and getting them from the gacha. Except, you don’t get control over the dragons you get. There isn’t the same satisfaction of building them up and having them grow. Also, when every one you are awarded is a Rare or higher, it diminishes the excitement you feel when you get one.
There is some value to Puzzle & Dragons Gold. Nintendo Switch Online subscribers who enjoy Puzzle & Dragons and want to play online could find themselves really enjoying it. Especially if they put in enough time with the brief campaign and grinding for Rainbow Orbs through versus matches to unlock more dragons they could use on custom teams. People should not go into it expecting anything like Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition. It also doesn’t bring in a lot of elements from the original mobile game. It is more rudimentary and focused on being competitive, forgoing other features that have made the series special in the process.
Puzzle & Dragon Gold is available for the Nintendo Switch.