Because of its name, I’ve seen people mistake Puzzle & Dragons for a match-three game in the style of Candy Crush, but that’s not totally accurate. It’s an RPG with puzzle-based battle, and the original mobile version is known for its depth of gameplay and strategy. Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros Edition for 3DS bundles two games in one, and Z at first appears to be the definitive upgrade veterans are looking for — but that is also inaccurate. The Mario Edition is actually the star, and it shines where Z falls flat.
The start screen says that Mario Edition is better for beginners, and it is indeed faithful to the original P&D gameplay. You start with a few allies, build a team, and fight your way through dungeons, clearing elemental orbs in the puzzle portion to attack. It differs from a typical match-three in that you can freely move one orb around the puzzle area for a limited amount of time, which makes the puzzles more involved and real-time than they seem at first glance. It’s a deep, complex system, and the Mario version turned out to be decently challenging. Bosses are hard to beat, and I had to be really engaged with what I was doing. It’s not something you can play mindlessly.