Puzzle and Dragons exploded onto the scene in 2012 and firmly established the “collectible puzzle RPG” genre on mobile phones. These games are kind of similar to Pokemon, except that they feature puzzle-based combat in some form or fashion. As is the trend these days, any notable game attracts a million clones. In this article, I’ll round up my favorite entries in this genre and give you my top 5 games like Puzzle and Dragons.
Establishing the Baseline: Puzzle and Dragons
If we’re looking at games like PAD, it seems only fair to start with PAD itself. Puzzle and Dragons arguably kicked off this puzzle RPG craze with its puzzle gaming core and an emphasis on collecting and fusing monsters.
Of all the games on this list, it has the best battle system, in my opinion. I like the “5 seconds to move a gem” mechanic, as I think it allows you to show some skill and gives you tactical options with every move.
It also gets props for originality, at least until someone points out the game that came out just before it that it obviously clones ;)
Of all of these games, I think it is among the most grindy, if not the most. Trying to level up some of the more powerful characters takes quite a lot of experience, which takes a lot of time to grind. I hit a wall and realized it was going to take weeks of play to really get any more powerful than I was already.
Now on to the clones. Despite the numbering, I haven’t really sat down and ranked these. The numbers are made up, and the order doesn’t matter! Let’s begin, shall we? Or, I suppose to honor our first entry, allonz-y!
#4: Doctor Who: Legacy
Somewhere in the BBC, someone decided that it would be a good idea to release a Doctor Who mobile game. Makes sense, I suppose. Doctor Who is a big property for the BBC, and mobile games are all the rage. They then decided that the best course of action would be to clone Puzzle and Dragons almost outright, subbing in the Doctor and his companions for the titular dragons.
Well, I just got finished saying that PAD had my favorite battle system, and this game copies it outright. I mean, right down to the last detail. Most of the non-battle systems are pretty similar as well.
If you like Doctor Who, then the use of this license is sure to resonate. It’s a solid rendition of the franchise. All the big names are here, and they’re adding more all the time. Various episodes of the series show up as levels you can play.
They threw out the “energy” mechanic of PAD, so you can play as much as you want as long as you want. The microtransactions seem a bit less, although it’s hard to say as I haven’t played this as much as I have PAD.
The game has a rather rudimentary tutorial, and that’s saying something compared to the rest of the games on this list. Even after finishing the limited tutorial on offer, I couldn’t figure out how to upgrade my companions without fumbling about in the menus.
I haven’t seen any “Friend” mechanics in this game, which is a bummer. The social elements of these games keep people coming back long after the shine has worn off.
#3: Brave Frontier
Brave Frontier is relatively new, having only been released a couple of months back. It’s again very similar to PAD, differing primarily in the battle mechanics. This one is the least puzzle-y of the bunch, with most of the strategy coming from synchronizing attacks rather than matching gems.
Brave Frontier adds some interesting mechanics, such as the town. The town can be upgraded, and you can interact with it to get more resources and so forth. It gives you a reason to check in with the game more often than daily.
There’s also player-vs-player, which is a feature that few of the other games on this list have.
Despite the limited puzzle elements, I do enjoy the combat. There’s kind of a balance between committing all your resources to an attack, and trying to maximize damage dealt to the entire enemy team. The variety in the special abilities
Brave Frontier is not as bad when it comes to grinding, but it’s still probably a close second to Puzzle and Dragons. There’s a definite wall you hit where you’ve got to grind for experience or pay for more pulls of the rare monster machine.
Although I do like the combat, it’s probably the weakest of all the games on the list. It’s somewhat strategic, but not nearly as much as any of the other contenders.
#2: Marvel Puzzle Quest
Marvel Puzzle Quest combines match-3 gameplay with the Marvel license. You assemble a team of Marvel heroes and/or villains, and do battle while following an actual storyline ripped from the comics. Earning covers upgrades your team’s powers, while earning ISO-8 makes them level up and become more powerful and harder to kill. Each hero has a set of active abilities that you can charge by matching gems of a particular color. Unleashing these abilities can cause massive damage, changes in the play board, or a variety of other effects.
The combat system in this game is a real close second to PAD. I like the match-3, and I like the abilities.
If you like the Marvel license, chances are you’re going to like this game. There’s heroes and villains of every stripe featured, and they manage to feel powerful and distinct, for the most part.
The composition of your team has real tactical implications for the combat. Picking a team that has strengths across all colors is critical, and how you allocate your ability points on each hero can make your version of that hero significantly different than another player’s.
It’s also heavily player-vs-player focused, with many events that pit teams of your heroes against those of other players. The ladder system incents you to play, and (in theory) ensures that the most dedicated players get the best rewards.
The grinding for experience is not nearly as bad as some of these other titles. It’s not that hard to acquire a lot of ISO-8 to level up your team.
A lot of the player-vs-player tournaments are won by money, and it’s really clear that those with enough premium currency to constantly shield themselves come out ahead.
There’s a constant stream of new heroes released, and not having the “flavor of the week” hero puts you at a distinct disadvantage.
Heroes need covers in order to gain levels, and covers are hard to come by. With the addition of the new alliances feature, they’ve locked some of the covers behind walls that most players will never be able to scale.
#1: Dragon Coins
Dragon Coins takes the Puzzle and Dragons formula and subs in a “coin dozer” game for the puzzle element. There are monsters to fuse and evolve, team building, elemental stuff, ally monsters, and all that jazz. Again, here, they lifted practically everything about PAD and just subbed in a different battle mechanic.
There’s something visceral about the coin dozer mechanic. I find myself tilting my phone as if that made a difference. I don’t like it as much as the PAD battle mechanics, but it’s closer to the top of the list than the Brave Frontier implementation.
Fusing and evolution are much simpler. This game feels quite a bit less grindy than PAD or Brave Frontier. I don’t feel like I need a wiki open all the time to make sense of everything. There’s only a few levels of rarity, and every monster can evolve at level 20.
I feel like friend coins are relatively easy to come by – it seems like I’m able to get 5 pulls on the friend machine almost daily. The daily rewards are good too, like extra monster box slots.
Overall, the game is a simplified take on the PAD formula, with some fun mechanics thrown in.
Since the battle system relies mostly on the physics of the various coins, gems, and boxes, there’s a lot of randomness to it. There’s also not a ton of interactivity – you can drop coins anywhere horizontally, but aside from that you’re just stuck with however the coins fall.
There’s a lot of time pressure when it comes to your monsters’ abilities. It’s also kind of tricky to get coins and powerups to go where you want them to. Especially around the outside, it’s more frequent that a large pile of coins will fall off the edge rather than land in a spot where your outer monsters can make use of them.
So what’s the best game like Puzzle and Dragons?
It’s a tough call, honestly. I like them all for different reasons.
- Marvel Puzzle Quest’s battle system is a lot of fun, it’s really addictive. The Marvel characters help. However, making progress is extremely slow.
- Brave Frontier hews the closest to Puzzle and Dragons, making it the most similar Puzzle and Dragons clone. However, the battle system is very basic by comparison, and that makes me sad.
- Doctor Who: Legacy copies the battle system perfectly, but it may not appeal to folks who don’t enjoy the Doctor Who franchise.
- Finally, Dragon Coins has an interesting (albeit simplified) battle system. Almost everything about it is simplified, even, so if the complexity of PAD or Brave Frontier is getting you down, this might be the one to pick.