You'd probably be forgiven for dismissing Puzzle & Dragons on first glance -- I certainly did when I first played the game a little while ago. It's not exactly accessible for those of us who appreciate well-designed software, requiring an Internet connection and using some of the worst features of online social games, including a really grindy progression system and a fairly insistent friends list.
But I gave the game another look when I saw it pop up on the charts this last week, and I'm glad I did: There is indeed a good game here, hidden in among the trappings of online social nonsense. The core game is a match-3 puzzle game, which I've already expressed my fondness for a few times. And that match-3 game powers a role-playing system that's actually very complex when you dive into exactly how it all works.
There is a tutorial to walk you through the game's mechanics, but the real complexity doesn't appear until after you've finished it. Each monster you collect (and include in your party) is matched up to a certain color, and when you match that color on the puzzle field, that monster attacks. So putting your party together becomes very complicated: Do you want to focus on one color, making it more powerful than the others, but leaving you without attacks when you don't have orbs of that color to match? Or do you want to spread your party out, giving you a few options but not as many monsters attacking on each turn?
There are other wrinkles as well, including monster skills that slowly regenerate over your turns, and even color alignments, which cause some colors to do more or less damage to monsters of other colors. And all of the monsters you collect can be upgraded and evolved into more powerful creatures, assuming you've got the right pieces to build them with. The game is actually very satisfying, once you figure out how it all fits together.
It's just too bad that the really rewarding stuff is buried underneath all of the social nonsense. App company execs: The reason this game is so successful isn't because it pushes people to connect friends and rewards with stupid daily bonuses. It's successful because, even despite those things, it's a fun game to play. Puzzle & Dragons is a free download.