Playing Puzzle & Dragons: Pints of Guinness Make You Strong

I've got a hamster called Mr Jibbers. Every day I get in at about six thirty and have my tea (dinner to Southerners). After that he wakes up and starts banging about, flinging his food bowl around and raking it across the bars of his cage in a way reminiscent of my memories of the pound scene in Lady and the Tramp. I'm generally a perceptive kind of guy, so I take this to mean he'd like to come out of his little prison. I oblige of course, every time, and so open the little hatch on top and wait. After about thirty seconds he'll grab a hold of the bars and pull himself up onto the roof, much like a Michael Myers surprise from the ceiling (where he appears behind his victim, lowering himself down from a pipe), just in reverse. His speed and grace in dragging his furry little body weight what would be about seven feet for a human is wonderful and astounding to watch. I do so every time. 

Once he's out things go one of two ways. I always let him potter about for a bit, because his curiosity is infectious and the sight of a little creature on top of a cage always reminds me of that Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Mick Foley. Sometimes I'll scoop him up and stick him in his ball so he can run around my flat and poo loads. He sounds like a fecally-obsessed mariachi band when he's in his ball; transforming himself into a hamster sized poo maraca. The rest of the time I let him run about on the sofa, which is a yellowy cream colour. I like to think its hues remind him of his ancestral home in the Syrian desert, but he probably just enjoys having a bit more space. He never poos on the sofa, so I take this as a sign of contentment.

While he's hard at it in the cushiony dunes I tend to his cage. I refill the water, sort him a bit of muesli and change the bedding in his little house, careful to replace a modicum of the soiled stuff so he doesn't get upset by the cleanliness. He gets very angry if he can't smell at least a bit of last night's water and muesli in his bed, if you get my drift. My live-in beloved keeps a watchful eye over the little lad while I'm doing this, seeing as he has a compulsion to scale the arms of the sofa and dive headfirst towards the floor. I'm sure he'll be fine, but I just don't like the idea of him breaking something important. By this point our time together is drawing to a close - it's after nine p.m. at this juncture, so time for bed. We both give him little kisses and then stick him back in solitary to spend the rest of his nocturnal evening poncing about by himself. I'd get him a friend to share his time with, but I gather he'd murder and eat them, so alone he shall remain. I repeat this process every day, almost to the letter.

For some reason unbeknownst to me you can't easily play Puzzle & Dragons on Android in the UK. For this simple fact it has always been a forbidden fruit, existing in some strange place where I am a second class citizen, unable to roll the dice on a bit of the Free to Play. After that Mario version of it came out on DS I decided that I'd had enough: I would play it regardless of geographical barriers. I installed this funny Qoo app wot is from Asia (Japan I think), which lets you install all kinds of region-specific wonders. Too right I did. Take that, powers that be!

Puzzle & Dragons, it turns out, is a lot like that Doctor Who game I played two years ago. It is a match three puzzle game, but instead of swapping two tiles around to make matches you are able to move the little orbs about on the whole grid of little orbs, theoretically creating massive chains of little orbs. Created chains disappear, dealing damage to whatever monster you are fighting. The more orbs the more damage, and so the quicker you progress. I don't really like this core mechanic, because I just can't figure out how moving the orbs works. The one you are shifting swaps its place with every other it moves past, which is theoretically a really simple equation. For some reason I just can't make my mind get a hang of this, so spend a lot of my time flailing about and making a mess of things. I'll probably never play it again.

BUT what if I do?

It's a Free to Play game, and so is full of little hooks to make you want to play it every day (though the game is caring enough to recommend you limit yourself to one hour every single day of your life). The progress you make is really, really slow. To get better you have to collect character cards dropped at random from fallen enemies, and then level these up by feeding other cards to them. As you feed your cards, their health, attack, defence and recovery stats get better, so you can then go and defeat stronger enemies and get better cards. Levelling up costs gold which, again, you receive from fighting. You also sporadically receive special crystals which can be, five at a time - roughly fifteen or twenty battles - spent at a vending machine that randomly generates rarer cards for you. Basically, you've got to play it a lot to get anywhere. So much so in fact, that there are entire websites dedicated to teaching you to play in the most efficient way possible.

It's not for me if I'm being honest, not even in a morbid curiosity way.

BUT I keep logging into it once a day, just to keep everything ticking over. I receive a little gold, and some points to use on another vender (vending machine to Southerners), one that gifts you tat to further upgrade your cards with. I'm probably never going to play it again, but just on the off chance I do, I want to be in the very best of positions to get back on the horse.

Right: it's time to detonate this heavily laboured metaphor. As games position themselves more and more as services, things to be interacted with regularly in piecemeal fashion, we are all becoming pets. Mr Jibbers managed to escape one evening when I left his cage open after a drunken love-in. During the night he made multiple trips between the living room and bathroom, ferrying food - from the bag he'd eaten his way through - all the way down the hall and into the nest he'd made from pilfered toilet roll. We found him in the morning when we were going about our showering business. We were all suitably impressed.

Ever since, we've called upon the skills of bulldog clips, carefully adding an extra level of cage security. Despite this, Mr Jibbers still tries in vain to escape, foolhardy in his pursuit of the promise of bathroom freedom. I don't think it strikes him that escape will likely lead to an untimely demise. He's tiny after all, and my feet are huge. We also get a lot of big, hungry birds hanging about our corner of inner city north London, so I don't think he'd last too long out on the mean streets either, if he managed to get down three flights of stairs with his little muesli-filled knapsack. But he keeps going about the same old routine, as we do with him every night after tea, because habits are comforting. There is a fantastic Against Me! song about this very occurrence, it's called Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists.

I'm the same with this silly game about dragons (most of the creatures in it aren't) and puzzles. I'm never going to succeed in it, and so, ironically, my only solution is to escape from it entirely. At the minute though, I just can't seem to get much further than the bathroom.


The above prose is proud to be associated with Critical Distance's Blogs of the Round Table, an initiative which seeks to bring the diverse voices of video game criticism together about the person of a monthly topic. I think it's dead good, and so do these lovely individuals:


Hamsters cost about two quid a month to keep. Thusly... If you're thankful in any way for my free written gift to you, maybe consider making it ever so slightly less free by donating to my lovely Patreon, it resides here: Chrz.