As one of the most successful — and addictive — mobile match-threes of all time, GungHo Online Entertainment’s Puzzle & Dragons needs no introduction. Lighting up smartphones from Japan to Europe, North America and beyond, it’s also made quite a splash on Nintendo’s 3DS, thanks to a spin-off RPG and an inspired Super Mario Bros. crossover — both of which made their way West in the combo pack Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition.

We’re big fans of the dungeon-crawling, orb-matching mash up here at Nintendo Life, so we were very excited to have the opportunity to sit down and chat with Kazuki Morishita, GungHo’s president and CEO, at this year’s E3. In addition to Puzzle & Dragons, he spoke with us about his company’s upcoming Switch support, working with Nintendo, and his inspirations and favourite games.

GungHo’s president and CEO, Kazuki Morishita
Image: Akio Kon / Bloomberg

First of all, we’ve heard you have a new Switch title on the horizon! Is there anything you can tell us about that?

We have a few titles in the design stages, and one which is currently under development. It’s an action title, and we’ll have more information about it at a later date, but the earliest parts of its development actually started about 4 or 5 years ago. It’s been incubating over time, and when the Switch was announced we felt that with the new kinds of technology it was bringing to the market it would be a good fit for this project.

And of course, Puzzle & Dragons started on mobile, but there’s also Puzzle & Dragons Z, Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition, and Puzzle & Dragons X [in Japan] on the 3DS. Since those spin-off titles have all been on a Nintendo platform, we’re looking to see if there’s a possibility of potentially bringing that IP to the Switch. Nothing official at the moment, however.

You mentioned that Puzzle & Dragons started on mobile — was it always part of the plan to bring it to the 3DS, or was that decision made after it became successful on smartphones?

It actually wasn’t later on that we decided to put Puzzle & Dragons on the 3DS — during the development of the smartphone version we’d already decided that we wanted to somehow bring it to the 3DS. So from the early design and document creation stages it was already on our mind, but making both a 3DS and a smartphone version simultaneously was unrealistic at the time, because of the amount of people we were able to have dedicated to the development process. That’s why the smartphone game came out first.

What was it like bringing Puzzle & Dragons to the West, especially in terms of the 3DS versions? How was the Western response to Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition?

Well, with Puzzle & Dragons, it is a puzzle game, but it wasn’t necessarily made to be a puzzle game — it’s a puzzle-action game. You can move the orbs freely, so even though it looks like a puzzle game, the puzzle part is more of a casual action game. That gameplay style is definitely something that I feel is universally appealing, so the gameplay itself can be enjoyed by anyone around the world.

It does have some very specific Japanese elements, however, and we weren’t exactly sure how those would take off in the West. So even though it came out in Japan first and then the rest of the world, looking back on it, it might have been better if we’d tried to aim globally first. And from now on, we are planning to make all of our titles with a global focus, and to release things globally, not just Japan first and then the rest of the world. Speaking of, you can expect that the Switch title we’re working on to follow that pattern.

How did the Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. crossover come about? How was it working with Nintendo to make it happen?

After Puzzle & Dragons Z came out and was quite successful, we were thinking of making a spin-off title, and thought “Well, it’s on a Nintendo platform, so what if we tried making a Mario version?”. So we kind of just made a Mario-themed version, and then showed it to Nintendo. I actually showed it directly to Shigeru Miyamoto, and we weren’t sure what he’d say, but basically he said, “Yeah, it’s good!”. (laughs) That’s how it came to be in the early stages, and then it went into full development. So it wasn’t so much “Oh, can we make this?”, it was more like “We just made this — what do you think?”

We actually got the sound team from Nintendo to help out with making the sound and the music for the game, too. It’s full of Super Mario sound effects, and not just from one game, but from a variety of the titles. It’s also fun because Mario usually moves across the screen, sidescrolling, but here he goes into the screen — that’s new for Mario! Overall, it was a very exciting and stimulating project to work on.

Aside from Mario, do you have any other dream crossovers you’d love to do with Puzzle & Dragons?

Within the smartphone version of the game, we’ve actually already done a lot of collaboration efforts with other IPs like Final Fantasy, Monster Hunter, and Dragon Ball Z. We’ve just been seeing if other teams are interested in collaborating, and it’s been working out well.

In personal terms, however — my dream crossover? Zelda. Of course, Mario is the ultimate, but next to that would be Zelda. Or even Splatoon, because style-wise, Splatoon seems to make a lot of sense. Other Nintendo titles of course would be great, but especially Zelda. How we could make it work is another story, but if it was possible, it would be a lot of fun.

Morishita-san - "I’ve already collected pretty much everything, I’ve beaten all the shrines, and all I have left to do is beat Ganon. But once I beat Ganon, it will feel like the end, and I don’t want this game to end!"

Having said that, what would you say is your favourite Nintendo series?

I think I’d have to say Mario. I was in 4th grade when the Famicom was released, and at that time, at that age, the biggest impression left by anything was from Super Mario Bros. Looking back at it now, from a development standpoint, it’s a simple game — you didn’t need to read the manual, and most people didn’t — so you could just pick it up and play, learning by trial and error. But there’s so much depth to it, the way it has players acting, interacting, and reacting with the game, through trial and error but still allowing them to have fun. And as simple as it is, it really drives players’ motivation because of how the game is built through progression. There’s so many levels of depth, and how fun and interesting this game is for being so simple is just amazing.

But then there’s also Zelda! I love Breath of the Wild on Switch — I’ve already collected pretty much everything, I’ve beaten all the shrines, and all I have left to do is beat Ganon. But once I beat Ganon, it will feel like the end, and I don’t want this game to end! At some point I’m going to have to, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to do it before Mario Odyssey or Splatoon 2 come out. If not, I don’t know how I’ll manage! (laughs)

We’d like to thank Morishita-san for taking the time to talk with us, and GungHo producer Tyler Inouye for translating.