Mahjong as a concept needs very little introduction. It is a tile based game that originated in China during the Qing Dynasty but has been played worldwide, in some form, ever since. The rules are extremely complex among Mahjong’s many variations and wouldn’t work as a video game. Instead Mahjong the video game is actually not Mahjong. It is actually Mahjong Solitaire.
The tiles themselves are taken directly from Mahjong but no other rules remain the same. In Mahjong Solitaire, your aim is to simply clear the board of Mahjong tiles. You do this by selecting pairs of tiles with matching images. The complication comes from the way each board is uniquely laid out. You can only select a tile if you have freed it. This means removing some of the tiles around it so that you can select it. Further complexity comes from the way the board stacks in layers. This means that some tiles are completely hidden so you will need to remove a top layer to be able to see and select from the layer underneath.
There are also more than just two matching symbols within each board. This basically means that there are multiple paths to use. Some will result in you being able to free up each tile and complete the board. Many others will result in you not being able to uncover a tile and therefore result in failure. These multiple paths require you to think very carefully on which route you are going to take and which of the multiple tiles that match yours you want to clear.
Mahjong Solitaire is a tried and tested formula across many years and many iterations. There are physical copies available to play like a board game, there are versions on every mobile device you can think of, console versions, pc versions and even browse games. Basically, there is nothing you can really do to this already existing game to really make it much better. You can play with options and aesthetics. You can add a few effects and some music but Mahjong Solitaire is Mahjong Solitaire so you can’t really lose.
So this latest iteration is developed by Sanuk Games and published by Bigben Interactive. It is a pretty looking game. It contains 70 differently shaped boards with the next one always unlocking when you beat the current one. As you make progress through the puzzles the difficulty will also increase. It has a nice, big and bright look and uses oriental imagery and graphics in the background along with oriental music during the game and menus. The imagery and graphics can be changed if you wish to switch things up a bit too.
In regards to playing you get 3 hints that you can use when stuck. You don’t get the option to reshuffle tiles when you run out of matches. That is fine though – it would have made it too easy I guess. You rack up points for making matches and lose them for using hints. These scores are added to a leaderboard but this leaderboard is only a local one. That basically mans that, if like me you are the only one playing, then the leaderboard is pointless. In truth, you won’t really care about score too much anyway as you just try to clear the boards.
Now for the problem – so the developers have called the game a “Zen” game – one to relax too. That is sometimes correct and it can be quite relaxing with it’s nice music and imagery but not always. In fact, most often it is bloody frustrating because it controls terribly. A simple move from one tile to the one directly to you left can see your cursor end up in the top right of the board as you try to figure out how that happened. It seems, that as the tiles are offset very slightly, left does not always mean left and may sometimes mean the tile 6 spaces to the right. It makes no sense but can drive you nuts trying to simply move the cursor onto a tile. Eventually you will figure out a way to move the cursor almost accurately but really, do they not test these things?
I feel that when you have a game that already exists, you have very little to do in regards to inventiveness and creativity. Add a few nice touches and make sure it controls correctly is all you need to do and Sanuk have failed in their one job. That is disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy playing this and I struggle through with the control issues but that is because I enjoy Mahjong Solitaire. Not because they have done a good job at it.
It is available on Xbox One for £7.99 in the UK and $9.99 in the US. That may seem a reasonable price but do keep in mind that there are hundreds of free versions of this game available to play on phones and the internet. I guess, if you have a console, you may be after achievements or trophies and that is what you are really paying for here. The ability to play a free games for 1000 Gamerscore.
So if you do care for achievements then here is the low down. There is nothing tricky about completing this game. It will take a while but it is not difficult. You get 100 Gamerscore for completing you first puzzle and then a further 100 for every 5 you complete. There are 70 in total so you will complete the game upon completing puzzle 70. I just hope you don’t chuck your controller because of the poor movement before then.
It gets some points for being Mahjong on the console, some for giving me Mahjong with achievements and some for being pretty to look at. It loses the rest for not being tested or built properly to ensure that the control system actually worked properly. A Zen experience turned into an often frustrating one as you spend 5 minutes trying to move your cursor to the correct place.
If you do want to give it a go, you can pick it up from the Xbox store here.