Reviewed: October 2, 2010
Released: August 17, 2010
The game called “Mahjong” that is commonly understood by video gamers is a far cry from the actual game of Mahjong that originated in China centuries ago. While the look of the tiles is quite similar, the matching game that has become a staple in the casual gaming world is actually called Mahjong Solitaire, and is very different from the card-based gambling game from which it gets its name. But I am not here to give you a history lesson, rather to discuss MumboJumbo’s newest DS release, Mahjong Journey: Quest for Tikal.|
The folks at MumboJumbo are garnering a solid reputation in the realm of casual gaming, and Journey for Tikal is further evidence of the publisher’s dedication to top-notch presentation – even when the gameplay is as dull and unimaginative as Mahjong Solitaire.
The game’s Adventure mode tells the story of two adventurers exploring the ancient Mayan Empire in search of the sacred Disc of Tikal, and in doing so solve the mystery of the 30 Tiles of Insight. Yes, it’s predictable, but the comic-style storyboards definitely spice up the tedious gameplay.
As you can guess by now, I am not a big fan of the Mahjong Solitaire gameplay – while I really do enjoy a multitude of matching games – from Bejeweled style “match three” games, to Zuma/Luxor style chaining, and even to closely related matching games like Concentration - Majhong Solitaire just seems stale, unexciting, and frankly a bit confusing.
You see, Mahjong Solitaire requires gamers to see the entire playfield in order to see all of the available tiles. Additionally, there is a 3-dimensional gameplay concept that determines “locked tiles” from “free tiles”. By shrinking all of this down onto the small touchscreen of the DS, it results in a very distant point of view, delivering an awkwardly flat appearance and tiles that are remarkably indistinguishable from each other.
Thankfully, the game offers a little handholding by highlighting all available matching pieces for any selected tile. Additionally, Quest for Tikal guides gamers along by offering up gameplay hints, special power tiles, and no-penalty reshuffle and undo buttons. At times it is hard to not feel like all the help is a little heavy-handed, as if the game is playing itself – but without the assistance the game would be all but unplayable on the miniscule screen.
Aside from the Adventure Mode, Quest for Tikal offers gamers 8 additional game modes, including variations like Remember (Concentration), Countdown (countdown timer on game), Point Race (fastest time), Exchange (symbols change periodically), Shuffle (game reshuffles if a move is not made in 20 seconds), 10 Seconds (50 point penalty for moves of over 10 seconds), Freecell (two free cells added to swap tiles in and out), and Match (find the displayed tile).
I must say that these additional modes definitely add a dose of excitement to the traditionally slow Mahjong Solitaire gameplay. Personally, I most enjoyed the rapid per-move timers that added a constant sense of urgency and exhilaration. Before I forget, I have to mention the impressive audio presentation that features some of the best music to be found on the DS.
Maybe I am not the best guy to be reviewing a Mahjong game, but I have to admit that Mahjong Journey: Quest for Tikal does rank up there with the best of the games I have seen. It offers up some interesting takes on the staid Mahjong genre, and the storyline actually gives gamers a reason to continue the tortu…uh, I mean fun! All jokes aside, I might not be totally sold on Mahjong Solitaire yet, but Mahjong Journey: Quest for Tikal definitely pleads a good case for the genre.