Mahjongg Artifacts Review – More Mahjong
As you might surmise by the name, this, Mahjongg Artifacts, is the prequel to Mahjongg Artifacts: Chapter 2 from G5 Entertainment, which was one of the first Mini titles released. Why are we getting it 8 months after the sequel? Well, Chapter 2 was released for all platforms back then, so I guess it was easier for them.
Like Chapter 2, Mahjongg Artifacts is a solitaire mahjong game (sometimes called Shanghai). While regular mahjong is incomprehensible to me, solitaire mahjong is quite simple – a set of mahjong tiles (sort of a combination of cards and dominos) is laid out in a pattern (which can be simple or quite intricate). You remove identical pairs of free tiles, free meaning that at least one end of it is not touching another tile. The goal is to remove as many pairs as you can.
It’s really a relaxing, casual sort of gameplay, at least when there is no time limit as is the case in this. It doesn’t tax your reflexes or wits, just your eyes and the pattern recognition part of your brain. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed since I first played it about 20 years ago on the PC (Mah Jongg -V-G-A 3.0 was my introduction to these games).
What generally differentiates these games from one another is the amount and quality of the options. The layouts, the tile sets, etc. This series takes a different approach – adding a campaign with a storyline called “Quest Mode”. It also simplifies the game a bit in Quest mode, you only have to match a pair of golden tiles. Of course, these are usually at the bottom of the pile, so you must work your way down. But still, it cuts a little off of the playing time, though you’ll still probably spend around twenty minutes each round.
There are also a handful of special tiles that have effects. In Chapter 2, they weren’t explained, but in this, they are in the first level. Mostly (and differently from Chapter 2) the special tiles just lets you remove tiles without having to match precisely. This is a double edged sword though, because if you remove one half of a pair, it means the other half is still in the pile and could block a move in the future.
The story is told in the form of a comic book. You see a page of the story, play one round, then see another page of the story, play another round. And so on. Every 5 rounds, you change locales. This mostly affects the tile set used.
Solitaire mahjong games were really pioneered on the PC, where you have large color monitors that makes the tiles clearly seen and a mouse to quickly pick the tile you want. It can be tricky to do this on a smaller screen with no mouse.
This does a pretty decent job though. First off, it has a zoom function. You can manually zoom in and or, or better, there is an auto zoom function which gives you the maximum amount of zoom centered around all playable pieces. It’s not perfect, but it does the job 95% of the time, I’d say. You can also highlight which tiles are “free” so you know which ones you can match.
Picking the tiles you use is done by moving the d-pad around. Basically it simply goes through all the tiles that can be picked for a valid move. It’s a pretty decent solution but sometimes can be tricky selecting just which tile you want since the tiles are not set in even rows.
Besides the story mode, there is “Classic Mode”, where you simply pick the layout used (there are 99 of them) and the tileset (5 of them). There is also something called “Endless Mode”, which isn’t explained. You simply pick a tile set and apparently just match tiles until you get bored (or perhaps you can’t match any more? I got bored after ten minutes and quit, so I dunno).
So like Chapter 2, there is a staggering amount of gameplay here. Indeed, I bought Chapter 2 when it first came out, played it a ton, and I still haven’t even finished the story mode, much less have played all the layouts in classic mode.
Although it’s an older game, this actually feels newer. Chapter 2 is a great game, but perhaps because it was G5’s first PSP title, it wasn’t that polished. It was rough here and there and some things weren’t explained very well in game. This has the polish that Chapter 2 lacks.
On the other hand, it’s a bit duller in terms of gameplay than Chapter 2. The powerups are less powerful, the story isn’t as interesting. On the flip side, I liked the tilesets in this better, much easier to see, the ones in Chapter 2 seemed to be designed to be a bit tricky.
So should you buy this if you have Chapter 2? Only if you really enjoyed Quest Mode or have gone through all the layouts in Classic Mode and want more. Or if you are a big solitaire mahjong fan. On the other hand, this is probably the best one to buy of the two, at least if you are new to the genre, because of the extra polish.