Mahjongg Artifacts is the second minis title from G5 Entertainment and Shape Games to bring mahjong solitaire to the PlayStation. The first, confusingly, being the game’s sequel Mahjongg Artifacts: Chapter 2 that arrived on the store last October.
While admitting that it is “not typical” to release a prequel before its numbered sequel G5 offer no further explanation but from the outside it looks for all the world like a developer working back through their catalogue of iPhone games and porting them to the PSP.
In case you are not familiar with mahjong solitaire from playing one of the many games available on other platforms, like Mahjong Titans that Microsoft include with both Vista and Windows 7, it is a tile-matching game that traditionally uses the tiles from the Chinese game mahjong.
The tiles are arranged in a pattern that almost always includes some tiles being stacked upon others. The aim is to remove all tiles from the board. Tiles are removed by finding matching pairs. They can only be matched if they are ‘free’ (can be ‘slid’ either left or right out of the pattern) so a tile must have have no tile atop it and one or both of its left and right sides must be clear. Some tiles are special and can be matched with any other tile from their suite or ‘set’ (e.g., any season tile can be matched with any other season tile).
Mahjongg Artifacts offers three different game modes, Classic, Story and Endless. Classic mode is standard mahjong solitaire where your aim is simply to clear all the tiles from the board. There is a fair amount of variety to be had in this mode with five different sets of tile designs to choose from, ninety nine different patterns the tiles can be arranged in, ranging from traditional patterns like “the turtle” to patterns resembling planes and tanks. There are also twenty seven different backgrounds, inspired by the locations from the game’s Story mode.
Story mode has you play through twenty five games with the pattern the tiles are laid out in becoming more difficult with each one. The story has the character following clues to find and assemble five ancient artefacts across five different ancient and mythical areas of the world and is told via single-page comics between patterns.
The game’s Endless mode has you working your way down through a never-ending stack of tiles where your progress is measured by how many layers you have completely removed. The difficulty increases as you work your way down with the top layers including only around six or eight different tile designs and more being added as you remove layers reducing the number of possible matches.
The basic controls are using the d-pad to move to a free tile and then using X to select it before moving to and selecting its matching pair. You can zoom in and out using the R and L buttons respectively and when zoomed in the analogue nub moves you view around. Pressing L and R simultaneously activates auto-zoom which zooms in to a level that displays all free tiles and is probably the setting you will always use.
To help you find the free tiles you can press the select button which darkens non-free tiles. If you find you have made a mistake you can press circle to undo your last move and sometimes the game will offer you an option to shuffle the remaining tiles and arrange them so you have some matching pairs again with a press of square. If there is a match that you cannot see then you can press triangle for a hint which highlights a matching pair of tiles.
Games like this where you are trying to select objects that may be widely separated on-screen are best played with a point-and-click interface where the pointing and clicking is done with either mouse (electronic not mammalian) or finger. D-pad presses do not always move to the tile you expect and I have found a couple of cases where it has not been possible to select a particular tile (e.g., with free tile highlighting off I have not managed to select the tile on the ‘peak’ of the turtle pattern, though you can with the highlighting on).
The other problem with having to navigate across the pattern is that it is slow compared to finger-pecking or mouse-clicking. With fast times for pattern clearance rewarding you with score multipliers this is something of a hindrance. The other effect of the slow navigation is that it makes Endless mode very tedious. In the Classic and Story modes as you remove tiles the pattern will shrink making movement across the board become faster and games will only last up to maybe ten minutes so it is not really a problem. In Endless the pattern is, well, endless, and the penalty you pay for not having a way to point-and-click on the PSP is that you will only ever be likely try this mode once.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically and audibly this is quite a pretty minis title. The reason for the relatively high standard of art and audio is that it is using the assets from the PC and iPhone versions of the game. The background music “inspired by ancient cultures” is inoffensive enough that over the six or seven hours I played the game for this review it never became irritating.
The backgrounds and tile designs are well drawn and attractive and the tiles look good even when you are zoomed right in. When zoomed out on the larger patterns the story is not so good on the PSP though. Because the PSP’s display has a widescreen aspect ratio the rectangular tiles become squares distorting the patterns a little. This is compounded by the height of the screen being 272 pixels compared to 320 for pre-4 iPhones. The tiles lose some detail and identical tiles in different positions can lose detail in different areas of their design sometimes making matches harder to spot.
One consequence of the tile graphics being well drawn and at a resolution high enough that they look good when you are zoomed in is that the PS3 can take advantage of those better graphics. While the screen border becomes heavily pixellated the tiles themselves remain clear and easily readable even when you are zoomed fully out on tall patterns making this one of those few minis titles that offers an advantage when played on the PS3.
- Plenty of variety if you like mahjong solitaire
- A good looking minis title that looks even better on the PS3
- D-pad selection of tiles can be problematic
- Ported graphics suffer due to PSP’s resolution and aspect ratio
- Price is high compared to the iPhone version
If you enjoy the odd game of mahjong solitaire then Mahjongg Artifacts’ Classic mode will offer you a pleasant way to pass ten minutes matching tiles either on the go or at home on your PS3. You are unlikely to play through Story mode more than once and tile selection by d-pad makes Endless mode too much of a chore to be enjoyable. Mahjong is more suited to platforms with point-and-click interfaces and that and the PSP’s now relatively low resolution count against it. The asking price of £3.99 also feels too high, especially considering the £1.79 the iPhone version costs. Overall this is a competent, attractive version of mahjong solitaire, though not without its flaws.