First Impressions: Aa! Nikaku Dori
Posted by Sean Aaron
More fun with mahjong tiles
Despite releasing versions of Shanghai on both Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance in Japan (not to mention Wii and WiiWare versions), Sunsoft have elected not to favour Nintendo's current generation of handheld with the classic match-two puzzle game which they seem to have a monopoly on in the Land of the Rising Sun. Fortunately Acute Entertainment has stepped into the breach with a new game using mahjong tiles based upon the match two concept which is faster paced and offers greater replay value than Sunsoft's venerable franchise.
Roughly translated as "Oh!! Take Two Corners," in this game you're still trying to match two mahjong tiles, but rather than being stacked up they're on a single plane arranged 8x5 (easy difficulty) or 17x8 (medium/hard difficulty) and rather than disappearing the tiles are simply flipped over. One more key aspect: all tiles must be able to be linked by a line running uninterrupted (no intervening face-up tiles) without taking more than two bends: either a "u" or an "s" shape. Unlike Shanghai you'll find that not all boards are solvable (the benefit is a fresh board every game), though it seems in nearly every case the algorithm used to generate the board will allow for a solution – even if it can be quite hard to spot at times. There are two main game modes offered: Classic and Remix, with the former including a Time Attack variant in addition to the three difficulty levels common to both main modes.
In Classic you start out with a time gauge which counts down, giving you around 30 seconds to clear a pair of tiles before expiring with two refills in the form of "time items." You'll also start out with a number of "Search" items that will reveal a pair of flippable tiles every time you use them. You earn more items (in addition to those there are extra lives and bonus points) in a mini-game played between levels where you flip over tiles to reveal items until you flip the skull and crossbones. If you run out of time or there's no more matches to be made your game is over - unless you have an extra life. If you've completed at least one board and you made it into the top 3, you'll find your score is recorded for all to see (sans initials, sadly) - if anyone other than you cares. Time Attack eschews the items and the time limit, instead simply recording your best time to complete one board on hard difficulty; again recording the top three scores to give you something to shoot for in replays.
Remix plays the same as classic, but instead of having a time limit your time is merely recorded a la the Classic Time Attack game and there are no extra lives. Instead, the items besides Search include Radar (apparently indicates which side you can find a pair on rather than pointing one out), Combo Up (increases the point value of combos - more on those in a bit) and Shuffle. The interstitial game for earning more items is a bit different as well: you're shown the item board for a couple of seconds before the titles are hidden and need to flip pairs of item tiles in order to earn them; bad memory = no items for you! Whilst Classic records a flat score for flipping pairs, Remix will give you combo bonuses if you manage to continue to flip pairs within a second or two of each other. The central game mechanic is otherwise the same, but the challenges are different enough between the modes that they're both worth playing.
It's nice to see developers doing something different with mahjong tiles from the usual straight mahjong or Shanghai/solitaire games and we feel this is a worthy puzzle game for the DSi. Whether or not it makes it out of Japan is anyone's guess, but if you have a Japanese DSi and like a fast-paced solitaire board game, this is worth a look.