Mahjong solitaire has appeared on just about every console since the dawn of video games, though their developers generally remain content with sticking to the basic formula. Mahjong CUB3D takes a different path in exactly the way the title suggests – by wrapping the puzzle around a 3D framework. But does the new take on this golden oldie revitalise the formula, or is it a bad match?
The rules are simple – you must remove pairs of mahjong tiles laid out in a layered stack until the board is empty, and you're only allowed to touch those on the top stratum that aren't blocked in on both the left and right edges. In the main mode, you'll have to spin the formation to view pieces on all sides, which point in multiple directions all the way through. This can make for some interesting structures, but overall the game plays the same as it always has. It adds an interesting twist, but doesn't revolutionise it.
Commonly, players use mahjong solitaire as a slower-paced, relaxing activity, but here you must battle a sometimes demanding clock, giving the game a sense of urgency. This has a two-fold effect: on the one hand, the added intensity makes for an entertaining race to the finish, but there's a reason you can generally take your time – if you don't strategise correctly, working to free important tiles, you'll find yourself stuck without any available matches. One simple remedy for this is the mid-game shuffle, but that's not an option here. It's already somewhat difficult to plan ahead without the ability to see the whole board at once, and while you won't end every game backed into a corner, this adds a quite frustrating complication.
The game features 200 Cube Mode levels split into helpfully described sections by their tile amount and map complexity – enough stages to shake a stick at, certainly, though there's not much of a sense of progression thanks to their overall similarity. You can switch between three difficulty settings as well as add hidden tiles, which makes strategising slightly more of a challenge as some of the unavailable pieces will remain obscured until you free them. For the old-fashioned types, Classic Mode is available, offering 20 puzzles, all of which prove reasonably complex. You're also able to turn off the clock once you finish a level in either style and play through again at your leisure, and you can always go back and try to beat your previous time.
A competitive Download Play mode for two provides some good fun, tasking you with clearing a set of golden tiles before your opponent while removing pairs that shake or hide their board. This makes for an entertaining diversion, even if it's not terribly deep or complex.
The controls work just fine in Cube Mode, having you manipulate the Circle Pad to select different pieces and hold either shoulder button to rotate the structure. You select and deselecting with A and B and can receive a helpful hint with X or undo a move with Y, for both of which the game limits you to three per match. You use the D-Pad to zoom in and out or change the location of the camera's axis – a very nice touch, though one you'll probably use rarely. Classic Mode disables rotation but oddly without swapping Circle Pad for D-Pad controls, and it handles somewhat clumsily as you attempt to select tiles on a 2D plane with a 3D axis.
The game presents a simple but crisp look, with easily marked tiles and an overall impressive 3D effect. The sparseness of the soundtrack makes for an unfortunate aspect, however, and you'll likely mute it after hearing the same song for the nth time in a row.
Mahjong CUB3D doesn't revolutionise the game, but it does add an interesting twist. The clock lends matches a sense of urgency and an engaging edge, though it makes strategising difficult and increases the likelihood of ending up without any available moves. Still, it's a pretty entertaining mix in the end, and with over 200 puzzles, you can have fun with this for a long time.