A DSiWare shopper with yet another mahjong solitaire game is like a mule with a spinning wheel – no one knows why he got it, and darned if he knows how to use it. But WordJong Arcade stands out from the pack as it gives the game a Boggle twist; instead of removing matching pairs of tiles, you'll form words as you clear the board. The premise proves quite fun in practise, but unfortunately it fails to deliver as a complete package.
Like its source material, you can only remove tiles on the top layer of the structure that aren't bordered on both sides. Each contains a randomly selected letter instead of a Japanese symbol, and once you spell out a word, tiles coming off the stack one by one and freeing up more as you go, you press an OK button and move on to the next combination. It's quite addictive and a perfect marriage between two fun time-wasters. But beyond this foundation, the developer made some odd choices in its execution that can really hamper the fun.
The main mode, Arcade, has you remove as many tiles as possible, earning multipliers and combos for bonus points and allowing you use of three power-ups – a single tile-destroying bomb, a butterfly that turns one tile into a wild-card and a tile shuffler. It goes for just eight rounds, though each features different letters and a new structure every time you play it. The problem comes when you get to the end; you have to perfectly clear the board or it's game over. You can get away with saving a power-up and blowing up your last tile or making a word with a new wild-card, but when you run out, it can be pretty difficult – not to mention almost completely up to chance.
Yin-Yang and Hot Seat are your two other options, the second simply a version of the first that turns it into a two-player affair by swapping between scoreboards every move. Here, tiles come in equally apportioned dark and light varieties, and you only get points for removing the correct shade, the game switching between them whenever you create a word. While the competitive version adds a welcome edge, in single-player, the new mechanic doesn't really add much. It takes things to a more peaceful place, but we like our WordJong manic and find that limiting the available letters ends up with somewhat frustrating results. There's an element of challenge in that you must think harder to score, but with a small, random selection of letters, the limitations generally outweigh the benefits. This goes for two rounds, again brand new every time, and you must once more remove every tile to finish successfully – still a chance-based, overly difficult task that's made even more so by the lack of power-ups.
It's true that not every round ends in disappointment, but hinging your success in such a large part on what largely boils down to random probability keeps WordJong from being all that it could. It's still fun to play, but your sense of achievement and progress is diminished. The game does include leaderboards, however, so you can retain your high score, and you can save your game and return to it as well as unlock a small assortment of achievements.
The game looks quite nice, with its flashy, colourful Arcade mode populated by anthropomorphic animals who smile when you do well and scowl when you remove a tile, as well as the pretty Yin-Yang Mode, which switches from day to night per move and features birds and stars that flit and twinkle when you place tiles. The latter includes decent audio, but you'll likely want to mute the hectic, frenetic Arcade Mode, with its pinball-esque sound effects and constant ticking.
WordJong presents a fun and somewhat addictive combination between Boggle and mahjong solitaire. Unfortunately, your progression hinges on your ability to clear the board every time, a somewhat chance-based, often difficult task. It's still entertaining to play until you have to quit and start over with a new board and set of letters, but a diminished feeling of achievement lets the game down. If a more robust, tweaked version hit the shelf, however, it could perhaps prove a must-buy, but as it is this entry falls in the "just decent" range.