Mahjong is a tile-based game that is utterly steeped in history and mystery – nobody really knows how old it is, as many different sources claim different dates of conception, and it seems nobody's keen to agree any time soon. This Chinese game is highly regarded in the East, but its presence in the West is significantly less pronounced. Does Best of Mahjong do this ancient and enigmatic game of tiles justice?
To clarify, this is not traditional mahjong, this is a variant of the game developed for a single-player experience called Mahjong Solitaire, but it's been around for a long time just like its predecessor. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the rules of Mahjong Solitaire, the aim of the game is to pair up and remove tiles that are horizontally adjacent to an empty space on the same level. It's simple to pick up and difficult to master, but you probably wouldn't know that if you just played this game. Despite its sister title Best of Solitaire providing ample explanation for all the variations that it supplies, Best of Mahjong entirely omits any instructions for how to play in game.
In this day and age it's easy to search the internet for this sort of information, but it still seems a glaring oversight to leave it out of the game itself. If you delve into the electronic manual you will find a poorly-worded explanation that vaguely describes how to play the game, but a lot of the aspects that the text refers to is very unclear. Luckily if you're really struggling you can turn on a system that highlights all tiles that are available to be paired, but this feels very much like hand-holding and detracts from the fun of the game.
Disregarding imperfect instructions, Best of Mahjong is just about as much as you could hope for from a game such as this; you control it using the touch screen to tap on one tile after another in order to pair them up and remove them from play. 404 different tile arrangements makes this a hugely versatile and expansive experience, and you'll likely never play the same layout twice unless you specifically choose to do so. Despite this variety, there's no actual change in gameplay unlike in Best of Solitaire, so even though you've got as many different layouts as you like you're still going to be playing the same game no matter what you do. Nevetheless, Mahjong is a frighteningly addictive experience, and as soon as you're able to recognise the different tiles at a glance you'll be pairing tiles like a whirlwind.
The presentation is functional, but doesn't really offer anything particularly exciting. The top and bottom screens disiplay essentially the same thing, but the 3D effect on the top screen is a nice little touch – even if you do end up looking at the bottom screen all the time. The music is repetitive and a little bit irritating, but there's nothing to stop you from simply turning the volume off and listening to your personal choice of sounds on a different device.
Don't expect to win this game over and over, either, as it's largely down to the luck of its layout by its very nature. This can be disheartening, but the satisfaction of finally getting a board cleared of tiles is all the more fulfilling for it. The 3DS title can't be blamed for this fact, as it's an integral part of the original game, and to change this would be tantamount to sacrilege.
Best of Mahjong is a great game to get into the interesting world of mahjong, but may put off those who have difficulty getting to grips with it at first; despite the almost complete lack of instructions, once you get to grips with this title you'll find it difficult to put down.Those expecting the original game designed for multiple people may be disappointed by its distinctly solo environment, but otherwise it's an excellent little budget title for some Eastern solo fun.