MahJongg is one of the most classic games on the planet, dating back — by some estimations — to around 500 BC. The fact that it's still popular today says a lot about its addictiveness, and its myriad variants range from social group games — think poker — to solitary, puzzle-like experiences. It's the latter that 3D MahJongg brings to the eShop, and while its approach is direct and simple, that just gives the core experience a chance to shine.
There are 200 levels — though there's more to it than that — and each one presents you with a unique layout of tiles. Each tile features an illustration, and if you can match one like tile to another, they are both removed from play. Your goal is to clear all tiles from each of these levels, but doing so is far more complicated than it sounds.
Every level has multiple layers of tiles, keeping much of the playing field out of sight. What's more, not every visible tile can be matched; depending upon the rule set — two of which are included here — you may not be able to make the matches that you'd like. The strategy here therefore requires you to think at least two or three moves ahead; it doesn't so much matter what you match now, as what you'll be able to match later. If you run out of valid moves the level ends and you'll need to start again.
Two sets of rules are included, and one of our few quibbles with this title has to do with the fact that the Rivers variant is selected by default. This wouldn't be so bad except that the option to switch it to Classic is buried in the options menu, and it took us some time to realise that. If you know this going in, however, you can save yourself a bit of confusion.
In a Classic game of MahJongg you can match any tile to any other tile, as long as both tiles are completely exposed on either their left or right side. In the Rivers variant, however, things change substantially: you can only match tiles that are at the same depth on the board, and you can only choose tiles that are connected by an imaginary line that doesn't have to change direction more than twice. It sounds more complicated than it is, but it still takes a bit of getting used to if you're not already familiar with it. Regardless, Classic is a bit more straightforward, and much more friendly to newcomers.
When you manage to match all tiles on a level, your score is added up (including any speed bonuses for finishing quickly, something we admittedly didn't see very often) and you move on to the next level. 200 levels may sound like a lot, but you're actually getting quite a bit more than that, as each level generates anew every time you load it. Therefore if you fail on level 56 and reload it, you'll be looking at a similar layout to what you've seen before, but with the locations of the specific tiles changed. This means you could play through the entire 200 levels several times without ever solving the same puzzle twice. That's a definite selling point.
Play is handled entirely by tapping tiles with the stylus. Successfully match two tiles and they disappear; accidentally make an illegal match and nothing will happen. There's an option to undo move after move, which may help newcomers as they can remove tiles to see what they're hiding, then put them back before making a decision.
Completing levels unlocks different layouts and tile designs that you can use in Free Play, which is a mode that lets you design your own levels. Unfortunately there's no way to share them with other players, but this mode is worth its presence if only because it allows you to build randomised new levels, essentially giving you even more MahJongg possibility.
In terms of presentation the game controls well, and the music — while it consists of only a small number of tracks — is almost surprisingly good. Visually the game has the same issue that every MahJongg solitaire game has, which is that it's sometimes difficult to gauge the depth of the stacks of tiles. This is more of an issue in Rivers than it is in Classic, but it's worth mentioning all the same. The 3D effect is limited to an unnecessary alternative angle of the level on the upper screen, but we doubt anyone expected much of a visual bonanza from a game that's over 20 centuries old anyway.
3D MahJongg is definitely one for those who are already fans. Without a training mode or hints function it's probably not an easy starting point for newcomers. For those who already know how to play, however, it's a great pocket-sized diversion, and it's one that values its own simplicity.
3D MahJongg is a clean and simple package for fans of the solitaire version of MahJongg. With 200 levels — though there are really exponentially more than that — multiple layouts and style unlockables, plus the ability to launch at any point into a random challenge, it's a solid buy for those wanting MahJongg on the go. For those who aren't already fans there's not much here to change your mind, however.