Mahjong's long and prestigious history in the East may be well established, but its presence in the West is far less apparent; to say that Mahjong isn't hugely popular outside of Asia would be somewhat of an understatement. Despite that, the sheer number of Mahjong titles currently found on the 3DS eShop seems to suggest its popularity isn't constrained by region. Mahjong titles do serve a very distinct, if somewhat niche purpose - acting as a peaceful and relaxing way to pass those moments of boredom in life without testing your brain cells too much.
Despite Best of Board Games - Mahjong already attempting to pacify 3DS gamers, Bigben Interactive has released another version in the form of Shanghai Mahjong. Does the title deserve its inclusion among the others, or is it simply an eShop Mahjong game too far?
Those who are unfamiliar with the concept of Mahjong may struggle when first delving into the title as there are no tutorials to be found throughout, and instead only a few "tips" which precede each board. Luckily, the rules of Shanghai Mahjong are simplified in comparison to its real life counterpart, and simply follows the usual tile-matching formula found in most video games. These tiles (decorated with the likes of circles, bamboos and various other chinese symbols) must be matched with corresponding symbols or patterns; tiles cannot be matched if they are partially or fully covered by another. This is helpfully clarified as the unplayable tiles are shaded out, making a potentially eye-straining match making puzzle less arduous and speeding up what can sometimes be a lengthy process.
Many may consider a handheld platform an unideal location for a Mahjong title, and condensing an entire Mahjong board onto a (relatively small) 3DS screen does require rather sharp eyesight on behalf of the player. Thankfully, Shanghai Mahjong uses both of the 3DS's screens - showing the entire playing area on the top screen, with the lower section showing a more confined, focused area. This provides both a magnified, detailed view of the tiles which can often be difficult to differentiate between, whilst meaning that a quick glance at the top screen allows one to spot a tile which is otherwise out of your field of view, making the match-making far less cumbersome.
Additional content is conspicuously absent, unforgivably when considering the asking price. There are five "game modes" in total (which in simple terms - are merely boards with different layouts). There is also a "time attack mode" which is essentially just a leaderboard that displays your best times upon completion of each board. Shanghai Mahjong also suffers from a defficiency of any visual or auditory flair, with the unsophisticated visuals and non-existent soundtrack really at the fore. These aspects, coupled with the lack of extra features and options, results in the experience feeling incredibly stripped down and more akin to a "lite" version of what could have been a more fleshed out title.
Shanghai Mahjong does absolutely nothing wrong as a bare-bones Mahjong title, but does even less to warrant its unjustifiably hefty price at launch. Once again, Bigben has released an eShop title offering the very minimum at a premium price, and results in what could have been a satisfactory experience feeling a bit more like a hole in the pocket. Whether you're a seasoned mahjong veteran or a curious newcomer to the game - there are far better alternatives on the 3DS eShop.