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18th December 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
severely damaged by, though not to the same level of rashness.
For those unfamiliar with how to play Mahjong Solitaire (not to be confused with what might be called an "authentic" version of Mahjong), spread before you are a series of tiles placed in a layout with multiple tiers. The idea is to slowly demolish the arrangement by picking off tiles that go together, with the main restriction being that you are not allowed to pull pieces off that will interfere with or disturb adjacent tiles. Picturing it as a flat arrangement might help you to understand it better. So, for the sake of context: You can't lift a piece from the middle when it's surrounded by tiles. To get to it, you must work your way in from the outer edges where tiles have a free space on either side that make extraction possible. Creating openings becomes a matter of strategy since there will often be multiple versions of a particular tile type in the same area, but it's not strenuous in the slightest to figure out. And when you get going, you might even find it to be nearly as addicting as your favourite card game.
Rather than being a gallery of stages you can pick and choose from at will, 3D MahJongg's main focus is that of an Adventure Mode where you will progress through stages in a linear fashion to unlock new puzzle layouts, tile designs and background scenes. Only then will you have a list of selections made available to you under the Free Play menu. Right away, what this unfortunately means is that they've saved the good stuff (presentation-wise) until later, so you won't end up seeing the better elements until you've played through many of the game's levels. Some may have the intention of coming back here on a regular basis as a way of spending a few minutes without being heavily tied down to anything mentally involving, in which case this presence of unlockable goodies is for shallow ends, as it serves as something to keep you interested more than the mere swapping of puzzle layouts will. But a part of me is prone to thinking that some may want more freedom over how they play, and if they had a desire to move away from a common setup and explore things on new terms (as some of these cosmetic changes do allow for), then there's a possibility that some may be a little annoyed about the way the game's been set up.
Less innovative in nature when put back-to-back against the likes of Mahjong CUB3D, one might say the only thing 3D MahJongg has going for it on the surface is that it's been tailored to an eye-catching aesthetic, with 3D as its instrument for doing so. Evidently, there's a small market for a game of this nature that isn't being nurtured, and the answer to this is, based on how the game has been marketed, through the magic of 3D. Unfortunately, this usage, from a literal standpoint, hardly beautifies the playing field, and when you consider that much of your attention will be fixed on the tile layout found on the Touch Screen -- where gameplay actually takes place -- it seems ineffective and little more than a superficial touch.
Almost similar in theme to what match-three games gravitate towards, the trend with Mahjong collections is often to attach it to some oriental aesthetic that references the roots of the original game in its less streamlined format. This is something that 3D MahJongg does as well, with the only (yet major) difference being that this isn't used to entirety, but rather makes other settings available, including one in the style of a casino with tiles having numbered suits instead of the usual bunch of pictures or symbols. Players can customize the skin for the Touch Screen and treat this separately from the backdrop used on the 3D Screen. I'm not sure why you'd want to, though -- why wasn't each element left as a combined theme? Looking at the way the game looks with the widespread use of bubbly text and an ordinary colour scheme, 3D MahJongg is more bent on being a hideaway for casual fans and newcomers than established fans of the activity.
Ultimately, none of the concerns I have rest with the tile and setting designs, but rather with how the interface is organized. For starters, it's not made clear that there are, in fact, two sets of rules put in place: Classic and Rivers, with the latter limiting connections of matching pairs to the same layer and adding an additional stipulation of permitted vs. unacceptable pathways and links. The ability to toggle between the two is found in the Options menu, and while I did appreciate the covering of differences between the two rulings, I still feel there could've been less of an expectation that players would find out on their own how to play, especially in light of, again looking at the visual make-up, the audience the game is geared towards. My second issue, which truthfully isn't a major one, has to do with the fact that there are no options for temporary level saves. Adventure Mode allows you to exit post-completion of a puzzle, but if for whatever reason you had to quit the game early, this missing feature somewhat limits the game's pick-up-and-play appeal. The only other things I feel worth mentioning are (1) the game's imperfect ability to recognize taps, and (2) how when a move isn't yet possible and you try to execute it anyway, a box will show up that briefly pauses any yet-to-be-completed animations taking place on the 3D Screen.
Presentation tactics aside, the overall effectiveness of the package hasn't been corrupted far enough to tear down its value, but there are parts to it that fall short and push the package into a place below the radar. Productivity is a bit of a concern here on both ends, and there isn't as much cushion as there could have been to make players feel comfortable with their stay, but I don't think most will go so far as to reconsider their initial thought of investing in the game. And so, 3D MahJongg is a serviceable effort, but not much more than that.
19/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 7/10 - Classic and rivers rules, no option for mid-level saves, interface and functionality could be a bit better, imprecise tapping
Presentation 6/10 - Themes are a nice change from the norm, casual-friendly elements, 3D usage isn't that effective in how it's been carried out
Enjoyment 3/5 - Fairly accessible, better suited to first-time players, some may find the game addicting for a few minutes at a time
Extra Content 3/5 - Unlockables tied to progress in Adventure Mode, good number of layouts to cycle through, local leaderboards for each puzzle
Equivalent to a score of 63% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System