Review: Mahjong 3D Essentials

Mahjong solitaire has always been my time waster of choice. I tried minesweeper, but I can’t handle that kind of high octane excitement on a Tuesday. Any game where clicking on a wrong square causes your immediate and complete explosion without even so much as a warning is far too hardcore for me. Mahjong solitaire, on the other hand, is just sort of a nice relaxing tile matching game that you can play for five minutes at a time whenever you get bored, and it very rarely explodes on you. Mahjong 3D Essentials does a nice job putting together a decent mahjong title with a few interesting extras, and for the most part is worth the meager $3 price tag.

If you ever played mahjong solitaire in the past (and probably erroneously classified it as mahjong before your snooty friend corrected you), you already know what to expect in this game. There are a few twists, but the classic mode includes a variety of tile layouts and provides a standard mahjong experience. You can play on three different difficulties, and while easy gives you infinite time to find all the matches, medium and hard put increasingly demanding time restraints on you. Hard is a legitimate challenge and you have little time between matches to look for your next move if you hope to complete the level in time. The levels are nice, but really aren’t anything you haven’t seen in a million other free mahjong software titles.

The game also includes a create mode which allows you to build your own layouts and share them with friends. I have no idea what kind of person this was designed for, but whoever it was I can guarantee they don’t have friends. It works fine and all, but I can’t ever picture myself being bored enough that I design my own mahjong solitaire level to solve later. I want someone else to do that for me so I can focus on the fun part. There is also a street pass feature that allows you to share your high scores and custom layouts with people you pass on the street, and I promise you that unless you live in the mahjong district of New York City this will never be used ever.


The best part of the game is the special mode, which adds in new features and ramps up the difficulty. It plays out as sort of a campaign mode, as you select one of several characters each with their own special powers. Some of these powers are fairly useless, and having the power to undo one move doesn’t do me any good as I most likely won’t realize it is a mistake until like ten moves later. However, others are far more useful and might change an entire column to the same tile or rearrange all remaining tiles if you get stuck. You can also gain experience by clearing levels and power up your character of choice. The difficulty is much improved as well, and a lot of the levels add some twist like tiles that swap places with another tile or two tiles that automatically clear the game board. Overall, this is a nice take on the standard form of mahjong solitaire and adds a bit of extra depth to something that has always been a simple, straightforward time killer.

Unfortunately, while this is a mostly solid mahjong title, there are some weird technical issues that I don’t fully understand. I had assumed that they would just show the tiles on the touch screen and I would touch the matching pairs because it seems like the sort of thing a touch screen is perfect for. Instead, the tiles are shown on the top screen and the touch screen is blank. By moving around on the touch screen you can move the cursor on the top screen in what has to be one of the worst additions of an extra step in controlling I have ever seen. Why not just let me control stuff on the touch screen? Why force me to orient myself on a blank screen and see where my cursor moves on a completely different screen when it would be so much easier to just tap and match? This isn’t game breaking, but it is mildly annoying especially when playing hard mode with a limited amount of time with little room for error.

Another oddity is that sometimes you can remove tiles that don’t actually match. I only noticed this for the first tile set, and you can change to two other sets eventually that don’t seem to have this same issue, but there are multiple tiles that look close but are definitely not the same that the game counts as matching. I almost gave up once because I had two tiles left and they didn’t match and I thought I broke the game somehow. They were both flowers, but with clearly different designs. Tapping them removed them both as the game shrugged and counted them anyway. Apparently close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and mahjong solitaire. There are some other frustrations, like the fact that you can lose because of some arbitrary move you made like thirty moves ago that puts you in a corner, but that is something that isn’t exclusive to this version of mahjong solitaire.


Closing Comments:

Mahjong 3D Essentials offers some interesting ideas on the classic mahjong solitaire formula and there is enough here that the $3 asking price seems more than fair. The special mode in particular has some clever ideas, allowing you to accrue experience and use special moves to help clear the more difficult board set ups. There is some overall weirdness to the game design, including a slightly unfriendly control scheme that would have been made better if the tiles could be tapped directly on the touch screen.  If the special mode had been tweaked slightly to make it a bit more extensive or if more layouts had been added, this would have made an excellent mahjong solitaire title. Still, there is enough here to warrant at least a peek, and the paltry price makes it a good title to purchase to waste some time on car rides.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop)