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iPad Game Review: Mahjong Journey Review
      #47580 - 01/16/15 04:03 PM

Beautiful, classic tile-matching game with traditional mahjong stylings, but if you're looking for a relaxing game to play under a blanket with a cup of cocoa, this ain't it.

Back in the late 80's, Activision released a tile-matching game called Shanghai. It featured mahjong tiles randomly placed in a pyramid shaped stack. The object of the game was to remove all of the tiles in pairs, but you could only do so if the tile was completely uncovered and unblocked on either its right or left side. It was wildly successful, and appropriately named because it so successfully shanghaied the name mahjong from a thousand-year old Chinese game of skill and strategy that almost all western references to mahjong these days are directed at the tile-matching game, not the original. Mahjong Journey is a very good adaptation of this tile-matching game. Expect to make some concessions, however, in exchange for the ability to play for free (more on this later). Mahjong Journey features an overarching story about an oddly cheerfully little girl searching for her parents throughout Asia. Kind of a strange way to pull the game's 120 levels together, but it gives them a chance to change the game tiles on you from time-to-time.



Gameplay

Gameplay is exactly what you'd expect; remove matching tiles in an attempt to get to the pair of gold tiles and clear the board before the timer runs out. First, the good; this game is quite challenging, unlike most of the competition, and skillful play is handsomely rewarded. The layouts are designed to make sure you always look for a third and a fourth tile every time you see a match. If you don't, more than likely you will end up trapping matching tiles and be forced to use a reshuffle or lose a life. Rely on luck and you will lose. This alone would be enough for some, but with the timer continually ticking away, expect to replay levels unless you are quicker and sharper than me. Now for the concessions I mentioned. First, there's a timer that cannot be disabled, although additional time can be purchased with diamonds. Second, there are various power-ups that can be used to help you out of a tight spot. These include hint, reveal available matches, shuffle, firecracker, and undo. These do not replenish at any appreciable rate (or at all), and must be purchased with diamonds. And third, if you lose a match you lose a life. These lives replenish slowly over time, or they can be purchased with diamonds. Although I personally prefer to pay upfront for my games, I'm quite aware that many, many iOS gamers do not. If you are part of this majority, you will be happy to know that I found Mahjong Journey's particular implementation of in-app-purchases to be quite straightforward, and reasonable (especially for skilled players) when compared to other free-to-play games. Just don't expect a zen-inducing tile matching experience because Mahjong Journey is anything but relaxing.



Graphics

The graphics are crisp, colorful, and vibrant, making it a bit easier to find your matches. After each successful match, the tiles fly off the page and clack together. This is beautifully done, but it also distracting. The result is a noticeable slowing of gameplay, which can be a problem in a timed game.

Sound

The sound effects are quite good, but not particularly varied. The same can also be said for the music; and by "not varied," I mean there is only one song on a continuous loop. Make. It. Stop.

In-App Purchases (IAPs)

Mahjong Journey is free to download so most gamers should expect to have to pay as they play by purchasing diamonds. These diamonds can be used to buy power-ups, lives, and additional time. If you're skilled and/or patient, however, it's theoretically possible to get through the game without dropping a dime.



Conclusion

If you don't mind free-to-play, and enjoy tile matching games, Mahjong Journey is as good as you're going to find on the App Store. However, if you prefer premium games, you may want to look elsewhere.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics: - 4 - Beautiful graphics, but the animation is distracting
Sound: - 3 - Serviceable sound effects but the music is repetitive.
Controls: - 5 - A solid interface
Gameplay: - 3 - A great choice for lovers of free-to-play. Others should look elsewhere.

Playing Hints and Tips:

Unless you've got a lot of money to spend on games, this game is challenging. If you find a match, look for a third and a fourth tile. Taking the obvious pair will often result in failing the level or using a precious power-up. Work on removing individual tiles that are locking down areas of the board; that single tile preventing access to an entire row should not be left to chance. Don't use ANY power-ups in the early game. The difficulty ramps up quickly, and you will need every one of them in the later levels.



App Facts:

Developer: G5 Entertainment
Release Date: December 14, 2014
Price: Free with IAPs
Buy App: Mahjong Journey

Reviewed by Tom Slayton








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