Mahjong Artifacts was released for iPhone almost 6 years ago. It was fastidiously updated for the first 2 years of its life, but like all mobile games, support eventually waned. Although it was a very popular title, its time in the sun came before larger screens started to appear so it has never been updated for modern operating systems or devices. That is, until this week when, out of the blue, it received native iPhone 5/6/6 Plus support! If you enjoy mahjong themed tile matching, and have a newer iPhone, Mahjong Artifacts is once again "the one to beat." It looks absolutely amazing on an iPhone 6 Plus, by the way...
If there ever was a computer game genre that was invented before the technology was ready, it has to be Mahjong. While most electronic version of this game are not truly Mahjong (real Mahjong is NOT an individual game, and plays a lot like gin rummy), for lack of a better name, I will be using "Mahjong" to describe them. Anyway, getting back to my original point, Mahjong games first appeared on PCs in the late 80's/early 90's when computer mice were just becoming ubiquitous. Without a pointing device like a mouse, this type of game would be tedious bordering on unplayable. However, as adequate as a mouse is for Mahjong, it pales in comparison to a touch-screen. While playing on an iPhone/iPod touch brilliantly leaps past all PC versions in the interface department, it raises another issue: screen size. The detail on these tiles are often so intricate that even with the eyesight of a chicken hawk most of us will find ourselves zooming in and scrolling around; also tedious, bordering on unplayable. Enter: Mahjong Artifacts.
While this offering wasn't the first to the party, it is the best. Between its wide range of options, razor-sharp graphics, smooth animation, high-quality sound, and a hefty dose of spit-and-polish, Mahjong Artifacts is the one the one to beat.
Gameplay is about what you'd expect for a tile-matching game. However, in additional to standard play, there is also an endless and a quest mode. I wasn't much of a fan of the former, but I found the quest to be quite enjoyable. In it, the player must solve a series of pre-designed levels. These levels had a deviousness to them that you just won't get in a randomly generated level, and I found myself returning to it time and again. Additionally, the inclusion of "super" tiles that act as wild cards, add a whole new twist to the game. At first, it seemed that these tiles made the game too easy; however, I quickly realized that this is not always true. You see, when you use a "special" to remove a particular tile, you are leaving an unmated tile buried somewhere in the stack, and if you intend to clear the board completely you will need to remember which tiles have been orphaned. It can certainly help you out of a jam but after you use it, the game gets significantly harder. If you find yourself completely stuck, you can reshuffle the stack once per level. This won't help you with the orphan tile problem but it can bail you out if you've painted yourself into a corner with some bad play.
The graphics In Mahjong Artifacts are simply outstanding, especially on an iPhone 6 Plus, whose screen is large enough for near iPad quality gameplay. The colors are bright and the tiles, razor sharp. The developers obviously put a lot of time and effort into making the most of the iPhone's graphic capabilities. There are also multiple tilesets and backgrounds to choose from (although the game chooses these for you in the quest). All of this serves to keep the game fresh. When you make a match, the tiles don't just disappear; they lift smoothly off the board and crack together before they are removed. Unfortunately, if you are a minimalist and prefer your Mahjong a bit more austere, you may want to look elsewhere as this feature can't be disabled. One extremely welcome feature is the auto-zoom, which automatically adjusts the size of the game board as you play to ensure everything is as large as possible without requiring you to scroll. Of course, you are also free to disable this and zoom in tightly if you have trouble distinguishing some of the tiles.
The sound effects consist of very nicely sampled clicks, whooshes, etc. I did not find them distracting, and they served to add a nice bit of personality to the game. The music was also excellent, consisting of a culturally diverse collection of internationally flavored pieces. Personally, I tend to turn music off when I play games, but I found myself leaving this music on.
Mahjong Artifacts is an excellent offering, easily matching or exceeding its rivals in every feature. It's recent update added support for modern devices, and did so without incorporating freemium elements into the game that would have compromised gameplay in favor of additional revenue. G5 should be rewarded for their restraint, so go buy this game if you don't already own it. If, like me, you bought it years ago, then take a moment to leave them an honest review on the App Store.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Beautiful, crisp graphics. Excellent use of animation. Sound: - 5 - Great sound effects and pleasant international soundtrack. Controls: - 5 - Standard touch interface, however it works perfectly here. Gameplay: - 5 - Classic, endless, and quest modes. Something for everybody.
Playing Hints and Tips:
-Be careful when using "wild card" tiles as you can easily get stuck with the leftover unmated tiles at the end of the game. -Restarting a level in Quest Mode will eliminate all of your horded "reshuffles." Don't do it unless absolutely necessary. -You get extra points for speed, accuracy, deliberateness, cleverness, and completeness.