Review: MahJong

baKno’s MahJong has to be the sexiest game of Mahjong I’ve ever laid eyes on. The level of detail that went into not only the tiles and symbols but also the table settings is like visual puzzle-game poetry. What’s more, the game offers 10 different tile set and table environment themes. For example, stone tiles stacked over a serene pool of gently waving water, or a set of wooden tiles played over a wooden table sandbox. You won’t find fancy special effects, animations, or any other presentational flourishes, but the tiles and tables exude class and elegance. The game is pretty successful at making it feel like you’re playing with a piece of interactive artwork, so much so that it’s not uncommon to catch yourself moving the camera around just to admire the tile stacks from every vantage point.

MahJong, as you’ve probably already surmised based on the generic title (man, that capital ‘J’ in the middle is so edgy!), presents an incredibly basic videogame adaptation of Mahjong solitaire, in which you start every game with a stack of tiles and attempt to clear the board by pairing identical tiles. The game follows match-two rules, stipulating that only open tiles (meaning those without tiles blocking their left and right sides) can be selected and paired together. The tiles are arranged and stacked within three-dimensional table environments that allow for full 360-degree camera rotation and zoom in/out control using mouse and scroll wheel commands, or the arrow, A, and Z keys on a keyboard.

Player aids are provided in the form of undo (U key) and hint (H key) functions, which give you the opportunity to back your way out of bad matches or have the game automatically highlight a matching tile to the one you have currently selected. However, what the game doesn’t have is a shuffle mechanic, which means if at any time the board has no possible matches the game immediately ends.

Each new game starts with a randomized tile arrangement, with the number of potential tiles determined by your choice of playing on Normal, Hard, or Insane difficulty. A puzzle board can be as small as 60 to 70 tiles on Normal and go all the way up to 700 tiles or more on Insane. (I think the largest I’ve seen so far has been 726 tiles.) Each round is timed and scored by default, but you can also play in an untimed and unscored Relax Mode for more of a chill Zen experience. Under the default settings, completion scores can be posted to local and online leaderboards. The only problem is the fact that the game lacks integration with Steamworks, so instead of intuitively being able to upload your scores under your Steam username, to participate on the global leaderboard you’re forced to register on the baKno Games forums. That’s not a terrible thing per se, just an extra hoop to jump through, and another account and username to manage.

The scoring system itself is unclear as well. While a timer clock and a counter showing the number of remaining tiles are always shown, you only see what your score is at the successful clearing of a board. Does using hint and undo lower your score? Do more tiles and a higher difficulty raise the high score ceiling? How does completion time factor in? Is there a multiplier effect for quick matches? How any of these parameters are calculated to determine the score is never laid out.

MahJong looks fantastic and plays very well, and anyone looking for Mahjong solitaire in its purest, simplest, and most artistic form will find plenty to like about this title. However, even with seemingly endless tile arrangement randomization the overall package ultimately feels just a little bit too barebones in its presentation and variation of play options to stand out as a definitive version of the Chinese tile-matching game. Anyone sitting on the fence should first go give the free trial version a shot on the baKno Games website, then decide if it hits the spot enough to upgrade to the full version.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Gorgeous variety of tile art and table settings
+ Solid Mahjong solitaire fundamentals
+ Multiple difficulties and randomized tile configurations

Cons:
– Lacks Steamworks integration for leaderboards, etc.
– Unclear scoring parameters
– Feels a little too basic and barebones

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: baKno Games
Developer: baKno Games
Release Date: 11/8/2017
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Steam key for MahJong was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by baKno Games.

Buy From: MahJong is available on Steam and baKno Games for $4.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!