Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom
Mahjong solitaire has long been a popular tile-based pastime. There is a great number of people who have been enjoying this variant of traditional Mahjong on computers and mobile devices for years. This game, while fairly simple in nature, does involves some skill, strategy, and calculation. However, the folks at Creat Studios didn’t get seem to get this memo when they were creating the utter waste of time and money that is Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom. Let’s elaborate a bit on this a bit, shall we?
There are four modes in Mahjong Tales, each of them with their own twist on the same basic Mahjong solitaire game. Ancient Tales mode takes you through five poorly narrated and cheesy fables with each consisting of nine levels to get through. There are brief cut scenes (you’ll probably want to nap through these) in between every level that give you little bits of each tale. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to determining how these stories are relevant to the game at all and the animations used in during these scenes are piss-poor (think along the lines of 5 or so frames per second and you’ll get my drift). In any case, the object of this mode is to play basic mahjong solitaire, matching tiles and opening up new ones as you go along. Once the last two yin yang tiles are matched, the level is done and it’s time to move on.
Motion has you matching a number of tiles given to you with tiles that are moving around the screen on a conveyor with the ultimate goal of “defeating the dragon”. Get rid of all of your tiles before the ones on the conveyor reach the dragon’s mouth and you move on; if not, a life is lost. There are various special tiles and powerups which give you extra lives, destroy certain tiles, slow down the conveyor, etc. This is a slightly more interesting twist on the game and easily the most entertaining mode but that’s not saying much. It’s definitely still a big yawn. Infinity offers the same gameplay as Ancient Tales mode, subtracts the needless story, and adds some of levels of customization to the background and tile types. Finally there is online and offline Multiplayer that is essentially a variation of Motion where whoever clears their layout first is the winner. I would elaborate further on the online multiplayer but surprisingly enough every attempt to join a game has been met with an “Opponents were not found” message. In short, if you’re seeking to scratch your Mahjong itch against online opponents, chances are you won’t find any out there.
Mahjong Tales is devoid of a lot of things, the most evident of which is the simple quality of being fun. There’s little to no use of any skill in this game. Sure you could try to get a higher score by matching things in a strategic order but the game gives you absolutely no reason to do so. In Ancient Tales, for example, you can basically run through every level matching tiles in semi-random fashion and choosing to shuffle any remaining tiles once you have no moves left. As you can imagine, this gets pretty freaking repetitive after a while (or more likely after just a few minutes). The actual gameplay mechanics consist of using the left analog stick or dpad to move a mouse cursor over the tile that you want to select, hitting X to select it, and then repeating the same process for its match. It seems pretty straight-forward but the problems begin as you are trying to solve puzzles quickly and realize that placing the cursor over a tile accurately every time is a big challenge. The cursor doesn’t lock onto the selectable tiles in any way as it travels over them, causing it to miss your intended mark all too often. This can add precious seconds to your completion time of a stage (if that’s what you’re going for) or cause a life to be lost in Motion mode as time must be wasted moving the cursor back to where you really wanted it to be.
Graphically, you won’t find anything here that would give you the idea that the title was created for the current generation of consoles. The tiles are simple low-res concoctions and the entire game takes place within a small subset of your screen. The surrounding border designs would make even the cheesiest ’70s kung-fu flick director frown at the blatant lack of style. Sounds follow suit as well. The best description I can think of for the music selection is that it sounds like continually looping Chinese elevator music. Mercifully, there is at least an option to turn the music off if jamming to those kinds of tunes is not your thing.
To say that Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom is overpriced at $10 would be a bit of an understatement. To be honest I had a hard enough time dragging myself to play the game for free. If a price must be attached to it, however, $5 would be a much more palatable fee for this mind-numbing time waster. The bottom line is that this is the game of Mahjong solitaire as it was not meant to be. So maybe the best advice I can give to gamers who have an extreme itch for flipping and matching tiles is to simply look elsewhere.