A match made in history.
Bringing a twist to the popular tile matching game of mahjong, Mahjong 3D: Warriors of the Emperor successfully presents a fresh take on an old classic. Its smooth animation smartly utilizes 3D elements, while the story adds a surprisingly addictive quality to an otherwise straightforward game.
With a story based loosely on key elements from Chinese history, Mahjong 3D follows the rise of Qin Shi Huangdi from a young king to uniting China as its first emperor. You begin by conquering the state of Qin, before moving on to more territories and over 80 different puzzles. While you can make strategic choices in regard to your own overall campaign, each puzzle layout usually reflects the task at hand. For example, tile placement is an organized box pattern when you must set up camp, and scattered placement when the enemy is described as unorganized, which was a nice touch.
In addition to the usual elements of mahjong, limited power-ups and special tiles are added to the game. For example, vortex tiles can move a pesky piece to a new area, while one of the power-ups can undo a move. Finishing a round without using power-ups helps your score, as can different types of combos. Earning higher scores levels up your character and allies, unlocking new power-ups.
Special levels, usually tied into the story, also liven up gameplay. Debate Mode pits you against a computer-controlled player, challenging you to play on the same board for a higher score. I probably got too excited when I stole a potential match from my opponent, which shows how effective the game’s style of mahjong can be. Timed Mode unexpectedly made gameplay harder by causing panic, even though I never came close to running out of time.
Besides the main story, Mahjong 3D features a quick play mode with 90 puzzles of varying difficulty, a create mode, and four save slots. Players must keep completing the story to unlock all the quick play levels, though. The game also takes advantage of StreetPass, sharing user-created levels and high scores.
The game was fun to play and I am looking forward to moving through the rest of the territories, as the storyline keeps the gameplay fresh. The dialogue offers a cute, humorous take on history, and the characters are pretty memorable (I instantly disliked Lu Buwei, but considering he’s the prime minister I later overthrew, that is a really good thing).
I do wish the instructions were clearer though, and available for review. During regular dialogue, a character may seamlessly switch from talking politics to telling me which button to press for the power-up menu. If I were rushing through the story, I would completely miss valuable gameplay information, and a search through the main menu fails to show any way to retrieve the game’s instructions. The game also almost always requires the stylus, and I wish I had the option of using the Circle pad or D-pad for convenience. The game’s use of 3D can be a little too vital to gameplay, as you view the puzzle from nearly straight above; without it, it’s almost impossible to tell which level a tile is on.
Despite some negative points, Mahjong 3D: Warriors of the Emperor is a great experience, recreating a classic game while adding an extensive amount of gameplay. Its price might seem a high for a mahjong game, but I think it is worth it if you are looking for a solid game to pass the time.