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Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom (PlayStation 3) artwork

Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom (PlayStation 3) review


"This year's gotten so crazy that I'm actually reviewing a Mahjong game!"


Even though I've put up well over 500 reviews on this site over the past couple decades, there's a lot you don't know about me and my gaming habits. Such as my long-standing love of Mahjong. Well, time to let that secret out of the bag, as for the first (and probably last) time, I'm typing up thoughts on a Mahjong game -- the cumbersomely named Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom.

A boring topic for a review? Sure, if unlike me, you're no Mah-ster of the Jong. It's really easy to get into and far more relaxing than, say, shooting through a heavily-guarded fort or stabbing through an undead-infested tomb. You'll have a board filled with a bunch of tiles arranged in a pattern that's multiple rows deep. To play, you'll have to make matches between tiles situated at the top and on the edges of their rows. Each match will (hopefully) open up new matches as you work your way across rows and down towards the bottom layer of tiles.

Typically, a tile only matches with those that are exactly identical to it; however, there are a exceptions for certain types. For example, in this game, you'll find a number of weather-related tiles that all can match up with each other, allowing you to match a blue sun to a tile displaying clouds and rain. There also are two very special tiles that will be buried on the bottom layer. Match those two and you'll automatically complete the board, with everything else matched up automatically for what could potentially turn into an impressive number of bonus points.

With Mahjong Tales, a gamer will receive a fair amount of content to keep occupied for a respectable amount of time. The cornerstone of this game is its five tales, each spanning nine boards. Each tale is a short bit of Chinese folklore narrated a few lines at a time in front of some crude animation, with the puzzles serving as the work you have to put in if you want to hear the entire story. With the first one, you'll be given a bunch of small and reasonably simple boards; however, by the time you've reached the final tale, you'll be getting much larger puzzles that easily can take 15 minutes to complete.

To make that process a bit easier, the game does give a small amount of help. You can obtain hints for matches -- perfect for those occasions when you're not sure which non-identical special tiles go together. If you run out of matches, instead of simply having to start a board over, you can shuffle the remaining tiles a handful of times, allowing you additional chances to complete a puzzle. This is very useful on those larger boards, as you'll often have no way of knowing if an early match will wind up setting off a chain reaction that leaves you without any at a later point.

After finishing those five tales, you could replay them in order to see if you can improve your performance and avoid having to make any shuffles, or you can always sample the game's other modes. Since I essentially ignored the multiplayer options and the ability to craft my own boards, that leaves two hit-or-miss options.

The one that's more "hit" is Infinity mode. You can select from a number of background designs and tile patterns and then solve puzzles that are absolutely loaded with tiles. The first time I tried Infinity, I immediately had two random thoughts. First, I wondered if "Infinity" stood for how many tiles were in each puzzle. And immediately afterwards, I started wondering if the game had suffered a glitch and was frozen in a never-ending pattern of dumping tiles onto the screen until my TV broke, spilling them all over my living room.

Drug-induced fancies aside, Infinity mode isn't exactly something you'll be selecting if you just want a quick fix. I've done a couple puzzles in it and both easily took over 20 minutes to complete. However, if you finished the five tales, it does feel like the next logical step in complexity. At least I can see me coming back to this mode from time to time when I want a tougher Mahjong challenge and don't have anywhere I need to be in the immediate future.

Less enjoyable for me was Motion mode. I like Mahjong because it's a relaxing puzzle game that I can work through at my own pace. Sure, the game does keep track of how long it takes you to do puzzles and there is a trophy tied to beating one in under two minutes or so, but you can take as long as you want to do a board without the computer openly calling you an utter dolt. Not in Motion. From my brief attempts to get into it, I saw a pretty simple board as far as number of tiles goes. You'd see other tiles moving around the outside border of the screen and if they made it all the way around to where a dragon was breathing fire, you'd lose a life and have to start that challenge again. I mean, I'm not going to outright discount its potential to provide entertainment, but it was so far removed from what I like about this pastime that I found it devoid of fun.

While I enjoyed the non-Motion parts of Mahjong Tales, there is one minor detail that prevents me from giving this game the Official Rob Hamilton Mark of Approval and it's a little thing I like to call "modern technology". Like many people (possibly even YOU!), I have a fancy cell phone that is essentially a computer the size of a skinny brick. And on that phone, I've downloaded a free Mahjong app that seems to contain many more puzzles than this game, with the additional benefit of utilizing its touch screen capabilities. I look at the screen, see matches and quickly tap the proper tiles. With this game, I have to use my PlayStation's controller to scroll an arrow all over the board in order to make those matches, often scrolling past the tile I wanted and inadvertently clicking on something else in my zeal to make match after match after match.

Which begs the question: How good can a game really be if it's on a platform not designed for overly convenient play to the degree that a free phone app provides more consistent enjoyment? For us Mahjong junkies who always are on the prowl for new puzzles, Mahjong Wisdom is a reasonably fun diversion, but now that I've finished its five tales, most of my Mahjong-ing will be taking place on my phone even if the puzzles there might not be as large or complex as some of those in this game. This is one of those activities that just feels perfect with a touch screen and after playing it in that fashion, using a controller to move an arrow around the screen just doesn't completely work for me. If you can look past that, there is a fair amount of enjoyable content to find here, but after the novelty of playing this game on my television passed, it's becoming increasingly difficult to do so.

3/5

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 10, 2020)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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