Every time I see a Mahjong video game I get really excited. I start thinking that my Mahjong fixation I obtained from watching too many episodes of the anime Saki may finally be sated. Sadly, to this day I have yet to find a Mahjong game that isn’t actually Mahjong solitaire, rather than the 4-person game I’m still dying to play. Mahjong 3D – Warriors of the Emperor also falls under this category much to my dismay; however, to its credit the game is very solid as a Mahjong solitaire game. It also makes adequate use of the 3DS’ features, although given the more niche nature of the game some may not be as useful as they could be in theory.
The game has two primary modes of play: Conquest and Quickplay, both aptly named. Conquest is, just as it sounds, a campaign that follows prince-turned-king Ying Zheng as he travels throughout China conquering the territories by forcing their warlords into joining his cause. This mode takes place in seven different territories: Qin, Han, Wei, Zhao, Chu, Yan, and Qi. Each defeated warlord usually ends up adding a new ally to your list, selectable at the beginning of each map. This is important because these allies all hold different abilities in the form of powerups that aid you in the completion of the puzzles. There are 13 different powerups, but some struck me as more useful than others and for this reason I tended to stick to only one or two allies. It is also worth noting that the player (Ying) and his allies level up as you complete more puzzles. In turn, this grants them the ability to use more and new powerups.
Although you gain more and more powerups as you play, the game also keeps track of score. This is relevant because most often you gain the most points by not using your powerups, or by using them very strategically. Depending on the type of level, sometimes the use of these prove necessary whether to beat the clock or to work your way out of a dead end. There are several types of maps: standard matching, timed matching, and “debate” style are among these. The game also uses different combinations of these liberally; often the harder timed maps will need the magic touch of a small powerup to become truly manageable.
I mentioned earlier that it was sometimes necessary to use a powerup to work your way out of a dead end. This brings forth a really strong positive point this game has: it flat-out tells you when you’ve screwed up to the point where you cannot win. When this happens, a menu is displayed that allows you to attempt using a powerup to fix the problem, restart, or give up entirely. While often you can fix the mess you’ve matched yourself to (assuming that you didn’t waste all those powerups already), there are sometimes occasions in which this is not the case. Of particular nuisance are the harder debate levels where the AI intentionally tries to stalemate you this way if you are clearly winning. The debate style maps feature an AI opponent matching tiles against you, where the person with the most points at the end of the map wins. Unfortunately, the AI seems very happy thwarting your progress by utilizing powerups when they shouldn’t and using up tiles you need to progress. Saving your powerups to fix this is absolutely essential for these levels.
Overall, I found the conquest story bland and unremarkable. While it is nice to have some sort of narrative to accompany the increasing difficulty of the level, I feel that more work could have been done in this area. To top this off, the 3D character models also feel like a subpar amount of effort was put into them. Thankfully, the surprisingly good music and great gameplay make up for this pretty well.
That about sums up Conquest. It is also important to note that the maps available in Quickplay mode are unlocked by progressing through the story in Conquest mode. Between the maps in Conquest and the unlockable maps in Quickplay, you have a couple hundred potential maps to play from. The game is also pretty good about ensuring that a map never quite plays out the same way despite the initial setup looking the same structurally. The normal matching tiles in Mahjong 3D‘s maps are randomized to ensure that the experience is different each time, but are always possible to clear provided that bad choices were not made in the selection of which tiles to match.
In addition to these maps, there’s also a Creator mode that allows you to create custom tile maps. This feature is actually pretty robust: you can even add a variety of props to the map for decoration as well as hidden powerups; however, the one thing it does seem to be lacking is the ability to set a time limit for your level. In addition to your own custom creations, you can also obtain levels from other people with the game via StreetPass. Unfortunately, in all my time of playing the game I did not once come across someone else with the game and was not able to try this feature out.
As a final note in regard to the actual solving of the puzzles I found that sometimes there were tiles that were hard to view from the default camera angle. Thankfully the thumbpad on the 3DS allows you to adjust this to better select these tiles. Overall, the gameplay is extremely solid, the music is good, and the variety in the puzzles is more than adequate. However, at a $9.99 download I feel the price may be just a little too high for what the game offers. The 3D in the game also feels a little tacked on, more like an afterthought feature because the game was being sold on the 3DS. It adds little to the game as a whole, and I actually found it distracting when trying to solve puzzles. For people who love matching games or puzzles this probably would be a good buy despite the price, but for those looking for a cheap puzzle game to kill some time with, Mahjong 3D might not be the best choice.
Short Attention Span Summary
Mahjong 3D – Warriors of the Emperor is a very solid Mahjong solitaire game with plenty of puzzles and many hours gameplay to be had. While the story in Conquest mode is pretty cheesy, it still remains fun and the music that accompanies the game is very good. Creator mode offers players the ability to design the structure of a map however they like and then share that map with friends via StreetPass. There’s also a scoring system that tracks how well you do at matching certain tiles in a specific order or using powerups to your greatest advantage, many times while racing the clock or the computer AI. The price is also a tad high, but would probably be acceptable for fans of these types of games. People looking for a casual puzzle game simply to kill time probably can find better value for their dollar elsewhere.