I must confess to having never truly gotten to grips with Mahjong. Aside from vaguely knowing that the Chinese game is always likened to traditional card game rummy, I’ve never found the opportunity to attempt to find a foothold in understanding exactly how it all works.
As a complete novice, receiving Treva Entertainment’s Mahjong 3D: Warriors of the Emperor for review seemed like the chance to at last do so. That is until, much to my surprise, I discovered that the development team have underestimated the importance of including tutorials within their latest Nintendo eShop release. Wonderful.
Scouring through the game’s menu resulted in nothing to aid me, such lack of Mahjong knowledge seemingly only afflicting myself rather than the general gaming populace. We’d fallen at the first hurdle, Mahjong 3D and I, but I wasn’t letting our experience together end there.
A brief pit stop on Google eventually provided the information I required, and a leisurely read through what turned out to be admittedly simple rules, we were at last on our way.
I needn’t have worried either, Mahjong 3D dropping my new found knowledge of Chow, Pung and Kong, and only seeing the player needing to match pairs of either identical or similar suites later on.
Mahjong 3D divides itself between an expansive Conquest mode, alongside Quick Play which is distinguishably geared toward singular sessions. Progression through the former unlocks content for the latter, so for most it appears sensible to tackle the first as a starting point.
Conquest follows the rise of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as he sets out to unite China, the narrative of which proves intentionally comedic if not feeling slightly superfluous to the puzzle experience. You assume the role of the youthful King as he begins his journey, initially finding himself under the watchful eye of prime minister Lu Buwei.
There’s a mixture of game types here too: Build sees structures appear across the background landscape as you begin to clear larger areas of tiles; Battle, where you must beat the time limit to remove significantly larger quantities of tiles from the screen; and Duel, in which you race against a real-time opponent to score more points.
You’ll soon usurp his authority for the more sagely advice of Li Si, who becomes your first ally and grants access to his own unique power-ups. The introduction of such bonus tools soon provides help when needed: bombs that remove all tiles near the explosion, the chance to designate potential match ups, or undoing your previous move. It’s a simple addition, but it works well.
Meanwhile, special tiles positioned around the board open up a range of strategic possibilities. Vortex tiles giving the opportunity to move a tile to entirely new locations, whereas matching two Golden tiles allows you to immediately complete the level.
The backgrounds themselves are colourful vistas, if not fairly plain in their animation quality. Enormous Buddhas, stoic castle walls, and gushing waterfalls are accompanied by an equally exotic soundtrack filled with eastern promise.
What proves slightly jarring is that Mahjong 3D negates all use of the Nintendo 3DS buttons, instead seeing players entirely interact through stylus and touchscreen combo. Understanding due to the number of tiles present, but problematic and loose enough to disappoint players who would have liked an alternate control scheme for more precision.
That is, until you enter the game’s Create mode. This level editor employs full use of the handheld’s button array and enables you to craft your own Mahjong boards and formations, to then be later shared with other players through StreetPass.
Pricing is also a cause for concern, with a purchase through the Nintendo eShop in North America costing you $9.99. Whereas in Europe it’ll set you back £17.99 (€19.99). I’m not one to regularly remark on such price comparisons, but that’s more than double.
Yet there’s enough fresh appeal here, sprinkled with new ideas that work well if not that imaginative. It’s clear to see why Mahjong has become so popular in a similar sense to other eastern puzzle classics, and Mahjong 3D: Warriors of the Emperor does a commendable job of hooking you in.