Review: Midnight Martian Moonlight Mahjong and Moonlight Mahjong Lite
On July 21, 2008, iLounge published iPhone Gems: The Best of All 7 Mahjong Games, a feature article looking at the seven different versions of the classic tile-matching game Mahjong. This review focuses on Moonlight Mahjong ($5) from Midnight Martian; you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
All of these applications are based upon the same tile-matching game, which is alternately known as “Shanghai,” “Shanghai Mahjong” or “Mahjongg,” though the last of these names is a little inaccurate. The classic Mahjong is a competitive betting game played with Chinese tiles that have been marked with coins or numbers, pieces of bamboo, flowers, directions of wind, or dragons. The iPhone’s Mahjong titles use the same tiles, but are designed to be played by one person rather than a group; you match sets of two like tiles until every tile has been removed from the board. Because this is a one-player game, some refer to this version of Mahjong as Mahjong Solitaire, and though there are standard patterns and rules for presenting the tiles to be matched, each version of the game approaches the rules differently.
Of all of the versions of Mahjong we played, Moonlight Mahjong is the one we’d recommend first to experts. There are a couple of major things that are very wrong about this game—its lack of any background art and audio; you play in silence on a flat yellow surface—and two things that are so profoundly right that the omissions are almost forgivable: the tile patterns can be selected from 12 different options, some of which defy gravity, and you can use gesture commands to rotate, zoom, and pan around them to your heart’s content. Every other version of Mahjong is, essentially, plain tic-tac-toe to this one’s 3-D; where else can you match tiles arranged in the shape of the Eiffel Tower?
Our rating of Moonlight Mahjong is a compromise: relative to most of its more polished competitors, this game is an A on concept but a C on execution; if not for the 3-D functionality, the bland art and lack of audio would doom it to obscurity. However, the player’s abilities to actually start on any of the 3-D models, hunt around them looking for matches, and randomly regenerate properly solvable puzzles, keep Moonlight Mahjong interesting and intellectually challenging in a way that the majority of its competitors lack. Though it looks like a demo rather than a finished game, it’s a good value for the $5 asking price, and the free Moonlight Mahjong Lite version lets you have a taste of the experience at no charge.