Review: MobileAge Shanghai Mahjong
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 MobileAge's Shanghai Mahjong ($5); 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.
The very best of the current crop of iPhone Mahjongg titles is MobileAge’s Shanghai Mahjong. It’s the polar opposite of Moonlight Mahjong in that there are no fancy 3-D effects, and the board presentations are fairly traditional, but the 2-D artwork and user customization are basically flawless. MobileAge starts you with one set of tiles and one background, but lets you connect instantly to the Internet to download as many more as you want. There are so many board layouts, types of tiles, and backgrounds to choose from that it’s essentially impossible to run out of ways to play and enjoy Mahjong here—there’s literally more to choose from in Shanghai Mahjong than any other iPod or iPhone game we’ve seen. In our view, MobileAge’s “get more stuff from the Internet for free” model is spot-on, and really aids this game’s replay value.
It’s because of this customization that you can, for example, render all of the traditional Chinese tiles as letters and numbers that will be easier for first-time players to understand; you can also replace them with the faces of Star Trek characters, movie posters, fractals, or colorful abstract spheres. The game also has a “Windstorm” mode, which changes the standard matching rules on a turn-by-turn basis to let you make matches that would otherwise not be possible; it can be turned off, and for confusion’s sake, probably should be by default.
Shanghai Mahjong is only missing one thing: music. There are cheesy sound effects to accompany the zooming out of matched blocks from the screen, but you’ll have to provide your own soundtrack here. Because of how well the rest of the game has been assembled, we don’t mind much, but this game would receive our full A rating with a solid soundtrack a la Aki Mahjong’s. It has the right price and right features to merit a high recommendation to all of our readers.