Company: Electronic Arts
Players: One to Four
Compatible: iPod 5G
Electronic Arts Mahjong
There are few games that naturally fit the iPod's screen and control limitations as well as Electronic Arts' Mahjong ($5), a classic puzzle title that will remind new players of the card-matching game Concentration. Here, you're given a screen full of Chinese tiles, some marked with numbers, others with art or Chinese characters. Your goal is to select one tile - say, a single green wheel - and match it to another tile with the same symbol. The matched titles then disappear. Mahjong's challenge is that you can only select tiles on each board's perimeter - left or right edges - and can only access the tiles in the center when you've freed their left or right sides of other blocks. Make too many "easy" matches and you'll never free the blocks at the center.
Considering the audiovisual mediocrity of most of the iPod’s initial slate of titles, Electronic Arts went above and beyond to create a beautiful, consistent design for both its in-game artwork and menus. Red and black silhouetted ancient Chinese scenes are found - and animated - in the game’s introduction and transition screens, with a golden dragon and ivory tiles used during the game. Mahjong’s music, while limited, is also theme-appropriate and charming. Having played many gaming variants on this title, we’re almost entirely impressed with EA’s take, and found both its controls and presentation to be highly recommendable. Beyond the single-player mode, up to four players can pass around the iPod in a “Pass ‘n Play” mode, each taking a turn at removing two blocks - as with all multiplayer iPod games, a headphone splitter or add-on speaker accessory will be the additional players’ only way to enjoy the audio dimension of the game. Another mode called Emperor’s Challenge has you progress through six different themes, each with a dozen tile layouts.
That said, EA missed an opportunity that would have made Mahjong even more accessible. Past versions of the game have allowed first-time players to choose between more familiar-looking titles - the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals, different pictographs, et cetera - that aren’t as daunting to figure out as the slate of Chinese ones presented here. Long-time mahjong fans won’t mind EA’s Chinese tiles at all, and generations of new players have learned to adapt to those tiles, but more user-selectable tiles would have been great.