Review: Sunsoft Mahjong Solitaire
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 Sunsoft's Mahjong Solitaire ($10); 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.
Long-time Japanese developer Sunsoft’s Mahjong Solitaire is sort of like Aki Mahjong for beginners, plus cleaner graphics. While Ambrosia’s rendition of Chinese scenery looks like it was constructed from old photographs, Sunsoft’s art is bright, and its tiles both colorful and highly legible. Similarly, its music is similarly Chinese, but a bit more upbeat. On the flip side, whereas Aki changes music and background frequently, Mahjong Solitaire repeats both from stage to stage, and the audio in particular—including chunky sound effects—tends to grate. Both games are limited in gameplay; you again have limited user control over the experience, and move from stage to stage in sequence.
However, whereas Aki Mahjongg throws you immediately into a full, complex board full of tiles, Sunsoft presents you with a zoomed-in smaller set of tiles to teach you the ropes. You can make each stage easy, medium, or hard in difficulty, and a timer runs to keep track of your progress. Fail to remove the pieces and you’ll have to start again—each board has a “correct” solution—and continued success unlocks more levels with more set patterns. Little animations for successful tile matches keep the game sort of interesting, and you can use pinch and expand gestures to zoom in and out of the board less than smoothly.
If you’re new to Mahjong and don’t need a lot of control over your experience, Mahjong Solitare is a fine place to start for a guided tour. We still think that Shanghai Mahjong offers a better way for both beginners and experts to enjoy this game, and would recommend turning down the music and sound effects here, but this is a fun game to play in bite-sized doses.