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 only one title from the collection, Aki Mahjong from Ambrosia Software, which was subsequently updated and re-rated as explained further below; you can read the original “Best of” 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.
Originally sold for $10, Aki Mahjong from Ambrosia Software is amongst the more rigidly structured versions of Mahjong on the iPhone. Using grainy, muted artwork that wouldn’t look out of place on the walls of an old Chinese restaurant, Aki Mahjong presents you with a list of locked challenges, each with a static piece of background art and a set pattern of tiles. You advance to the next level by properly matching and removing all of the tiles you are given, and though the game gives you multiple opportunities to win a level by reshuffling the remaining tiles when you’re out of moves, you lose if whatever remains can’t be shuffled for a victory. Pressing the “i” icon opens a window telling you how many moves remain, and offering a hint as to the next available move.
The best things about Aki Mahjong are its legitimately appropriate, well-composed soundtrack—orchestral Chinese-styled—and the fact that there is a linear challenge with multiple levels to play through. We also found the touch controls generally accurate and responsive, with the presentation straightforward rather than confusing. However, the tile graphics don’t look great on the iPhone’s screen by comparison with most other versions of this game we’ve tried, and unlike almost all of them, there’s no user-customizability of the experience: you play what’s given to you, with only the option of going back and playing old unlocked levels. There is also very little use of the iPhone’s special effects capabilities. For a highly similar experience, we were more impressed by, and had a lot more fun with Shanghai Mahjong. Our original rating of Aki Mahjong was a B-.
Updated August 11, 2008: Though we’re not going to do this often, or even more than once in a great while, we decided to take another look at Aki Mahjong after the company released updated version 1.0.2. Back when we originally reviewed Aki, the game was rigidly structured, selling for $10, and suffering from graphics that didn’t look as if they’d been especially well-optimized for the iPhone’s screen. Part of this was the developer’s artistic choice. The other part was, well, subject to improvement.
The revised version of Aki Mahjong is unquestionably better than its predecessor. Like some of our other favorites on the iPhone, you can select immediately from a collection of 25 different table layouts with unique backgrounds. Ambrosia’s tiles, which previously looked blocky and dithered on the screen, have been updated with cleaner, sharper versions. And you now have the ability to use pinch and expand gestures to zoom in and out of portions of the board. Consequently, the game looks better, offers an immediately expanded collection of art and layouts to play with, and gives you a little more control over your view of each board.
This isn’t to say that the game has been radically improved over what came before; the background artwork, which we previously described as suited to the walls of an old Chinese restaurant, continues to use muted tones that aren’t quite as exciting as what we’ve seen in Shanghai Mahjong. Your perspective on the board, while improved a bit with zoom, sometimes leaves layer-deep tiles a bit obscured. And the crux of the game, a level-based progression through various scenes from Japan, is the same. But there is a lot to like about Aki Mahjong, including the music, so for the $5 asking price, we think it’s worthy of a higher rating.
Company and Price
Company: Ambrosia Software
Title: Aki Mahjong
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G