modeps's Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom (PlayStation Network (PS3)) review

Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom

Chances are that you've played Mahjong at some point, so the concept should be familiar to most. However, if you're one of those that just doesn't play puzzle games here's a quick overview. Mahjong is a tile based puzzle game where you are given a set of tiles on a single board and tasked with clearing them off by matching two pieces together. Most tiles will only match with their twin, however there are two types of tiles that clear because they are both types of flowers or seasons. Its an effective and relaxing time waster.

Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom takes this game, gives you four variations (Ancient Tales, Motion, Classic Infinity and Multiplayer), and throws it on the PS3 as a PlayStation Network download. The base formula is tried and true, so the question remains as to how successful Creat Studios was in the transition from board game to console. The answer? Fairly successful but not overly so.

Ancient Tales is the game's 'story mode' where you get to walk through five parables each with 9 boards to solve. After beating each, you get a paper-cutout cutscene with a new page of the story and a horrendously over-compressed sounding narrator.

Motion takes the serenity found in playing solitary Mahjong and turns it on its ear. Instead of having plenty of time to match up the tiles, you'll get to race against a line of 'extra' tiles marching toward a fire breathing dragon. If they make it there, you lose a life. You've got 45 stages to clear to beat this mode.

Classic Infinity is what solo players have come accustomed to. 100 different layouts with your choice of background and tileset. Match them tiles up and try to clear the board.

Multiplayer is effecively a take on Motion mode without the dragon waiting to hinder your progress. You get a set of tiles that you need to clear before your opponent and have a marching line of tiles to assist you. Unfortunately, try as I might, there was never anyone around to play online against so expect to play this mode locally only.

The graphics are sharp in 1080p so you can clearly make out all the stamps found on the tiles and certainly get the job done, but in general there's not much going on here. They tried to add a little flair when pieces are matched by throwing a particle effect at you, but in some cases this just gets in the way as you can't see the tiles behind it very well. Similarly, the soundtrack is generic themed music that isn't intrusive but isn't spectacular either. Both are just utilitarian. Mahjong Tales does support custom soundtracks though, so once you've heard the loop a few hundred times you can pipe your own music in.

The most important thing though is how it plays. Mahjong Tales does not feel like it has been 'consolized' much and seems like it would be better played on a PC. To match tiles, you effectively control a mouse pointer with your analog stick. While it does have a snap-to type movement if you get close to a tile, it doesn't feel that great. When speed comes into play with Motion mode, or you're trying to increase your score by matching tiles quickly and consecutively, it can get a little frustrating to have such an imprecise control method. The more you use it, the better you get, but that doesn't stop it from being clunky.

Mahjong Tales: Ancient Wisdom is a decent entry into the casual PSN space. If you're itching to play some Mahjong on your PS3, it will certainly fit the bill as there's plenty of content for $9.99 (its got 16 trophies to earn too!), just don't expect to be wowed in any way.

The Good:
  • Plenty of Mahjong to go around
  • Motion mode throws a cool action twist to matching tiles
  • Its Mahjong

The Bad:
  • Controls are a bit frustrating
  • No one is playing online
  • Very vanilla visuals

The Ugly:
  • You could mute your TV and it wouldn't take away from the experience
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