While there’s no doubt that Mahjong games are very popular on the computer and iPhone, I have to confess that they’ve never managed to grab my attention for more than a few minutes whenever I’ve played them; they just don’t seem to have that addictive quality that I crave for some reason.
However, as we gamers know only too well, you really have to give a game a fair chance and several hours of solid play before you make your mind up about it, and in the end, Mahjongg Artifacts 2 won me over with its sheer class and turned me into a tile-matching demon.
At first there might seem something a bit bizarre about adding anime-style graphics and a comic-book story line to such a traditional type of game, but in the end it all fits together surprisingly well.
The main menu screen gets things off to a good start with the sharp anime-style background showing the artifact hunter’s desk. It’s also your first chance to hear the wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack, which is one of the most impressive elements of the game: it sounds like an epic film score rather than the soundtrack to a video game.
From the main menu, you can access a clear and concise Help section. You also get walked through the controls at the start of Quest mode so even if you’ve never played any variation of Mahjongg before you won’t be at a loss.
Also from the main menu you can select one ofthree play modes: Quest, Classic and Endless. The latter two modes are really just straightforward versions of the game where you get to choose your background and tile set. In Classic, you also get to choose from 99 tile layouts. In Endless mode, you just have to keep on disposing of endless layers of tiles.
Quest is the most absorbing of the three modes. It starts with a comic book exposition screen introducing the story – presumably continued from the first Artifacts game – of a young archeologist who goes missing.
In between each level there are more comic-book interludes that advance the plot as the archeologist’s girlfriend travels from Japan to Tibet and beyond to try and find him. Kudos to game-makers G5 for at least trying to come up with a modern hook for an ancient game!
For each new location that you travel to on the map, you get to enjoy several stunning background screens. The Japan ones are really gorgeous, for example, especially the cherry blossoms.
For those not already familiar with how to play Mahjongg, the object is to match tiles and therefore remove them from the playing field, but this is only possible if they are free on the left or right side and are not covered by any other tile. In Quest mode, you must match only two gold tiles to win the game.
The tile sets themselves are really beautiful and intricately designed, just like a real set, but if you find them a little hard to see you can use the L and R buttons to zoom in and out, or you can press both buttons to engage auto-zoom.
This version of the game introduces all sorts of bonus pick-ups which use up the green pearls that you can collect when you match certain tiles. These include lifting, which makes a tile rise to the top of the pile, and the joker, which takes all tiles of the type of tile you select off the board. It certainly adds an interesting new element to the gameplay. Other player aids include the eye at the bottom of the screen which is open by default and shows you all the free tiles on the board that you can match.
The control system is very intuitive, using the d-pad to move the cursor and X to select the tiles. When a tile is selected it has a bright green border around it, making it easy to see.
It seems that G5 have thought of everything when it comes to ease of use: I really like the way that when you have to scroll all the way across to the other side of the screen, a little picture of the tile you’re seeking pops up in the top left corner just in case you forget!
To sum up, Mahjongg Artifacts 2 is an impressively polished version of the online flash game, beautifully put together and very well-adapted for the PSP’s unique requirements. However, this type of slow-paced game is not for everyone, hence the relatively low score compared to other minis. Don’t let that put you off though, if you’re already a big fan of Mahjongg flash games then you shouldn’t hesitate to buy this minis version.