The Mahjong solitaire variant is a popular genre for handheld devices. In fact, it’s ideal for touch screen handhelds due to the nature of the game: bite-size puzzles solvable by matching pairs of symbols. And, indeed, 8 Floor Games' collection of Mahjong titles with their three star challenges, limited special abilities, and background and tile pattern themes, provide a compelling enigma for those who enjoy this Chinese game of strategy. Mahjong Gold is no exception, although the bane of repetition and unoriginality will cast an inescapable shadow on your enjoyment.
Mahjong Gold tasks you with completing 120 levels spread between six stages, with each stage incrementing on the difficulty slightly as well as providing a new, nautically themed background. Despite seafaring patterns of tiles, from a skull and crossbones to an anchor, the objectives stick to the common three star system from other Mahjong titles, with each star obtained for completing the level subject to a requirement, which usually involves finishing within a time limit, within a limited number of moves, or surpassing a set score. It’s a great technique for encouraging you to approach a stage differently, and the challenge of perfecting each level can be compelling for completionists, but it’s ultimately a shallow incentive to keep you replaying a stage.
However, with 120 unique levels on offer, it takes a while before replaying any of them crosses your mind, and it’s pleasantly surprising how immersive matching pairs of tiles can be. Mahjong solitaire is such a simple concept: you match loose tiles based on either identical symbols or linked themes – such as in the case of Season tiles, for example – which removes them from the board, freeing up other tiles positioned next to or below them that are then ready to be paired. Your primary objective is to remove all of the gold tiles, with score multipliers activated by pairing them off at a fast pace. Extra points are also granted for liberating the gold tiles with other tiles still in play.
It takes an eye for detail and a level of strategy: you don’t want to waste pairing non-gold tiles if you can avoid it, especially if an odd number of symbols are present. If you go idle for little while, tiles will let off a subtle shine to indicate that they can be paired up, and you can use an ability to shuffle the board if you really get stuck, although this is restricted by a cool-down effect after use.
Mahjong can be an enjoyable puzzle game, and Mahjong Gold certainly provides a highly polished version on the PlayStation Vita. However, it's 120 levels of the same experience, with only a skin deep nautical aesthetic to differentiate it from any other Mahjong title. As such, it can’t avoid feeling like a clone, and the initial immersion can be easily broken by prolonged play that reveals its repetitive nature. If you enjoy a spell of Mahjong for quick bouts of puzzle solving, then this should be a welcome addition to your collection, but it’s nothing new.