Mahjong World Contest is a mahjong solitaire variant with two twists: there’s a three star rating based on objectives, and clearing the board isn’t necessarily your overall goal. These tweaks augment a degree of tactical thinking to a rule set that arguably lacks the original Chinese game’s strategy – and it’s better for it, encouraging replayability and different methods of play to get the most out of what’s fundamentally a tile matching experience.
For those not up to speed on ancient Eastern pastimes, the solitaire iteration of mahjong sees you combining Chinese characters and pictographs to clear pieces. It’s a fun experience that lends itself to portable play, but can lose its lustre swifter than full four-player rounds of the original game. That’s where this PlayStation Vita title ups the ante, however, prompting you to clear the board of gold and silver tokens.
These shiny tiles sit among the standard ones, either surrounded by them or stacked below hidden from sight. It’s your task, then, to match pairs of the Suits (Bamboo, Circles, and Characters), the Honours (Winds and Dragons), and the Bonus pieces (Flowers and Seasons) to reach them. Of course, the Suits and Honours will only match up with their respective pairs, while the Bonus tokens will combine with any of the sets.
It’s not as simple as that, though. In order to match the tiles, they’ll need to be unattached from the other pieces surrounding them. As such, it takes a keen eye and some strategic thinking to reach the gold and silver trinkets required to fulfil your goal. Fortunately, you’ll have access to a couple of abilities to help your plight. One allows you to reshuffle the board, potentially unlocking an easier path to your target, while the other allows you to match trinkets regardless of whether they’re still surrounded. These are attached to cool down metres and your progress, however, so can’t be overused.
The game itself boasts over 100 different boards, with the pieces arranged in various different patterns and stacks. Despite this, though, it still becomes quite monotonous if you play for long stretches of time. Fortunately, each layout has a three-star rating, which challenges you to complete separate objectives while you’re trying to fulfil your primary goal. These comprise clearing the board in a specific number of moves to attaining a certain score, and really help to alleviate the tedium a touch.
Of course, at its core, this is still quite a repetitive game, so it’s best to play in short bursts. The different patterns and backgrounds augment some variety, though, and the whole package feels well made. This includes the touch controls, which are remarkably well suited to the style of play. Even the music is pleasant and immersive, rounding out the well presented product with its smooth oriental tones.
Mahjong World Contest is hardly going to set the world alight, but it’s much more interesting and challenging than its peers. The title’s implementation of tricky sub-objectives elevates the simplistic solitaire format, and while it’s not quite the four-player competitive experience that its title alludes to, it’s still a solid game that’s well suited to short sessions on the Vita.