It’s sometimes difficult to tell one mah jong game from the next since many of them stick closely to the appearance and rules of the original ancient Chinese tile-matching pastime. While there’s nothing wrong with re-creating the classic mah jong experience, Zylom earns kudos for breaking a whole lot of new ground with Safari Island Deluxe.
The first thing you’ll notice about Safari Island Deluxe is that it boasts a vibrant non-traditional tile-set made up of animals, tropical fruits and flora, and objects that you would expect to see on a relaxing island vacation (like snorkels and hammocks).
The second innovation – and it’s a big one – is that instead of clicking on two of the same tile to clear them from the board (such as two elephants, two oranges or two hammocks), each individual tile is simply one part of a larger image that must be pieced together. To clear a watermelon, for example, you have to click on the left and right watermelon halves.
And that’s not all. Sometimes more than two tiles are required to make a complete image. The long twisty body of a snake, for example, is three tiles big. Larger shapes like palm trees and whales can be made up of four and even five tiles.
For the first few levels, the game makes it easier by showing you a picture of what the completed object looks like every time you click on a piece of it. A few levels later, the picture will be replaced by a silhouette of the object, and then finally you’ll simply see the name of the object along with a diagram of the tiles in the correct shape.
As you might imagine, the boards in Safari Island Deluxe can look pretty chaotic. If you’re stuck, you can click the Hint button to reveal a possible move, or click Shuffle to shuffle all tiles on the board – however, these will both siphon off a bit of your remaining time. Better to use these as a last resort and take advantage of the many special totems and amulets that appear from time to time.
There are a variety of these special tiles, but a few examples are the moon totem, which makes all blocked (unusable) tiles dark temporarily and helps you to zone out some of the clutter and zero in on possible moves; the time amulet which adds more time to the timer; and the hunter totem which creates matches automatically for 10 seconds. There are also lock tiles that must be matched with appropriate key tiles, and vine-entrapped tiles that you must clear space around to break.
In between completing boards you’ll occasionally play bonus games where you have to pick out a certain object in a sea of other objects (such as a single orange in a sea of other fruit.)
There are three goals to shoot for in the 60 levels of adventure mode: you get a bronze ranking if you remove all the tiles; a silver if you remove all the tiles in the allotted time limit, and gold if you also manage to beat the target high score. There’s also Action mode where you play as many levels as you can before running out of time, and Bonus mode, an endless version of the bonus hidden object games you play between levels in the main mode.
Animal lovers will appreciate all the interesting animal kingdom facts that the game doles out as you progress through the levels – like the fact that koalas are the only mammals besides humans to have unique finger prints! After you “unlock” an animal by matching it for the first time, it will appear on the main map screen and you can click on it to learn more about it.
My complaint with Safari Island Deluxe is that having so many different tiles on the board at once does get a bit chaotic at times – especially since there are a few different black and white birds and brown-colored animals, and it can sometimes be hard to tell which tile belongs to which set. The power-ups and Hints do help, however.
If you’re a fan of mah jong, you’ll probably like the challenging new twists that Safari Island Deluxe puts on the traditional formula.