One of the primary measures of a good mahjong game is the amount of time it coaxes its players to invest matching tiles. Judged by this standard, I-Play’s Mahjong Memoirs is a winner. With hundreds of original tile layouts, plus a standalone story mode that ought to take most players at least five or six hours to work through, there’s a good chance you’ll be playing this latest iteration of the ancient Chinese game for weeks, if not longer.
But the game’s impressive scope isn’t the only reason to play. It also provides players with a variety of engaging, non-traditional objectives.
We can work through each puzzle as we would normally, strategically weighing the advantage of digging into deep stacks of tiles to access those at the bottom versus trying to eat away at long horizontal rows to free up the tiles in the middle, or we can try to create sequences. A sequence is a series of five tile suits randomly generated by the computer. If you can make five matches in a row following the sequence of suits provided, you’ll earn a pair of golden tiles and the puzzle will reshuffle with the shiny new tiles mixed in. Match those two tiles and the puzzle will complete itself.
It’s not as simple as it sounds. Some suits have a short supply if tiles. Waste them making random matches, and you’ll never get to make a sequence. In most cases you’ll want to think ahead as you attempt to ensure that all five suits are available to match prior to initiating the sequence.
Of course, if you focus too much on making sequences you could end up ignoring important parts of the puzzle-those deep stacks and long rows mentioned above-which will hurt your chances of clearing the board the old fashioned way should your sequence plans not pan out.
Still, making sequences is addictive. In fact, you can actually make multiple sequences in the same puzzle, creating additional gold tiles. This can be very helpful in later puzzles that have hundreds of tiles, making matching two specific golden tiles a real challenge. With four or six golden tiles in the mix your chances of a quick clear grow substantially.
But sequences aren’t your only novel objective. In Endless Mode-the mode in which most players will spend the majority of their time-our performance on each of 200 puzzles is ranked via three stars, which fill as we earn points as the puzzle progresses.
A dependable way to earn points is to make sequences and solve the puzzle quickly, which will result in bonuses for time and remaining tiles. However, you can also earn points by making fast matches, linked matches (back-to-back matches in the same suit), and fast linked matches. String together several in a row and you’ll create combinations, resulting in a combination badge, which will result in more bonus points at the puzzle’s completion.
Then there are the trophies-more than 50 of them for accomplishments such as matching multiple identical pairs and earning a perfect three stars in endless mode-ranking names, and unlockables, which include fresh backgrounds, new tile sets, and additional tracks to grow your library of traditional oriental background music (though, it’s worth adding, the game’s length virtually guarantees that players will eventually grow weary of its score).
All this, and I haven’t even touched on story mode yet. Story mode will appeal to the more conventional mahjong player. Players are led through several dozen puzzles by a kind old woman who is teaching us how to play the game while giving us a tour of her stately home (this is how we unlock the backgrounds). We can still construct sequences, but time and points do not play a role.
Some of the puzzles we play in story mode end with us finding an old Second World War-era letter under the board. These letters are romantic notes between a pair of young lovers kept apart by class and war. The tale that unfolds is surprisingly genuine and moving, and helped along by heartfelt performances by a pair of talented Japanese voice actors.
Put plainly, Mahjong Memoirs is a terrific game. It’s not perfect-why, for example, is there no onscreen clock if time plays such an important role in endless mode?-but any issues you’ll encounter will be small and infrequent. It’s a surefire bet for folks who enjoy a good game of Chinese solitaire.