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Publisher: iWin    Genre: Puzzle & Trivia
Min OS X: 10.2

Mah Jong Quest
November 3, 2006 | Joe Jackson

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A Stepping Stone puzzle
Mahjong has come a long way since Confucius allegedly invented the game in the 1st Century B.C., as legend would have it. Whereas Mahjong is traditionally played competitively as a multiplayer game, much like a hybrid of rummy and dominoes, in computer gaming one mainly associates Mahjong with solitaire games of tile matching. Mahjong Quest enters a playing field choked with the latter, many of which can be played online for no charge. So does Mahjong Quest offer game play compelling enough to validate plunking down the cold cash? Read on to find out.

Classic Mode
Mahjong Quest offers 3 basic modes of play: Classic, Puzzles, and Kwazi’s Quest. Classic offers the standard mahjong solitaire game consisting of randomly generated layouts intended for single session games. You proceed by removing matching pairs of tiles, until none are left. The layouts are grouped into themes, from obvious motifs such as Easy, Classics, and Hard, to more fanciful collections like Wedges and Prongs, Elevated, and Weird. All told there are 88 boards assembled into 11 themes, making for quite a bit of variety. In addition, each board can be played five different ways. Classic mode only requires you to remove all the tiles. Speed mode shows only those tiles that can be matched, with all other tiles remaining blank; as you remove pairs, new pairs are activated, making for a very easy and fast game. Scramble mode reshuffles the entire puzzle if you either run out of matches or take too long to find the next pair. Memory mode presents blank tiles; as you hover over them, the patterns are revealed. You have to remember where certain tiles are placed, as once you select a tile, the hover/reveal feature is disabled. Last is Ghost mode, where tiles are revealed for a few seconds as you move the mouse over them, only to disappear entirely after a few seconds. If you stop moving the mouse, you are left staring into space. If you sweep the mouse back and forth quickly across the board, you will see a lot of tiles briefly. It is an odd but interesting mode of play. All told, between the large number of layouts, coupled with the varied modes of play, the Classic portion of Mahjong Quest alone offers more re-playability than many other mahjong offerings out there.

Puzzles Mode
Puzzles is similar to Classic, with the added interest of a timer. There are 80 layouts, also organized into groups, ranging from very small puzzles where the order you remove tiles is important, to large puzzles with hundreds of tiles. All the puzzles are also playable in the 5 modes available in the Classic game. As with Classic mode, the sheer number of layouts and different ways of playing each puzzle add a lot of value to the game; although, once solved, some of the smaller puzzles will be less interesting to return to.

Kwazi’s Quest
What really separates Mahjong Quest from the pack is the story driven Kwazi’s Quest. Three evil dragons have ravaged the countryside, and young Kwazi restores these environments to their former beauty by solving Mahjong puzzles. At the center of each puzzle are the golden yin and yang tiles; when matched, they solve that particular puzzle. Any remaining tiles are removed and added to a score that you accumulate as you advance through the game. After solving five puzzles in a particular area, you advance to the next one, which is depicted by a cartoon-like backdrop. The areas show signs of the dragons’ passage, like smoldering ruins, but after yin and yang work their magic they look as good as new again, There are animated cut scenes that link the story together that, while rather low tech and riddled with doggerel verse, nonetheless do a pleasant job of providing some context to your puzzle solving. There are a total of 12 areas to restore, which means 60 puzzles to solve. You are given five lives at the start of the quest. If you fail to solve a puzzle, you lose a life. The initial stages of the Quest are pretty easy, but as you approach the later stages, they can become quite difficult. In fact, some of them seem impossible to complete, as when you fail to solve a puzzle, it restarts the puzzle without shuffling the tiles. As some of the puzzles have very limited options, you can methodically determine that the puzzles have no solution, which seemed to be Mah Jong Quest's biggest gameplay flaw.

As you progress, the game introduces several special tiles that perform special functions. For example, there are tiles with a brick wall motif that serve to block all tiles to the inside. To removes these, you need to use the special firecracker tile, which blow the wall tiles out of the way. Other special tiles include the typhoon, which eliminate all instances of a particular tile, and the magnet, which pulls another tile to its position before disappearing. These tiles are necessary to solve most of the puzzles in Kwazi’s Quest, and provide an interesting change from straight matching by introducing some strategy into the mix. These special tiles reappear in some of the Puzzle layouts as well.

Graphics and Sound
The overall production quality of Mahjong Quest is pretty good. The graphics are simple, but crisp and clear. The tiles differentiate pretty easily from one another, especially after playing through a few puzzles. The animations are cartoonish and somewhat childish, but not to the point of being annoying or offensive. The backgrounds are varied and add to the overall feel of the game, particularly during Kwazi’s Quest. The sound quality is also up to par for a puzzle game of this price. There are four different tunes that play in the background as you work your way through the game, as well as a number of other sounds and voices that appear throughout the game. The background music is enjoyable, but you can turn it off if you tire of it.

Bottom Line
So, does the sum of Mahjong Quest’s varied styles of play add up to the sum of the $19.95 required to register the game? If you are a fan of Mahjong solitaire, then it is definitely worth it. There is enough variety in how you solve puzzles here to keep you busy indefinitely. Also, if you are a fan of puzzle games in general, you will find Mahjong Quest a nice addition to your collection. Only if you are expecting Kwazi’s Quest to blow you away with cutting edge graphics or twitch inducing action will you be sorely disappointed by this solid offering.

Mah Jong Quest
Publisher: iWin
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