One of my favorite computer games is Mahjong. I choose it over Solitaire any day. I recall the first time I played Shanghai, developed by Brody Lockhart and published at the time by Activision, back in 1987. It was one of the first Mahjong titles that captured the beauty of the game in the now iconic tile selection interface. I played it on an Atari ST back in 1987 on a monochrome monitor and thought it was one of the most beautifully executed and original titles I had played for that or any platform at the time. Seems the rest of the world agreed, since even after nearly 25 years since its release, it is still as relevant and strongly sought after as ever. Case in point - Big Fish's latest interpretation on the iPad of this popular tile matching game. What separates Mahjong Towers Touch HD from the multitude of other Mahjong games already available in the Apple App Store? Read on to find out.
Built by Big Fish Games, Mahjong Towers Touch HD (MTTHD) is one of the best looking and most fluid Mahjong games available in the Apple App Store today. I have played a number of them, most recently being Shanghai for iPad, and while the basic concept for all these games is the same, MTTHD wraps the tile matching tasks in a task-oriented level-based challenge. Each board is more creative and usually more challenging than the previous one. Graphically, the tiles are bright and the overall art direction is perfectly suited for the subject matter. Most of all, MTTHD's tile animation is silky smooth, multi-touch enabled and sounds are spot on. I really like the elevated pitch of the Chinese drums as tiles are matched up more quickly. However, the soothing, smooth jazz music loops with a peppering of oriental influence do tend to get annoying by the tenth time it loops. Fortunately, music can be turned off in the game's settings.
The game's objective is quickly obvious to any Mahjong fan. Clear the tiles off the board by matching pairs with other tiles that can be slid to the right or left without obstruction. MTTHD grants two deck reshuffles along with a undos. If these are used without completing the board, players have to start over. The game uses an Angry Birds-style 3-star ranking system to determine your success with each level.
Unfortunately, the beauty of the game's execution is marred by the in-your-face advertising that greets gamers each time they launch the game. I realize the Big Fish marketing department must love the fact that they have such a captive audience, and that self-aware advertising is fine for the Free demo version. But after spending the money for the in-app purchase to unlock the full game, part of that investment should go toward the abolition of in-game advertising, even if it is from the same company that made the game. At least the Mahjong board where you will spend the most time looking at in the game is free of ad clutter. At least give players the choice to turn on or off the promotional advertising.
If it weren't for the constant start-up ad reminders and the in-app purchase (which I'm still not a fan of), I would have given this game a perfect rating. However, even with these detractions, Mahjong Towers Touch HD is a major must have for any Mahjong fans, even for those who already own two or three interpretations of this classic tile game.
Title: Mahjong Towers Touch HD
Developer: Big Fish Games
Cost $2.99 (in-app purchase)
Rating: 4/5 stars