In Chinese culture, mahjong is supposed to be a social phenomenon. People get together on Friday nights or weekends and often play until very late, using the occasion to swap stories, generate gossip and cultivate relationships. Sometimes, the setting is moved to restaurants that offer catering but a lot of the play takes place in local halls and in private residences. This is the Asian equivalent to the weekly bridge or poker match.
Emperor’s Mahjong is to mahjong what solitaire is to card games. It’s a solitary experience where you’re challenging more yourself than anyone else. In Emperor’s Mahjong, you’re tasked to simply remove similar “open” tiles from a variety of pre-made setups. To further give you incentive, Emperor’s Mahjong has a loose storyline around it where you must finish several motif-related setups: a clever one based on the Chinese horoscope, Nature, Martial Arts, historical emperors, etc. In total, there are 72 pre-made boards for you to clear so there’s plenty of material to go through.
Thankfully with all this material, Hexacto has made Emperor’s Mahjong with attention to usability. There is an in-game layout editor for you to make and save custom layouts. There are hint guides during play to help people who get stuck. There is also an undo function which comes in handy late in the game so you can practice in becoming a better player. Like chess, these are the features that help foster individual improvement. While you can access individual boards from all motifs in the single player function, the Emperor’s Challenge constitutes as the main campaign and executes in a linear fashion. Thus, Hexacto’s different profiles let you save progress made for more than one player. All in all, the gameplay is fun, unfettered and enjoyable.
Customary with most Hexacto titles, you have the option to upload scores posted on your handheld to an online website for global ranking. But the only multiplayer here is hotseat and it’s fairly underwhelming considering what could be done with the Scorecast system. The hotseat play challenges two players to remove as many tiles as they can within a preset time limit. That’s fine for a PC or console title but you have to consider the platform released here. The Pocket PC is a PDA; short for personal digital assistant. I really don’t see handhelds being passed around to different owners too often.
Consequently, it would have been better if Hexacto leveraged their Scorecast system more fully by using ghost player images. This is something Ubisoft did with their racer, POD, when live multiplayer wasn’t an option and I think it would work perfectly here. If players could submit ghost images of their play via Scorecast, it would have made for a more engrossing multiplayer experience since it simulates live play without the other player actually being there.
Such a flaw, however, doesn’t mitigate the overall production value of this title. There are multiple tile sets and soundtrack selections to go with Emperor’s Mahjong. Everything, including menus, has a distinct oriental flavor to them and the presentation is very professional.
Emperor’s Mahjong comprehensively covers the solitaire-like mahjong experience on all bases. In this sense, I’m reminded a lot of Microsoft’s underappreciated Pandora’s Box, a puzzle game with excellent production values and stellar puzzles, ultimately mired by the fact that the genre itself lacked the luster to cater to a wide mainstream audience. Indeed, upon looking at Emperor’s Mahjong a second time, it is a formidable product. Its excellence, however, finds itself in a less than formidable genre.
[09/10] Program Size
[12/15] Learning Curve