Who doesn’t like a good puzzle now and then? I’m not just talking about video games like Tetris or Dr. Mario, but more traditional-type puzzles (for lack of better term there) such as Sudoku or a crossword. I’m one of those people that after a long hard day at work, I’d just like to relax with a game sometimes. Granted a lot of the time it’s something like Borderlands or God of War where I can take out my frustrations on anything in front of me, but other times a simple puzzle will do. As such, I was given the opportunity to review a game that deals with a puzzle game I haven’t played in quite some time, but was nice and refreshing to come back to: Mahjong Cub3d…yes, that’s actually how the game spells its title.
When you first begin the game and pick your save slot, you’re given three game options: Cube Mode, Vs. Mode, and Classic Mode. Vs. Mode is pretty much you vs. an opponent, but without an opponent nearby to connect to, I can’t full test this mode, so let’s move onto Cube Mode. After all, the game is called Mahjong Cub3d for a reason, right? When you begin, you have three courses to choose from: Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. Each of the different groups of puzzles has about twenty puzzles. I’m sure there are more groups of puzzles beyond Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, but I haven’t had the chance or patience to go through them all. For each puzzle you can choose the difficulty and turn hidden tiles off and on. The hidden tiles option will make some tiles “hidden”, which as far as I can tell means you don’t know which tiles they are until you try and match them. Admittedly, this option drives me nuts, so I’ve been leaving it off. Difficulty adjusts the amount of time you have to complete each puzzle, with Easy giving you the most time and Hard giving the least (early on, Easy gives you three minutes while Hard gives you only one). You can give yourself a little more time by matching tiles, but it’s not much. While this time limit may not sound like much, and the time increase is minuscule at best, the puzzles aren’t as big as traditional Mahjong puzzles.
Each puzzle is laid out differently than the traditional puzzles, each looking like some sort of strange shape (well, the first one is a cube for the most part). The goal is the same as in traditional Mahjong: find matching pairs of tiles and remove them. For those unfamiliar with the game, here’s a little more detail. When you start a puzzle, some tiles are “unlocked”. An unlocked tile is one that has no tile on one of its sides on the same vertical plane, and has nothing on top of any part of it (even if there’s something on a corner of a tile, the bottom tile is locked). To unlock a tile, you must find a way to remove the tiles blocking it. The strategy comes in removing the right tiles at the right time, as many, if not all tiles have two pairs, so it’s a matter of when to remove which tiles so you don’t put yourself in a spot where you accidentally block in a tile that you can’t remove. The cubed version is a little different. The same basic principle applies, but each tile also has a white and a green half. Basically, they’re cubes instead of tiles so to speak. A tile must be fully unlocked to remove it. There were several times I forgot that the tile was more than the white half and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t remove it. However, the game does have a feature where tiles that can be removed will be lit, which is an interesting feature that can come in handy. Finally, if for some reason you just can’t figure out how to finish the puzzle, you can choose to restart the puzzle and completely reshuffle the tiles.
One thing different about Cubed Mode over traditional puzzles is…well, it’s a 3-Dimensional object, and not all tile faces are right there for you to see. That means you have to rotate the object to find all the tiles and remove them. Now just how will you accomplish this? You’re probably thinking “just use the stylus to rotate the puzzle and remove the tiles.” Well…not exactly...actually, not at all. There is actually very limited use of the stylus, if at all. Everything…and I mean everything…is done with the standard controls. You can use the face buttons to zoom the puzzle in and out, as well as use a hint (max of three) or to undo your previous move (max of three). Holding L or R while moving the circle pad will rotate the puzzle, while just using the circle pad alone will move between tiles. That is my major nuance with this game: there are no stylus controls at all. This can be more than a little problematic, as a lot of the time you’re trying to select a tile, but you keep skipping over it because you have to use the circle pad, and it thinks you’re trying to move the cursor to another tile. It’s a bit of a mess, but the cubed version isn’t that bad of a concept. It just kind of reminds me of when the original DS first came out. Some games were downright awesome, but failed to fully utilize the touch screen concept, which leads to questioning why it wasn’t just released on the Game Boy Advance. In this case, we have a game that utilizes the 3D aspect of the system (which really isn’t that hard when you think about), but fails to utilize the other important aspect of a DS system, as all the touch screen is really used for in-game is to display the controls. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t been released on the PSP yet, or announced for the PS Vita.
If traditional Mahjong is more your style, the Classic Mode might be for you. It kind of acts the same way, but without the Alpha, Beta, etc. of Cubed Mode, so it appears you just have twenty puzzles (not sure if more are unlockable). You can choose your difficulty here as well, and you’re given quite a bit more time than the cubed version (ten minutes on Easy), plus you get more of a bonus time when you complete a pair (thirty seconds additional time, as opposed to cubed’s one second). There aren’t as many controls as the cubed version, as it’s just a traditional set of tiles. You can still zoom in and out, receive a hint (max of 3), and undo a move (max of 3 times), but you can’t rotate, which makes sense. Still, the controls are displayed on the touch screen and you have to use the circle pad and face buttons to make your selections. This isn’t as bad in Classic Mode as it is in the Cubed Mode, but still, Mahjong just seems like the perfect puzzle game to utilize touch screen controls. There’s not really much more to say about it, as it is Mahjong after all. As stated earlier, there’s also a multi-player version, but I have no way of checking it out, so I’m not sure if it’s normal, cubed, or both. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s cubed.
That’s really all there is to Mahjong Cub3d. Overall, it’s a pretty fun game, but it’s not without its problems, albeit small ones. The difficulty of the game kind of waivers. Cubed Mode actually starts off easy, even after the first few puzzles. I decided to skip to the Gamma stage’s puzzles, and while I didn’t pass the first one right off, after a few tries it wasn’t that bad. Over on the traditional side of things, the puzzles are quite a bit more difficult, mainly because they’re quite a bit bigger. I’ve played the first puzzle multiple times, and I still haven’t cleared it. Granted I’m no Mahjong master, but these puzzles really make you think. You can also turn on Hidden Tiles if you wish, but as stated earlier I’m not too fond of this option. Then again, it does make the puzzles more of a challenge, as you can’t see what a few of the tiles are to begin with. I know this is kind of a short review, but it is a puzzle game after all, so it’s not like there’s a story or plot to talk about. However, if you’re looking for a game to simply relax with, Mahjong Cub3d is a nice addition to the 3DS library. The lack of touch screen controls is puzzling (pun slightly intended), but it’s more noticeable in the cubed mode as opposed to the traditional puzzles. Still, after a long hard day at work, it’s nice to come home and just relax with a puzzle…even if I completely suck at solving them. The music is also nice and relaxing. There are times I just want to take out my frustrations of the day by mowing down anything in front of me, but games like Mahjong are also a nice solution...boy, these puzzle puns just seem to write themselves sometimes.