Developer: SunSoft / Publisher: Atlus / Played on: 3DS / ESRB: Everyone [No Descriptors] / Price: $29.99
People still enjoy jigsaw puzzles for a reason — sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and grind through a menial challenge. There’s a similar appeal in Mahjong Cub3D, and while you might recoil at the thought of paying retail price for a collection of tile-matching puzzles, if you enjoy the past-time (like I do), this game is worth consideration.
If you’re not familiar with the mahjong tile-matching game, it’s about as complicated as a word find. You have to find two matching tiles in an arranged stack, but you can only clear them if both tiles are open — meaning there’s no tile on top of it, and it’s not bordered on the left and right by other tiles. You win if you can eliminate all the tiles, and you lose if there are no available matches.
Of course, there’s a little more to Cub3D than just that. Astute readers will notice an ever-so-subtle 3D buried in the title. Mahjong Cub3D’s twist on the formula is, naturally, 3D. Typically, the tile layouts are done on a flat surface, but Cub3D’s puzzle layouts are 3D stacks floating in space, which you can fully rotate to eliminate tiles from any angle so long as they aren’t locked according to the criteria above. This doesn’t fundamentally change the way the game is played, but it does add refreshing window-dressing to the presentation. Whittling down a complex 3D object chunk by chunk makes me feel like I’m hacking some abstract representation of a firewall in some mid-90s movie that has only the barest understanding of how the Internet works.
Beyond that, Mahjong Cub3D’s greatest selling point is its volume. 180 boards equal plenty of killed time on the bus, at school, or wherever. Each one takes around 5-10 minutes to clear, and that’s assuming you get it on the first try, which will not typically be the case. Aside from this, there are a few options that add some variety. You can set difficulty and time limits for boards, while enabling hidden tiles will obscure some pieces until they’re unlocked. This adds a bit more volatility to your decision making in clearing tiles but doesn’t drastically change the game.
Should you stumble across another human being with the same strange love of eliminating tiles, you can play Mahjong Cub3D competitively via the 3DS’ download play. Not requiring two cartridges is a fantastic choice, and getting the game running is quick and easy. The match itself is fairly simple — each player works with the same board of tiles, and the first to eliminate the pair of golden tiles buried within wins. Conversely, if you run out of possible matches, you instantly lose. Item tiles can be enabled as well, which can violently shake your opponent’s screen, completely obscure his/her tiles for a few seconds, or reveal all your matches for an extended time. The game’s multiplayer won’t blow your mind, but it’s a nice inclusion and a good way to spend 20 minutes with a friend.
Mahjong Cub3D’s controls are actually really good, in the sense that I never once became frustrated at my inability to select a tile or see what I needed to see. You can rotate the entire stack by holding the right trigger and moving the circle pad, and then simply move the circle pad around to highlight a given tile. Highlighting tiles is a simple process, which is appreciated considering that’s the whole point of the game. The “selected” indicator near the bottom of the screen shows the face of whatever tile you currently have selected, which is incredibly handy. This makes it possible to highlight one tile then rotate the entire stack to look for a match.
Graphics and Sound
The sound and graphics in Mahjong Cub3D are either bad or so bad they’re good, depending on your tolerance. Graphics are fairly basic – tiles are simple but recognizable, but the puzzle is hovering in this swirling raver tunnel that looks like something out of The Lawnmower Man. Unfortunately I could only find two tile set designs in my playtime, which is a bummer because adding more visual variety would go a long way.
The music is… special — dominated by grating and shrill Japanese electronica. It’s fairly annoying, but an odd transformation occurs after listening to the music for over an hour. It reminds me of spending hours in a dungeon in an old JRPG; the music is so grating but somehow so catchy that you end up liking it despite itself, like some weird case of audio Stockholm Syndrome.
Mahjong Cub3D is exactly what it needs to be — a collection of mahjong puzzles with a neat gimmick that works well with the 3DS’s display. If you want lots of puzzles, that’s exactly what you’ll get here. Even still, a game of this limited scope feels out of place at retail. This would be a shoe-in recommendation as a download from the 3DS eShop, so only dedicated mahjong tile maniacs should consider this.