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Mahjong Journey

Score: 80%
ESRB: 4+
Publisher: G5 Entertainment
Developer: G5 Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

Mahjong Journey is a free-to-play game set against the beautiful backdrops of China, India and Japan. Each area has its own set of tiles to match the locale and the tiles get more complex as you progress through the levels in a given setting. In China, you will start out with Chinese characters, flowers, fans, coins, dragons and Roman numerals designed with bamboo stalks, but you will progress to Chinese lanterns of varying numbers on each tile. In India, you'll have tiles with exotic flowers, Indian designs, snakes, elephants and monkeys, graceful dancing shivas, characters resembling numbers, spears, and various intricately-shaped towers. In Japan, you'll find tiles with beautiful flowers, delicate geishas, fearsome masks of varying types, Japanese letters, posed warriors and differently sized and shaped pagodas. All of this variety ramps up as you progress through the many levels and it gets more and more difficult to quickly distinguish between similar looking tiles, but more on this later.

The background music that plays during a level is haunting and peaceful and I really enjoy listening to it. It has a lot of wind instruments in it, with a bit of guitar and percussion. It's perfect for a relaxing game of mahjong. When you select two matching tiles, you'll hear a satisfying "snick" as they slap together and then disappear. Likewise, when you are unable to complete a level and have no more bonus items to assist you, and you must then retry, you'll hear a brash "twang" indicating your failure.


Mahjong Journey begins as you are a little girl in search of her missing parents. Together with the help of your grandfather, you will travel the map in search of them. Mahjong Journey plays like your standard mahjong tile matching game. You are presented with a level, of which there are currently 125 in total, and you must eliminate the tiles on the board in order to reveal the two gold tiles buried beneath the other tiles. You needn't clear the whole board; as long as you reveal the gold tiles, you can win the level. You can earn up to three gold stars for each level, depending on how quickly you clear the board, but they don't appear to be of any benefit other than bragging rights or achievements if you are signed into the Game Center. However, a certain number of them are required for bonus levels indicated by a key on the map. Sadly, if you don't have the requisite number of gold stars to play the level right when you encounter the key level, you don't seem to be able to go back to it and play it later, once you have accrued enough stars.

Mahjong Journey is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases available. What this means is that you can play all of the levels you want, but once you have exhausted the bonus items, which I will explain in a moment, you will have to use "diamonds" in order to get more bonus items or to shuffle the board. You are given a set number of diamonds at the start of the game, around 50 I believe, and you are also given certain bonus items to try them out and learn what they do. These include a firecracker, which destroys 5 pairs of tiles, a light bulb which allows a possible move to be illuminated, an undo arrow in case you decided your last move wasn't the one you wanted to make, and an eye which will highlight tiles that can be removed for 30 seconds. You also have a shuffle bonus which will shuffle the tiles if you get to the point that you have no more moves. Once you run out of the bonus items you are given, you can buy more, but they are pretty steep in price. For instance, the shuffle alone is 10 diamonds, while the light bulb is 5 diamonds for 5 bulbs, and the all-seeing eye costs 15 diamonds for 3. 16 diamonds costs $1.99, 45 costs $4.99 and so on. I ran through $10 in diamonds pretty quickly and I am a fairly skilled mahjong player.

Early on in my gameplay, there was a Daily Spin where you could click a Wheel of Fortune style wheel to win a daily bonus item. In the few days this Daily Spin appeared, I only got Undo bonuses except for once. Then it just quit showing up and never again reappeared, which was kind of sad and strange.


Mahjong Journey is fairly easy early on, especially when you still have the padding of the free bonus items and the extra diamonds. Once you have exhausted your freebies, it gets a great deal more difficult, simply because you have no safety net. I consider myself to be a pretty good mahjong player. I've been playing the game on and off for years, so I was able to get to Level 108 out of 125, but so far, I haven't been able to get past this level without a shuffle on hand.

As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous different tiles for each locale, which can ramp up the difficulty, as additional tiles are added when you move up to the harder levels. For instance, it's no problem when all you have to work with are flowers and dragons and the like, but once you get to India and the "numerals" all look very similar, or even worse, in Japan where the pagodas are incredibly similar, the game gets far more difficult. It's simply a matter of memorizing the styles of what is depicted on the tiles, but it can be a bit daunting until you are quite familiar with them.

Game Mechanics:

Mahjong Journey uses the basic tapping gestures to eliminate tiles and to select bonus items. The Auto-Zoom is an interesting feature used to good measure, so if you clear the tiles on the edges of the board, the game zooms in somewhat, bringing the new edges of the board to the edges of your screen. It's fine until you get to a few tiles left, and then it feels a bit like you are too close to the screen. You can disable it with a tap though, but I am left-handed and found myself often accidentally tapping the disable Auto-Zoom button.

Overall, I enjoyed Mahjong Journey, but hate that I can't progress any further without buying bonus items. I also don't like the fact that I can't go back and play the bonus key levels now that I have earned enough stars, because that seems quite a shame. You can earn additional diamonds by subscribing to G5 newsletters and liking them on Facebook, etc., but aside from that, no matter how well you do on a level, you will never earn anything that will help you progress in the game. This seems a bit like a missed opportunity to me. I get the point of a free-to-play game, but at least when the Daily Spin was around, you had a little something extra for when you got stuck in a jam. I can't necessarily see myself going back to keep retrying that same level over and over because I don't really see a way to get past it without buying a shuffle. Personally, I'd prefer to pay for a game upfront and then fully enjoy it rather than having to purchase little items here and there all along the way. Still, it is a fun mahjong game that you can enjoy for free, as long as you are okay with possibly never completing all of the levels.

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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