3D puzzle games are relatively rare on mobile devices; especially when compared to the number of their 2D counterparts. Nevertheless, Arkadium has partnered with Backflip Studios to bring one of their popular web portal games, Mahjongg Dimensions, to iOS devices.
A variation on the classic game of Mahjong, Dimensions is a title in which most users may already be familiar with. The big difference, however, is that each puzzle is made in 3D, and instead of one large puzzle, the game is made up of a timed series of them. That in mind, the app has substituted strategy for expedience, creating a challenge that just isn’t the zen that is Mahjong and while amusing for a time, feels ultimately artificial.
For those unfamiliar with the casual web versions of Mahjong, the game is easy enough. Players are given a complex layout of various stacked tiles and must match pairs in order to remove them from play. The only catch, is that each tile must be on the outer edges of the layout to be removed. That’s still the basic premise of Mahjongg Dimensions.
For each “puzzle,” players are given a 3D layout of blocks with various symbols, and tasked with removing all of them before time expires. Unlike the more traditional versions of Mahjong, these layouts are straightforward: the “puzzle” is actually a series of simpler ones as opposed to a single very complex one. Also, the time limit applies to every puzzle in the series, thus the idea is to complete all of them before it runs out.
What makes the game much more interesting, however, is that players have to actually turn the layout around within the 3D space, as matches will not always be visible from one particular angle. In this regard, it adds an extra element to the game; while it is very easy to run out of moves without a proper strategy, in regular Mahjong, that issue never seemed to come up here.
Any real challenge only appeared during some of the “harder” puzzles (users can access all of the puzzles right from the start) which is due to more symbols, slightly bigger set-ups, and more layouts to solve in the allotted time. Nonetheless, there really didn’t seem to be any thought to it. There was almost always a match to be made, and even though one has to stop and turn the layout around sometimes, it was still more about speed rather than thought.
With Dimensions, the game is all about score and making matches as you see them; not whether or not the match is the best one to make. In fact, the faster you make matches, the bigger the score multiplier. In a sense, that’s sort of the nature of the game, as it is integrated with Facebook Connect, and as such, has leaderboards for friends and global players for each different puzzle series.
With all that in mind, Dimensions isn’t a bad game, but it’s not really going to appeal to those that prefer more traditional web Mahjong. Challenging the speed of thought is just not the same as challenging careful thought. Moreover, slapping a time limit on to something feels like such an artificial way create difficulty. And this goes for most games that use it: It seems almost a cop-out since it is technically a guaranteed way to challenge.
Another complaint that does arise from this quick thinking element though, is that it can be hard to discern which blocks are on the edge of the puzzle and can be removed. For many of the layouts, there are hollows within it, meaning that the inner edges are often obscured. Unfortunately, there is no way to rotate the puzzle on the Y-axis, so many potential matches will often go unseen. Since the game’s challenge is based on time, this can be a moderately annoying issue for some players. Still, it’s not so much of a problem that it is going to really deter users that like this sort of game, and it is always possible to reshuffle the layout by shaking the iDevice (or tapping a button).
Overall, Mahjongg Dimensions is an okay game for iOS. Inexpensive at $0.99, it’s an amusing experience, but with its play seated in quick thinking and time limits, the challenge feels a bit trite and artificial. Nevertheless, it may still appeal to players that prefer such fast-thinking games, and even though the 3D can fool the eye when it comes to finding matches, again, Dimensions is not a bad game.