Reaching Zen with Temple of Mahjong 2

Having originated in ancient China, it’s probably safe to say that the game of Mahjong has changed quite a bit in the Western world. In fact, most people probably recognize it more as “that game on Yahoo” (or something along those lines). Now, Café.com has brought to Facebook the app Temple of Mahjong 2.

Recently #2 on last week’s emerging games list, this zen-like title hovers just above 420,000 monthly active users. However, this is a game that certainly warrants more users, as its peaceful escape and polished features made it a bit difficult to turn off.

For those unfamiliar with Mahjong – or at least the web version of it – players are tasked with the removal of every single rectangular tile on the game field. The problem is, there are… a lot. The rules are fairly simple: Tiles are placed together in a pattern, with many stacking on top of each other in pyramid-like shapes that cannot be removed if one of the longer sides are not exposed to the outside of the pattern formed, nor if any part of a tile sits atop it. The general idea is to remove tiles that are at the top (they can be stacked two, three, four, and sometimes even five high) and most outward first, working your way inwards and down.

In Temple of Mahjong 2, this same basic play is obviously kept, but Café.com does make it a bit easier, granting the player both helpful tools and bonuses. Should the player get stuck, potential moves will sparkle and, if needed, they can use a one time hint button to do the same. Now, since the game ends when there are no more moves, the app also has two rearrange buttons (also one use each) that will shuffle all the tiles at random, as well as the ability to remove one tile from the pattern for later use.

Truth be told, these tools really took the challenge out of the whole puzzle aspect, but it didn’t make it any less fun. You see, for each tool to help when one is in trouble, there was something extra to also improve one’s score. For example, if one matched up a pair of flower tiles with a multiplier in the corner (i.e. x4), all tiles removed thereafter would earn the player extra points for a limited time.

Since Temple of Mahjong 2 is on Facebook, score actually becomes a big deal as the main social element consists of challenging and competing with Facebook buddies to see who is the best at the game. To add to that, each player is represented by an avatar that levels up as the user continues to play (i.e. Pilgrim Monk (lvl 1)). Granted, none of this is as in-depth as your average RPG or virtual world game, but the leaderboards and challenges still do add a small amount of longevity and gratification, with the avatar enhancing the latter.

Presentation-wise, this is an app that looks fantastic with beautiful visuals that fit well with the Chinese art-style it is going for. Furthermore, this is one of the few applications in which the music and sound actually didn’t get muted due to obnoxious loops.

Despite the praise to be had for Temple of Mahjong 2, it does have one very big complaint. There’s really only one level to play. In other Mahjong games, there are often multiple layouts in which the tiles can be placed, but thus far, we’ve only seen one. Different layouts mean different strategies, and makes the game a little less repetitive. Of course, the randomly placed tiles mitigates that some, but there could still be more. Frankly, this feels like a symptom a lot of casual to social translations suffer from.

Overall, the game is well-made and looks promising — especially if the developer continues to build out the levels and the social features.