Decided to stay in the retrogaming spirit and review another Arcade Archives titles for the PS4. This one happens to be a game that I played religiously when I was a kid. After playing it again as an adult, I can’t figure out why. Shanghai III, also misnamed Mahjong on PC, is a matching game that makes use of tiles from the traditional Chinese game, Mahjong. The funny thing is that while the tiles and backgrounds are pulled straight from Chinese tradition, the game has absolutely nothing to do with the game the tiles are taken from. This is a game that I loved playing as a kid, but now, 23 years after the original release, I don’t need to play it ever again. The gameplay is exactly the same as it was back then and the port is rather good, but the game has not aged well as far as value in today’s gaming spectrum. Before you read any further, know that this is a hard no for me for any reason other than collecting old titles.
Visually, Arcade Archives Shanghai III has not aged well. What I really liked about this port was that you had a lot of control about customizing the gameplay window. You could resize it and unlike with MAGMAX, I could actually make the game full screen on my TV. The graphics do not at all drop in quality when you enlarge the window, which surprised me a lot. And to be honest the menus, backgrounds, and basically everything except the tiles themselves actually aged pretty well. But you spend most of the game looking at the tiles and those aged horribly. They are so distorted and blurry that I thought I was slowly damaging my eyes while playing it. All the tiles are authentic Chinese symbols and pictures, which are actually really hard to read when they’re blurry. You will spend much of your time missing obvious matches simply because they look so similar to people who don’t read Chinese and they aren’t clear enough to differentiate in many cases.
The low quality graphics concerning the tiles really surprised me because honestly everything else about the game aged pretty well. The title screen still looks great. The level select screen looks good enough. The backgrounds are very clear as do the end of level success screens. Even the HUD with its two scores, timer bar, and items all looks fine. The text is perfectly readable save for the fact that not all of it is in English. Essentially all of the game except for the only part that truly matters aged pretty well for what was always a pretty simple game. Even the end of level bonus minigame looks pretty solid for its age. But that still doesn’t justify the purchase with those tiles.
The gameplay is quite simple. The level starts with a layout of tiles with several different symbols on them in various shapes corresponding to the level you’ve selected, which corresponds to an animal from the Chinese zodiac. The timer, which is a yellow bar with no actual numbers on it, begins slowly emptying. Your job is to match the tiles in sets of two, causing them to disappear. Each match adds time to the timer and points to your score. When you match them all, the timer runs out, or you run out of possible matches the level is over. Removing all the tiles results in you playing a small memory match minigame and then getting to choose another level. You can’t play a level you have already completed during the same life/round. Your only goal is to raise your high score. There are no other recorded factors in the game. You can continue/try again when you die, but the score is not valid for the online leaderboard if you do that. A regular match nets you 100 points and a special tile match nets you 300 points regardless of which of the four difficulties you’re playing in.
The controls work very well. You can use the d-pad or the left joystick to move the cursor. Personally I felt the joystick worked great. No targeting issues or lag of any kind. It’s not really a fast paced game. There are three items you can get by winning them in the between level minigame. The time item adds time to the timer. It works automatically when you run out of time. The peep item lets you see under blocking tiles so you know what’s waiting for you. The help item shows you a match. You can carry up to three of each item at one time. Chance is a big aspect of the game, but you must also employ a bit of strategy when deciding which tiles to match in what order. More often than not you will not lose by running out of time, but actually by running out of possible matches. Thankfully the game tells you instantly when this has happened instead of making you wait out the timer. Sadly you can’t reverse or undo any matches so once you make the wrong move you’re stuck, even if the effects won’t come till several matches later.
There is a bit of customization that can be done to the gameplay at any time. You can choose how much time is added to the timer for each match. You can set the difficulty. You can state save the game at any time so you can return to the exact spot you stopped at even if it was during a game. These are all options that were added to the Arcade Archives port and appear on the specially added menus for all such ports in the AA collection. There are three game modes. A single player campaign, which is what I’ve described, a two player co-op mode which works almost exactly the same, and a two player versus mode which is not about clearing all the tiles first, but about finding a special golden tile before your opponent.
The sound is fine. The background music, which is only one song plus a few special tones for certain occurrences is a soft, kind of stereotypical, ethnic track that wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow in the 90’s when the game was first released and honestly shouldn’t today either. There are sound effects for matching tiles, losing, and when the timer gets down to the final countdown. All in all the sound is simple but aged pretty well in this port.
All the writing in the actual game is in Chinese with the exception of the title screen, but the added digital manual is a wonderfully helpful tool which provides lots of details in just 11 simple slides with labeled pictures as well as directions. No plot obviously, but the manual was helpful enough to mention in a review.
This game is hard to quantify as far as replay value goes, as are most retro games. On one hand it’s got an almost unlimited amount of replay value because the online leaderboard is almost impossible to make any headway in. There are also 12 different levels to work at beating in one life. Then there are four different difficulties. But at the same time you could just say once you beat all the levels once in any situation you’re done. Or if you go by trophies then you can get a 100% completion in less than an hour. There is a glitch with updating the high score though so be careful or you might have to reobtain the high score to get the last two trophies multiple times like I did. Honestly though, I believe $8 is too much for this game today.
Arcade Archives Shanghai III is just as hard as I remember it being as a kid, but it hasn’t aged well overall. There’s little reason to buy it for the simple reason that you can play almost the exact same game on PC for free under the name Mahjong Titans assuming you have Windows. There are fewer levels in the PC game and no bonus minigame or leaderboard, but as far as gameplay is concerned, it’s exactly the same. Gonna have to say pass on this one.
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