Shanghai: Second Dynasty offers ten mahjong-related games and 54 different tile sets from which to choose. While that may sound exciting, gameplay can actually become boring. The variations stem from two main games, Shanghai, a tile-matching game, and mahjong, similar to the card game Rummy.
Shanghai features eight different games, each played basically the same way, with 144 tiles to match into pairs. Overall, gameplay is a matter of memory, strategy and luck. Depending on how the tiles fall in the initial layout, you may be able to finish the entire game without having to use the "cheat" function and re-sort the tiles. Fortunately, each of the eight games has a twist.
Classic Shanghai is the basic matching tile game, with no innovative features. Shanghai for Kids has 72 tiles (or fewer) and a voiceover explaining how to play. It also offers hints and an effective tutorial-type game for children interested in Mah-Jongg. As the name implies, Two-Player Shanghai has a competitive spin that requires each player to try and make the most matches within a time limit. Power Dragon's Eye is a challenging and fun version where you must build a dragon.
The other four variations in Shanghai comprise the better part of the collection. Pandamonium is a true free-for-all against up to three humans or computer-controlled players. The AI difficulty level is adjustable from very easy to very hard, but the computer always plays faster than you can. Windstorm, a variation new to this edition, is very interesting. Instead of simply matching tiles as in other mah-jongg games, a strategic element is introduced by changing the direction in which you're allowed to match tiles. Leaves blow behind the tiles in an east-west or north-south direction, dictating either left-right or up-down matches.
Arcade mode is a timed game that covers a series of 25 different puzzles. At the end of the game you achieve a score based on how fast you cleared each level. Gameplay is a real test of wits and memory. Finally, Dynasty is played against one to four players, with the goal to be the first to clear your layout. The upside here is that it can be played online.
In the aforementioned variations, an image is displayed behind each one of the game boards commensurate with the tile set selected. Completing each game rewards you with a short animation and a fortune, written in fortune cookie style, which is usually quite funny. All 54 tile sets are available for each game, and, in some cases, animations play after a match. For example, matching up Wolfman tiles in the horror set offers an animation of him howling.
The second major game in the collection is mahjong, played by up to four people, with the object being to be the first out with the best hand consisting of 14 tiles. A help feature (not in the manual) explains four different ways to play, although the games consist of the same basic rules. There are three suits consisting of nine tiles each, and gameplay is similar to the card game Rummy. A betting feature is offered for those so inclined.
Unfortunately, the game is basically the same, simply played with variations. You may enjoy each one the first or even second time, but interest fades quickly unless you have several friends willing to sit in front of the computer and play a few hands. Gameplay just isn't compelling enough to warrant extensive play.
Graphics: The graphics are decent but not memorable. The tiles and backgrounds are nicely designed, though the backgrounds have nothing to do with gameplay other than in the Windstorm variation. The animations are small and repetitive.
Sound: The ambient music is soothing and appropriate for gameplay and the sounds associated with the tiles are good.
Enjoyment: Gameplay is interesting at first but becomes repetitive over time, especially if not playing against other players. The different animations are initially enjoyable but eventually the urge is to turn them off to speed up gameplay.
Replay Value: Unless you're a die-hard Mah-Jongg fan, after a few rounds you'll be done. There is no real incentive to play repeatedly other than as a time passer.
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