I’ve been a huge fan of all things mahjong since the good ol’ college days when I discovered some Flash-based version online that I could play in a resized browser while having AIM conversations next to it with friends and girlfriends into the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning. It kept me active at a moment’s glance despite my angry eyelids wanting to shut and bring in Mr. Sandman. Conversely, I also adored the time I spent with Picross 3D. You might be wondering what the two of those have in common, and it is beyond evident once you sit down and give Microsoft’s Taptiles a go.
Taptiles, beside being a free download on Windows 10, is mahjong, but with a twist. Usually, a mahjong field is static, either from a top-down perspective or three-quarters view, meaning you can’t see what is behind a number of tiles until you clear the ones on top away first, working only with what is before you. This time around, you can rotate the stack of tiles Fez-like to see every clickable, decorated rectangle, which means you can’t ever really get stuck. Can’t find another tile with those squiggly blue water lines on it? Turn, turn, turn, and you’ll either see it on the other side or find another pair to make to clear the path forward. I’ve only run into a few spots where I ran out of moves, but the game just auto-shuffles the tiles for you.
There are three modes of play in Taptiles: Dash, Origins, and Relaxation. Allow me to sum each of them up in a few sentences. For Dash mode, it’s a race against the clock, with the only way to add more time to it by quickly matching tiles and using special power-ups to help you finish more rounds faster. Truthfully, I found this too stressful and not what I’m looking for when it comes to a game of mahjong. Origins mode contains larger, more challenging puzzles, as well as more relaxed time limit, though the later stages still expect you to move fast. This mode requires some quick thinking and reflexes, but is more enjoyable in the end. Lastly, there’s Relaxation mode, a.k.a. my mode, which offers calming puzzles without the pressure of a ticking clock.
There are also daily challenges. Five, to be exact. Each day, of every month. They range from easy to difficult, and the better you do at them, the more points you’ll earn, which helps increase a progress bar towards acquiring bronze, silver, and gold medals. To be honest, I’ve only logged into the daily challenges a few times to do the easy puzzles; I’m not finding anything worth investing heavily in with this feature, though, for some, I’m sure it’s a cool addition for bragging rights.
I’ve noodled with a few of the timed modes, but my main go-to in Taptiles is Relaxation mode because it lets me play like the good ol’ days, where I can leave it open and do some mindless Internetting, returning to it now and then to clear out a few tiles and watch the board get smaller. Sure, I’m not racking up any sweet non-stop matching bonuses, but that’s never been what mahjong is about. At least to me. I clicked really fast for a bit there and got the Achievement for a speed bonus chain of 30; that said, don’t expect me to pop the one for 150, as that is far too stressful on both my heart and eyes.
How do you prefer to match up a whole bunch of bamboo, character, and circle tiles? With or without a timer? In real life, on a tabletop? As a means of therapy for battling dementia? I honestly want to know.