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First Looks: Blackjack 21 and Shanghai Mahjong

Today, I got a chance to play Mobile Age's two App Store games: Blackjack 21 and Shanghai Mahjong. As the names suggest, these two familiar classics were ported to the iPhone platform. I started off with the Mahjong, which is a solitaire game the goal of which is to remove all the tiles on-screen by matching pairs.

The game itself is beautifully presented but the interaction falls short. Rather than re-design the game for iPhone, it was ported. The tiles are tiny. When I placed my finger tip on top of the display, I covered about 6 tiles at once. The presentation made selecting individual tiles tricky and identifying them harder -- especially for one as myopic as myself. Two on-board buttons at the bottom left and right of the screen proved particularly difficult to tap. The game does not offer zooming. In the end, I was unable to enjoy playing the game.

To play Blackjack 21, you need to learn an odd swipe language. Swipe down to hit, swipe across to stay, double-tap to double-down, and so on. Although it was a bit confusing to pick up (and a little anti-intuitive, since in our family games, we double tap the table to hit and swipe our hands to stay), I soon was betting, hitting, standing and so forth. In Blackjack 21, most of the gameplay is about the animation and sound effects. There are plenty of both. I'm not a huge gambler so I can't really say much about the gameplay relative to real life. It seems to follow Vegas rules, offering you insurance, etc. at the proper places.

Neither game really blew me away. I was more disappointed in Mahjong because that's normally a game I adore. Many wasted hours in Graduate School were dedicated to multi-player timed challenges. By porting the game rather than redesigning to meet the iPhone's small interaction space, Mobile Age missed an opportunity to deliver a hit.

Blackjack 21 and Shanghai Mahjong each sell for $4.99 at the iPhone App Store and can be played on both iPhone and iPod touch.

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