Venice Mystery can be best described with these three words: Mahjong on speed. That’s pretty much it. You have your typical Mahjong solitaire game field, with tiles piled on top of one another, and a little bit of something new: a “your tiles” area where you get to activate a tile to match with what’s in the game field. Along with 6 power-ups, key stones that locks up parts of the board, and a really cool painting tile matching mini-game, plus a very unforgiving clock (especially in later levels), Venice Mystery can be a very addictive, fast and furious Mahjong game.

Venice is going to sink, and you’re the one who has to save it. In order to save it, you have to both do some tile matching, as well as decipher some scrolls. As usual, we find ourselves at a loss as to what the gameplay has to do with the story. No matter, as the gameplay is addictive enough that we ignore the story anyhow.

What makes this Mahjong game different? The combo system. You can click on one tile in your row, then match it to as many tiles as you can find that isn’t under other tiles (yes, even if it’s boxed in on all sides, you can still get at it.) You have to do it fast enough that the game doesn’t consider your combo over. It’s almost like target practice – scan the board, scan the row, pick up a tile, and bam! bam! bam! bam bam bam! Next! Venice Mystery have more in common with whack-a-mole than your normal Mahjong Solitaire.

Venice Mystery also does not have the usual we’re-stuck puzzle element of Mahjong play. Typical Mahjong games may only have a fixed number of solutions, and once you mess up at a certain point you’re doomed. Venice Mystery will randomize a tile back into your row every time you make a move, and you will be able to make a match with at least one of them. You cannot get a “no more moves” lost condition; instead, it’s replaced with the “time up” lost condition.

There is a mini-game that pops up at the end of every chapter, and it’s actually quite interesting. Circles will be copied out from a painting, and they will be rotated. It’s your job to find out what part of the painting the circle came from. It’s a nice little object hunt for those of us who enjoy these things. The other mini-game, where you enter roman numerals into the clock tower, feels more like a make-work project than a game.

The 6 power-ups are very typical of this genre –  swap, shuffle, destroy. There’s nothing really new here to talk about. What really irks me is the presentation of them though. In order to introduce a power-up properly, there should be a series of levels geared towards needing that power-up. Venice Mystery seem to just throw them your way and expect you to use them, even though there is no need to use most of them until much later in the game.

With that previous sentence, I’ve described the entire game. Venice Mystery is like that. Within the first hour, you’re introduced to every key aspect of the game. After that, there isn’t anything new to discover aside from different paintings, more colors, and more patterns. So once you’re hooked and buys the game, you’ll be playing the same thing for the next 5 hours.

Herein lies the problems of this beautiful game – it dazzles. It dazzles also because it is so fast. Unlike other Mahjong game that introduces a new power-up every chapter, this one gives it to you all at once. So at first, everyone is confused by the proliferation of rules, then once you get used to them, there’s not much else that is new to discover.

Venice Mystery features beautifully pre-rendered sprites and a well-drawn interface, along with a pretty soothing background track and appropriately clicky sound effects. On the outset there is a whole lot of playability and razzle dazzle, but beneath that veneer of glitter, there isn’t much else to keep you interested – after a while it just feels as if there is no need to keep playing because the game does not seem to reward you for any of it. It’s still a lot of fun for an hour or two, but it may feel pretty boring even for those of us who actually like Mahjong.

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