Mah-Jong seems to be one of those Oriental games that everybody knows about but nobody seems quite sure how to actually play. Nobody, that is, except a billion Chinese people. Shanghai is a sort of Mah-Jong, and Sarakon is basically a version of Shanghai. And the idea behind it is a simple one.
Dozens of tiles, each with a little symbol on it are piled up into stacks on the gridded board. Your job is to select pairs and remove them from the board (and to keep doing this until it is empty). What makes things a little more interesting is the rule where you can only select pairs that are either next to each other or that can be linked by straight lines with no more than two right angles in them. It sounds a little complicated but once you have started playing then it soon becomes second nature.
There are two levels of difficulty. The easy level allows you to pair tiles which are on different layers on the board and the hard level, er, doesn't. Having said all that, neither level is that easy, and it is all made much harder by the addition of a really evil time limit. This gives you large amounts of panic and frustration as you try and clear the screen before it runs out and it takes what would have been a rather boring game of elimination and turns it into a game of quick thinking and good mouse control.
Que sara, sara
Every level has a different starting pattern of tiles and as you get further into the game many more tile designs are used. To break up the stressful levels there are bonus screens where all you do is amass lots of points by clicking on as many pairs as you can, as well as jokers. These are tiles which flash and give you extra points if you can pair them off in time. As with the standard levels, the further apart the pairs you select, the more points you get.
Unfortunately the time limits (both on the normal levels and the bonus screens) seem to get exponentially harder so it is virtually impossible to beat all 40 levels. In fact this is a real problem with the game: it gets too hard too quickly. So it isn't just the game's addictiveness that keeps you playing, it's a bloody-mindedness because you can't progress beyond level 10.
Sarakon is nicely programmed, however, with detailed stone-look tablets and a few inscrutable Oriental touches here and there. It is as fast, smooth and idiot-proof as it needs to be and has a simplicity that you don't often see nowadays.
The bottom line is how much you like cunning puzzle games, and whether you wish to spend a considerable amount on one which does not offer a massive amount of variety and which you can get hold of in other guises in the Public Domain.
The choice is up to you.