Review of Shanghai: Great Moments

review-of-shanghai-great-moments-photoOriginally published in November 1995.

Shanghai: Great Moments is a Windows CD-ROM that puts some new twists on a classic puzzle game. Shanghai is a game of matching tiles in an attempt to clear all of them from the board, based on Mah-Jongg. It is not just a matter of luck and seeing the matches, however. Some strategy is needed to determine which tiles to remove in what order, when you have more than one match to choose from. This can affect your chances at winning, as many tiles are often buried under those showing on the top of the pile.

With Shanghai: Great Moments, the traditional game has been expanded to four unique games, with nine different tile sets to choose from. Along with each tile set comes multimedia features that liven up the game. Each tile set has different music, sound effects, cursors, and either video clips or animation that plays when tiles are matched. If you complete a game, there is a short windowed “reward” movie that plays, also related to the theme of the tile set.

One of the multimedia features of the game is video clips of Rosalind Chao, star of the Joy Luck club. She introduces the game at the start, and bids you farewell when you quit. In between, there is a gray picture of her in the lower left corner of the screen as you play. Clicking on this makes her picture larger, surrounded by options for “Find a Match”, “Lite Strategy”, “Deep Strategy”, and “What Do I Do Now…?”. “Find a Match” is useful if your are totally stuck, but the computer will show you the first match it finds, not necessarily the best. “Lite Strategy” and “Deep Strategy” give you basic tips. There is advanced strategy clues in the Help option from the window menu, and in the Player’s Guide.

For puzzle fans, this game could be played many times without getting stale. The Classic Shanghai game has thirteen variations itself, some harder than others. Beijing allows you to match free tiles or slide a row of tiles to make a match. This game tracks high scores in the “Wall of Fame”, and rewards more points for matches made by sliding tiles. The Great Wall has tiles that fall if they are not supported from below, and a magnetism option that draws falling tiles against those on lower levels. There are three set-up variations to The Great Wall. Action Shanghai complicates the game by adding new tiles as you play. This can be set from Easy, with new tiles every twelve seconds, to Hard, with new tiles appearing every six seconds.

In addition to the combinations of these four games with the nine different tile sets, there is a two-player option for all the games except Action Shanghai. In these games, both players are using the same tiles. You can have the computer count the total time for alternating turns, with the lowest time at the end winning. Or you can have the computer set a limit for each turn, with the highest score from matched tiles winning.

A tournament mode takes one or two players through twelve levels of different games. There is also a contemplation mode that can be set for Classic Shanghai, The Great Wall, and Action Shanghai. This operates like the game “Concentration”, with all tiles upside down. You must use your memory to find matches.

I really enjoyed this game. The biggest drawback is a delay when you change tile sets. It takes about two minutes to “decompress sprites.” The first time this happened I was a little disappointed. I was changing to the Science Fiction tile set. But after the delay, I was very impressed. This was my favorite tile set. With eerie background music, you get small pictures of movie sci-fi scenes on each tile. When you make a match, short video clips from the movies play. I liked the videos from tile sets such as this one much better than the animation in other sets.

When I played the Music tile set, I was initially disappointed at what I considered trite animations. But these could appeal to children, making Shanghai: Great Moments truly a family game. I found some of the tiles sets very hard to recognize. Inventions had so many picture of men with beards or mustaches, it was hard to pick them out from the small tiles. Other sets were easier on the eyes and mind.

In summary, this is a great game for puzzle fans. And if you’ve never played a game like this before, but want a break from shoot-em-up and arcade-style actions games, you should consider Shanghai: Great Moments. Activision has also released a version of this for Windows 95, which was not reviewed.

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