Sarakon logo

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.

Sarakon logo

"Shanghai", "Turn it", "Lin Wu's Challenge" - fernöstliche Steinchen-Knobeleien sind ein echter Dauerbrenner. Kein Wunder, wenn Starbyte jetzt auch ein Stück vom Kuchen will, schließlich hat man einen Ruf als Tüftel-Spezialist zu verlieren!

Wer "Shanghai" kennt, kennt auch Sarakon; wer "Lin Wu's Challenge" kennt, braucht schon fast nicht mehr weiterzulesen: Wieder einmal muß man Steinpaare finden und durch Anklicken vom Screen entfernen. Das funktioniert nur dann, wenn sich die beiden Teile mit einer (gedachten) Linie verbinden lassen, die maximal wei rechte Winkel enthält.

Bis jetzt also alles wie gehabt. Einen zusätzlichen Anreiz haben die Bochumer aber dadurch geschaffen, daß die Steine hier auf drei Ebenen verteilt sind. Zwei davon sind von Anfang an sichtbar, die dritte erscheint erst, sobald die (helleren) Steine der ersten Ebene vom Bildschirm verschwinden.

Desweiteren warten ein paar kleine Überraschungen, allerdings erst, sobald man den 15. Level hinter sich hat: Dann gibt's hilfreiche Extras zu entdecken und kurze Animationen zu bewundern.

Grundsätzlich stehen zwei Spielmodi zur Wahl: In "Game A" dürfen die Steine nur von der gleichen Ebene abgeräumt werden, bei "Game B" fällt diese Einschränkung weg. Die detaillierte Grafik ist durchaus gelungen, nur ein bißchen zu dunkel ist sie geraten. Der Sound ist ebenfalls ganz in Ordnung.

Insgesamt kann man Sarakon zwar eine gewisse Suchtqualität nicht absprechen, nur leider bläst es kaum frischen Wind ins asiatische Tüftelgenre. Wer also noch kein solches Spiel in seiner Sammlung hat, kann unbesorgt zugreifen - für alle anderen wäre es zu doppelt gemoppelt. (C. Borgmeier)

Sarakon logo

Obsessed by Shanghai? Itching for Shanghai II? This snack won't spoil your appetite...

Anyone foolish enough to have tried Activision's Shanghai should beware of this clever Oriental puzzler - it's just as likely to have you virtually welded to your Amiga for a similarly ridiculously length of time.

Like Shanghai, the principles are easier to grasp in situ than to explain in words, but here goes anyway: you are presented with a tableau of stones laid both next to and on top of one another. Each displays a funny ancient symbol. Click on one symbol, find another replica stone, click on that, and see them disappear. Trouble is (and here's the tricky bit) corresponding stones will only do your bidding if they have free edges, so if a stone is surrounded by loads of others you can't get at it.

Thus, the puzzle is to clear pathways through the collection of square stones, so you can get rid of them all within the short time limit. Of course there are zillions of vairables too complex to discuss here but, as is usual with good puzzles, the rules are easy-peasy to understand once you get started.

To win, all you'll need is quick thinking and a lot of patience. Once you start playing there is not time to think about trivia like the washing up, or where you next pint's coming from - total concentration is essential. Thankfully though, this isn't - unlike Swap say, also reviewed this issue - one of those games which need to be thought through before you get started.

Everything has to be done on the move. If you clear a screen within the allotted time you'll move onto another one, and beating it first time will be nigh on impossible unless you are gifted with a most uncluttered and analytical brain. As the timer coutns down an audible beat becomes louder and more unnerving (like the one on Countdown on TV), and bouts of panic can set in unless you fix your mind completely.

My only complaint would be that some of the chinese-type symbols on the blocks look similar enough to each other for it to get a little confusing, but once they're really into the thing your concentration level becomes such that distinguishing between one set of wiggly lines and another becomes pretty easy.

Sarakon is one of the most transfixing games around, and, although it can hardly be described as a spectacular piece of programming, it is a sure-fire way to lose all touch with reality.

Sarakon logo

A wise man once said: 'Beware of paving stones with mystic symbols'. Under the circumstances, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Virgin's Sarakon could become dangerously addictive for anyone who does not initially throw it out of the top window of their flat or office in a bout of frustration.

Sarakon offers a top-down view of a 16X20 squared grid, inhabited on different levels by groups of stone tablets, all of which are emblazoned with ancient Greek or mystic symbols. The basic idea behind the game is to clear the board of these tablets within a set time-limit. To do this the player must connect and cancel tablets with like symbols in - much the same way as you cancel playing cards in a game of patience. Of course there are limitations. The main one is that pairs of symbols can only be cancelled if they can be connected by an 'imaginary' line, broken by not more than two right angles and not crossing other tablets with differing symbols. Good scores are built up by cancelling all the tablets on the grid in the shortest possible time, while connecting ones with the greatest distances between them adds a bonus.

There are three tablet colours: pink(ish), silver and brown. These are laid on top of each other in later levels of the game in such a way that cancelling the top tablet will reveal the lower one, and so on... At beginner level, different coloured tablets can be cancelled so long as they all have the same symbols; but at professional level they must be the same colour as well. There are forty levels, and bonus jokers allow for a modicum of cheating, whilst four levels of expertise will keep you hooked.

The graphics are suitably ancient and stony-looking and, since Sarakon is based on a timeless Chinese puzzle game known as Mah Jong, this is quite appropriate. Sound is acceptable and, although the rules and gameplay take some getting used to, Sarakon is a good, if not spectacular, addition to any puzzle collection.