Shanghai. A puzzle game that has been with the human race since before time was time. OK, maybe not, but it's certainly been floating around on PCs and console systems for many years now, even if it isn't exactly ancient. If you've never played it before, it goes something like this: mahjongg tiles are set up in a complex pattern a few deep, and you must remove them from the playing field in pairs. Tiles you remove must be free to slide to the left or right and must match each other. It's basically just another form of solitaire - using tiles instead of playing cards.
Simple? Yes. But it is also a nice, mellow time-waster, and that's why it's been around as long as it has. It's nothing to get excited about, obviously, but it does offer some mind and finger activity. True Valor endeavors to liven up this traditional game with some new modes, and they aren't half bad. To begin with, there are classic and arcade modes; classic has no time limit, but arcade does. Arcade also has different levels, which can be accessed through a password. It's kind of bizarre that the game uses a password system - as it frequently alerts you, it writes to the memory card. The only thing that is saved, however, is system data. There is also a new "rolling" Shanghai, in which the tiles are set up around four sides of a cube, and L and R rotates this construct. Not exciting, but it's something.
This brings us to versus mode: a cute idea for what is essentially solitaire. In this mode, you get to pick your favorite ancient Chinese warlord to represent you in the Shanghai arena. (As you will discover if you read your history, the ancient Chinese often ended deadlocked battles with a calm game of Shanghai.) You are then presented with two side-by-side mini-Shanghai setups. Clearing blocks quickly and cleanly adds to the mayhem on your opponent's side. The loser is the one whose time runs out first, as clearing a set of blocks also momentarily halts the flow of time. It's not exciting, but it helps add to the variety of the game, and that's always a good thing.
On a technical level, Shanghai is about as polished as you'd expect from a bottom-tier developer on this generation of the PlayStation. The tiles are polygonal, but there seems to be no reason for this until you play rolling mode, since in classic mode this only serves to obscure the tiles' faces due to the mediocre texture quality of the game. The background is made of low-key stuff like blurry battlefields and harbors. More of an eyesore than eye candy, it gets the job done... just barely. There are only three tile sets to choose from: traditional mahjongg, household, and alphabet. Household is easily the most confusing and garish tile set that could have ever been conceived, so it really boils down to two. The music is on the same par as well. You're probably going to want to find your own CD to listen to while you play the game.
Still, it can't be denied that it's fun in a low-key way. Add in the variety of modes and you've definitely got something. It just boils down to whether you're the kind of person who is in the mood to play solitaire. If so, go for it. Otherwise, there are only several hundred other PlayStation games on the market. I'm sure you can find something more suitable to your tastes. If you even remotely think you might enjoy this, though, rent it. You might be surprised.