PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous (Gear-to-Gear cable required)
RELEASE DATE: 11/10/90 – (JP)
Mahjong games are mainstays of most consoles/portables in Japan. They’re niche, but they’re undoubtedly cheap to make and surely sell more than enough to warrant their continued production. While different mahjong titles are released throughout the lifespan of most systems, there’s occasionally one that makes the launch window. The SG-1000 had two mahjong games within its first year, for example, while the Mega Drive didn’t receive one – the timeless Mahjong Cop Ryuu – until after it had been out a year.
If not for Sega’s faith in Columns to sell Game Gears, the company may have had Taisen Mahjong HaoPai ready to go for launch day. Playing mahjong at home is one thing, but mahjong on-the-go? And in color? Grandma, please.
Taisen… released about a month after the Game Gear’s launch in Japan, and it is exactly what you’d expect: simple, no-frills portable mahjong. You begin with fourteen tiles and 30,000 points. On every turn, you draw and discard a tile. The goal is to get four distinct groups of three tiles, and a matching pair of identical tiles. The groups of three can be numbers in ascending sequential order like 2, 3, 4, or it can be three of the same set of tiles. The greater your hand of tiles is at the end (different combinations of tiles make for a stronger hand), the more points you’ll win.
I never technically won a round (curse the computer’s unmatched skill!), and your points do decrease if you lose, Even if your opponent “wins” the match with a better hand, you continue on to play more games.
There are three choices on the main menu, two of which take you directly into a mahjong game. The third choice takes you into an options menu, where you can change in-game settings, presumably to allow for more advanced mahjong bouts. Since I’m terrible at mahjong on my best day, I left the options menu alone. I played through a complete round on each of the choices that led directly into mahjong, but I did not discern any differences between them.
I like mahjong. I suck at mahjong, but I like it. With each solid beating I take from the computer, I learn a little more. I’ve learned enough to make this claim: Taisen Mahjong HaoPai is way more entertaining than Columns will ever be. It’s the perfect pick-up-and-play game for folks like me who only have a general understanding of mahjong. Sure, it’s not the puzzle game flavor of the month, designed to compete against the almighty Tetris. But after a round is finished, even if you lose, you’ll want to keep playing. Columns certainly can’t claim as much.