First Impressions: Handy Mahjong

Budget majaan on the go

Mahjong (or, as they call it in Japan, "majaan") is incredibly popular in Japan where you can find gambling parlours with fully automated tables shuffling, dealing and stacking tiles for players. It therefore should come as no surprise that there are a few mahjong games available in the Japanese DSiWare shop and Handy Mahjong is one of the cheapest available at only 200 points.

With that buget price comes a basic game with few frills that plays more like a video arcade game in that there's only two players rather than the normal four. There's very little in the way of structure, i.e., there are no characters and no tournament option: you simply start the game and play. You have a choice of five rules to toggle on and off, including whether or not to allow "all simples" hands or if you want to set a one or two han (fan)-minimum yaku before you're allowed to go out, but that's all - you cannot set a score limit, nor could we see any option to limit the number of rounds: it just seems to go on until you run out of points or have to abort the game.

The lack of features is a bit disappointing, but you can still play a decent game of mahjong with a choice of stylus or D-Pad and A button as your interface. There's no loading screens or time limit as you'll find in the arcade and the visuals are acceptable with tile faces which are clear and easy to make out. If you've ever played a video mahjong game before you'll see the same conventions are closely followed with prompts to declare chi, pon, or kan off of your opponent's discards and to declare "reach" or win the game. Whilst you don't see the special effects of a Mahjong Taikai game when you declare ron or tsumo, you still get a large, ornate display of katakana and a skinny lightning bolt striking the winning tile.

Although this is a budget release without a lot to occupy die hard players, it is noteworthy for being the only DSiWare mahjong game to support two-player multiplayer via download play if you meet someone on the train who fancies a go. There's also a glossary of mahjong terminology (all in Japanese of course) and a listing of different winning hands that can be called up during play with a simple press of the Y button. Sadly without the ability to save mid-game (beyond closing your DSi to suspend play) it's probably not something you'll spend a lot of time with, but if you're on the go and want to play some quick mahjong it does the job nicely.

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