Mahjong Taikai Wii Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
A solid straight-up Mahjong game for fans of the real deal.
This is the latest in a series of Mahjong Tournament games which have appeared on previous consoles and handhelds. These are single player games (as with card games Mahjong player have hidden hands, so multiplayer with one screen wouldn't work too well) with virtual opponents; online play would have been welcome, but isn't included in this competently executed Mahjong game from Koei.
The Mahjong rules used are Japanese Riichi (Reach) rules, which is a somewhat streamlined version of traditional Mahjong rules where the emphasis is on building special hands to get lots of points -- Mahjong players should take note that terms used in this game are Japanese rather than Chinese, though they are similar so it's not difficult to adjust.
As an early 2007 release it's among the 1st generation of Wii games and it shows: Wii gestures are clumsily implemented and Wii-specific controls aren't really utilised at all. That's not to say that the game isn't playable, it's just that it doesn't make the cleverest use of the controller. The pointer isn't used at all: the d-pad is used to highlight options and pressing the A button makes selections. This is the traditional interface for console-based Mahjong games (it does make for more rapid tile selection) and even Nintendo's own online-enabled WiiWare Mahjong game lacks pointer functionality, but you would have thought there would at least be an optional cursor-based control method. The B button is used to back up to previous menus or cancel choices; the A/B button function can be swapped if desired. The only gesture is a waggle option to declare chi/pon/kan etc., but you can also do this with a press of the A button so the gesture is redundant and adds little to the game.
The first thing you need to do after starting the game is choose a character. These are represented by hand-drawn pictures of men and women which would look at home in a Japanese soap opera comic strip. Next you choose a save game slot; there can be up to three to accommodate other players in your household who will have an understandable interest in playing their own Mahjong tournaments.
The game is divided into multiple sections, graphically represented by a city lane. You use the d-pad to toggle through them either using up/down or left/right to do so. The first two are virtual Mahjong parlours. The starting area with an orange sign showing a view of the top of the street has entry-level players; the second has a blue sign and shifts to a view of a building containing more challenging opponents. In each case only three of a possible twelve opponents are visible; the others are found in parlours that need to be unlocked (over time left and right will lead you to different lanes until you have access to a total of six Mahjong parlours in all). The final area is at the end of the street: a giant white mansion with a sign consisting of a gold "M" on a green background. This last area is where tournaments can be played. Pressing A on one of the parlour screens will enable starting of a game; B brings up a menu of different options which will allow you to view unlocked characters and their stats, view awards you've won, view and set game options, save progress or play a game with custom rules.
After choosing to start a game you are shown your opponents and then the game starts. The first player is chosen automatically with markers showing the different players' winds; the starting player has an orange East marker. If you've never played Mahjong there are online guides and books which can help you learn, but if you've played any card games it's probably most similar to gin rummy, though with 144 tiles (actually fewer since Riichi Mahjong doesn't use wildcards) instead of 52 cards.
Players take turns drawing and discarding tiles; the speed of the discard can be toggled between one of three levels if you so desire. There are many other On/Off options that can be changed mid-game or from the main "street" options menu. When your turn comes your draw tile is placed on the right. There is no time limit, so you can spend as long as you need deciding strategy. Use d-pad left/right to switch between the tiles in your hand; press A to discard. Tiles are automatically grouped and shuffled according to suit. You will be prompted if you want to declare chi, pon, kan or "reach" using another player's discard. After declaring "reach" your discards will be made automatically until you draw the needed tile, it is discarded by another player or the match ends. If you can go out tsumo (using a drawn tile) or ron (using a discard) you will also be prompted to declare and win the round. Helpfully before your penultimate discard the game will show you the remaining tiles of whatever you require to go out (just in case you haven't been paying attention to the discards). Note that this means ones in the deck, so it's cheating since it counts out tiles which are not only discarded but in the other player's hands; thankfully there is an option to turn this off. Finally if a tile is a dora tile it will flash when highlighted and makes an impressive sound when discarded.
Playing the higher level parlours requires an ante of PRIDE, which acts as currency. In the entry-level parlour this is optional, however you can make a PRIDE wager against a non-player character. If you end up with a higher placement after the end of a game in which you've made a wager then you gain that much PRIDE from the non-player character (PRIDE is also earned or lost depending upon placement at the end of a match independent of any side wager). If the non-player character ends up with zero or negative PRIDE, you will earn a medal. Stripping the ranked players in a parlour of their PRIDE is key to unlocking additional parlours. This, racking up PRIDE to enter the higher level parlours and getting more practice are the main reasons to play in the parlours rather than the tournaments. If you play in a parlour long enough and do well, you will be automatically taken to the tournament screen and prompted to enter one. Entering a tournament also requires paying a certain amount of PRIDE: there are four levels of tournament with the highest requiring 10000(!!) to enter.
Music is quiet and atmospheric; sound effects are basic and get the job done. Character voices are good though they're just declaring chi/pon/kan/ron/tsumo and talking trash. Naturally there are options to silence any and all of these things. The visuals are also pretty basic with static images for characters and nicely rendered though plain-looking tiles and board. What counts is tile values are clear and easy to make out. Declaring Ron or Tsumo results in the katakana for either word filling the screen impressively with additional special effects depending on how good the winning hand is (this can result in elation or despair depending on whether or not you're point total is about to get a massive boost or massive reduction!).
Disappointingly there are no extras to be seen. You'd think there might be different tile facings or backings to choose from, but that's not the case. Colour of playfield and tile backs are different between the various parlours and tournaments, but that is all. There are also no autosaves in the game: you will be prompted to save between tournament rounds, but after a parlour match you'll need to remember to save data or lose your progress through one of the options in the "street" menu.
Minor issues aside, this is a good pure-play Mahjong game that any fan will enjoy. Learning to read a bit of Japanese will help, but as long as you know the rules you can play without difficulty. Whilst the game initially seems fairly basic, the more you play the more depth is revealed both in terms of the challenge presented by the computer-controlled opponents as well as the unlockable higher level parlours and variety of tournaments.