Friday, December 18, 2009

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Gambler Jikochuushinha Mahjong Puzzle Collection

This week, I pit my pitiful Japanese skills against Gambler Jikochuushinha Mahjong Puzzle Collection!

The game was produced by Game Arts, the developer responsible for late-Eighties classics Thexder and Silpheed, and released by Taito in 1992 for the PC Engine.  The game's central conceit (and a pretty good joke) is that inveterate gambler Jikochuushinha is thrown into a traditional RPG setting.  He dons armor, shield and sword, but still wears black sunglasses and has a cigarette dangling from his mouth.  The opening is rendered in a naturalistic, hyper-dramatic anime style:

But then segues into a much more lighthearted look:

There's a training mode that cuts straight to the puzzles, and a Tour mode with a storyline.  Jikochuushinha's challenge is to solve mahjong puzzles by removing matching tiles that can be connected with a line taking no more than two ninety-degree turns.  Unlike Shanghai, two tiles can be matched along any edge and around corners, as long as an unobstructed line can be drawn between them.

The game was never released in the West, but must have sold fairly well, as several Gambler Jikochuushinha sequels appeared in Japan for the Super Nintendo and Sega's Mega CD, Game Gear and Saturn platforms.

And it's NOT an easy game.  The basic puzzle gameplay is difficult enough -- it's possible to get oneself into a "no more moves possible" situation by matching non-optimal pairs, and there's no option to reshuffle the remaining tiles.  Even in the Training mode, where infinite time is available as an option, I got myself stuck this way.  And in the Tour mode, the timer ticks down much faster than my Western eyes can spot and match pairs.  The game will provide hints a couple of times, but once those are exhausted or no more moves remain, it's game over:

Still, it's fun trying.  And retrying.  The graphics are colorful and funny, Japanese language skills aren't absolutely essential, and the CD-Audio music is excellent, making sorting through the tiles a pleasant pursuit no matter how little time remains, nor how far victory remains out of reach.

If it's currently in stock, you can buy Gambler Jikochuushinha Mahjong Puzzle Collection here at Play-Asia.  This is an affiliate link supporting this blog.

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