Friday, May 7, 2010

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Sexy Idol Mahjong

Crazy Climber was Nichibutsu's only sizeable 80's arcade hit in the West, but Nihon Bussan Co., Ltd. continues to be very successful in Japan with its long-running series of strip mahjong games.  The company was also a presence in Japanese console publishing during the PC Engine era, and I've been taking it easy on the import front lately, playing a variety of arcade-style games that translate easily to this side of the planet.  So I felt it was time to dig into something a little more challenging, obscure, and quintessentially Japanese -- Nichibutsu's Sexy Idol Mahjong for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM.

The CD packaging for this title is fairly discreet, and remarkably honest, as the ladies are depicted with the grainy, digitized portraits seen in the actual game:

 The in-game title screen is a little more direct in its appeal:

I don't speak or read Japanese to any workable degree, so I can't speak to the title's accuracy as translated.  I don't know if these are actual Idols of the Japanese pop-culture variety, or if they're simply random women presented as such; seventeen years on, it probably doesn't matter much, as idol fame is fleeting almost by definition.  As to their being Sexy, my interaction with them has consisted solely of attempting to place small tiles into an aesthetically pleasing configuration.  Regarding Mahjong, at least, of that there is no doubt.

The game has some RPG trappings, as our Adol-esque hero progresses along a linear path through the land.  At each stop he must defeat an opponent at mahjong by pushing her score into the negative before she does the same to him:

There's also an item shop, where item points earned during matches (successful and otherwise) can be used to purchase temporary power-ups between rounds.  These can be used to aid the player's quest for victory:

Note that for one hundred points, the player can simply buy a winning hand and progress through the game using patience rather than skill.  This may be the first recorded instance of mahjong grinding, though according to Wikipedia mahjong bumping goes back at least as far as Nichibutsu's 1983 game, Jango Lady.

Beyond these design elements, this is a fairly typical PC Engine mahjong game.  The game consists of finding a sexy opponent, dealing out the sexy mahjong tiles, and trying to assemble a sexy tile sequence according to sexy standard mahjong rules.  The music is very typical of the PC Engine CD era -- cheesy and repetitive, but not painfully so, with electric guitars, synthesizers, and rapid-fire sampled hand claps.  (Insert your own joke about mahjong parlors and clap samples here.)

The tiles are rendered with appropriate and clear detail -- no suit or sequence confusion here -- and the computer AI isn't bad, occasionally purchasing and using power-ups itself.  I'm no mahjong expert, but I have learned enough of the scoring basics to play these games.  My biggest problem here, being unable to read the game manual or much of the onscreen text, was due to my fundamental confusion about the interface -- I was throwing away the tiles I meant to keep, building up patterns in my discard pile that would have been much more useful in my hand:

The ladies in each GAL vs. YOU match are pixelated in classical PC Engine style.  Each has a portrait image displayed during the game.  And like a good salad, the CD-ROM format leaves plenty of room for cheesecake.  A loss produces a moderately revealing pinup shot:

A win yields a more revealing image, though nothing X-rated:

Eyeballs sated for the moment, our hero proceeds across the map to take on his next, more difficult, opponent.  I realize they're going for sex appeal here, but the indistinct, backlit forest background and unblinking, piercing black eyes of the lady on the other side of the table tend to call unsettling Japanese horror movies to mind:

And that's about the size of it -- there are apparently eighteen different opponents to play against, or else the CD case is indicating that one has to be 18 years old to purchase Sexy Idol Mahjong.  Smarmy though it may be, it's still a relic of a more innocent time, when "strip" didn't necessarily mean "stripped of all dignity."

This is where I usually put an affiliate link, in an ongoing effort to generate some commission revenue from my bit-stained labors over obscure Japanese videogames.  Go ahead. I won't tell anyone.

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