Dokodemo Taikyoku: Yakuman Advance
Review by koei
"Highly suitable for beginners of Japanese mahjong"
This is my first review for a mahjong game (or any other game for that matter). You may skip my intro if you already know what mahjong is. I won't give a definition in my future mahjong game reviews.
For those who don't know what REAL mahjong is, it's a game from China involving many tiles (often 136 or 144)in which 4 (sometimes 2,3,5 or 6) competing players receive and discard tiles made of wood, plastic, etc on a table until someone wins with an appropriate tile combination. It has some relationship to the card game rummy and canasta but has many combos and a significant proportion of people play it for gambling.
Japanese mahjong is one of the numerous mahjong styles and because it's very popular in Japan, electronic games have been made of it. The electronic versions never involve gambling.
This review is about Yakuman Advance which is a mahjong game for the GameBoy Advance. In 1989 (I think), there was a 2 player Japanese mahjong game for the Game Boy classic called Yakuman (which I've played before in China). I believe that game was the predecessor of this one (created in 2001).
The term Yakuman is what non Japanese people consider as a limit (a very high scoring package) and what Japanese people consider the highest possible limits (4 limits) although double and triple Yakumans are theoretically possible.
There's NO story in this game. I find this forgivable because I think people buy electronic mahjong games because they don't have a mahjong set, want to play non-gambling mahjong and/or don't know how to play mahjong. Other factors include much quicker speed for dealing tiles, discarding tiles, score calculation for winning combinations etc.
I don't think people should buy the games because of the story. They should buy the game because of the above reasons, and they want to play mahjong / be skilled in it, or simply want to experience electronic versions.
Don't worry about this game having no story, you'll still have fun and education.
I mentioned that the GameBoy game Yakuman was 2 player. It was black and white too. Yakuman Advance resembles 4 player Japanese mahjong with colour. I'll split this into starting, play modes, and gameplay.
Starting-When you start the game, you see a short animation of people doing mahjong related things, for example I see Komii (a game character which has blue hair) declare Kokushimusou (known as Thirteen Unique Wonders to English speaking mahjong players, rather difficult/rare hand to accomplish, worth a Yakuman in Japanese mahjong) as he flips his tile with confidence. When I first saw this, I smiled but seriously, you rarely see any of the opponents score a Yakuman hand.
Play Modes-There are 3 modes of play (for one player): Challenge mode, Ranking mode and Free Taikyoku (Match) mode.
Challenge mode is Komii sensei(teacher)'s and another character's challenges (available after completing Komii's ones). You have to complete a few challenges, each with increasing difficulty. Example being, in one of them, in one match whether you win or lose, you must have a final score of +10k or more (I succeeded on my first go with around +15k).
If you find the challenges too hard, you can do Ranking mode. Ranking mode is a mode which involves you and 9 opponents with their ranking score. Your ranking score at the start is zero. You play matches against 3 opponents of your choice and when the match finishes, your ranking score increases/decreases according to what your final score was. Which means that when your ranking score goes higher, other opponents' goes lower. Becoming 1st place is a great achievement.
Lastly, there is Free Taikyoku mode. This is simply a free match in which you pick 3 opponents out of the possible 9. There are actually 21 opponents altogether but the others are added when you complete the challenge and achieve higher places in Ranking mode. Once you finish a match, you can play another match with the same people, thus having a cumulative final score over the matches.
A good thing is you can abandon a match whenever you want. If you're in the middle of a match in any mode, you're allowed to stop and switch off your GameBoy Advance and continue the next time you start. The opponents vary in skill from 1 to 5 stars and each have their playing preference. For example, Yuri (2 star blue haired girl) really likes to declare Riichi, and Shirou (1 star boy with red cap) enjoys making melds off other people's discards. I like this because it introduces personality into the game and helps you think on who to choose when playing Ranking/Free mode.
For the mahjong match itself, I'll start talking about the details. There are multiple rules which you may change in the Options menu. They include the common options like kuitan, tsumo pinfu and dobon etc. Less common options like atozuke, kuikae and pao are included. You can also change on another menu which non official yakus / Yakuman can be allowed, for example sanrenkou, and daisharin. What I find amazing is that this is the only GameBoy Advance game that actually allows OPEN RIICHI (forbidden in MANY electronic mahjong games)!!!!!
Enough of the excitement .. the determining of the dealer in a match is quite clear. In fact, they have the kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing) for east, south, west and north on the screen to show who is sitting as what wind in each round of the match. The dealing and discarding of the tiles is reasonably quick although I've seen quicker in other games. What I don't like is that after declaring melds off other people, the melding of the tiles is a bit slow.
The graphics of your player and the opponents look a bit like anime. Whenever they receive or lose score, they show a happy or an unhappy face. The writing, especially the kanji, is too small/compacted and you may have a bit of trouble reading it.
The tiles are sort of readable and contain suitable colours although I personally think they're still small. I think this because when I'm not in riichi status and an opponent declares open riichi, you have to see what tiles he needs to win and make sure you don't discard it, otherwise you have to pay him a value of a Yakuman! I have to squint to see his revealed tiles, and my eyes hurt a bit! A good thing though is that when the wareme option is used in the match, it clearly shows with blinks at the dealing part which person is under this rule.
I dislike the way which the tile you select hovers above the air. In other mahjong games for GameBoy Advance, there's a distinct thick arrow above the tile, hovering the tile a bit is hard for me to see too.
The background music, tile discarding/melding sounds and other sound effects are clear. I reckon one of the background music songs is rather catchy. Your player and the opponents make sounds when declaring something like pon riichi etc. What I don't like is that when some of the opponents say these declarations, they add grammatical endings like desu, dawa, and dazo etc. I don't like this because in real life, Japanese people don't really say it while playing because they know it's unnecessary.
The opponents have quite distinct voices. The old man sounds like an old man and the girls sound very feminine. For example, when Yuri declares riichi, it sounds more like Rii ii ichi!. Whenever you receive or lose score, there's a very short tune. If you're skilful or lucky enough to achieve a Yakuman hand, the sound at the screen when receiving your score is royal with trumpet like sounds.
This game has many things which helps them improve their mahjong skills and knowledge. Whenever you have technical support in a match, there's a little blue circle above the recommended tile to discard. Also, the person who assists you in technical support tells you whether you should call off the opponent's discard and also tells you when you are tenpai status. It also helps when you riichi because it tells you beforehand what tiles you need to win with.
Even better, there's a detailed glossary of mahjong terms. There's also a chart where you can scroll about to see what scores are achieved from winning hands containing #fan (doubles) and #fu (tally points).Lastly, there's a list of all the possible winning hands with an example for each and an explanation of what they are and how many times you've achieved it!
As mentioned in the title, this game is very suitable for beginners and will keep them occupied for many, many, hours and days. People who have never played Japanese mahjong before should play this one. This game would be reasonably challenging to them. But once everything is achieved like 1st place in both ranking modes, the game starts to become boring and you'd feel that you're not a beginner anymore and want to search for other mahjong titles to play.
No matter how you get it whether buy buying in a shop or downloading it, this game is certainly worth it. When you're finished with it, don't discard it but let your friends and relatives experience Japanese mahjong (that is, if they can read Japanese).
So for now, enjoy!
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/27/04, Updated 06/30/04
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