Ah, Mahjong Cop Ryu. Mahjong Cop. Mahjong. Cop. The title alone makes it obvious this game is going to be a lot fun. Who wouldn’t want to play a daft Mega Drive mahjong game from 1989 created by none other than Sega themselves? And just to make sure you know you’re in for an absurd time the manual, the one that opens with an extensive full colour manga explaining the game’s backstory, shows a copyright-baiting cast of characters including Definitely Not Robocop, I Honestly Have No Idea Who Kamen Rider Is, and a guy whose driving license probably gives his name as “Barnold Schworzenegger”.
This is going to be silly.
“Oh no,” says Mahjong Cop Ryu “This is going to be mahjong“
Start up the story mode and you’re presented with the flimsiest excuse for an adventure you’ve ever seen; a few basic commands prompt some very short pieces of dialogue – you wouldn’t want anything to get between you and all that juicy mahjong after all – and then you’re away and playing a two player variant of the centuries old tile-based game.
And it’s at this too-early point I realise I’ve got a bit of a problem on my hands – I don’t know how to play mahjong. I recognise the tiles, and I know enough to know I’ve seen this two player layout used somewhere before but that the game’s usually played with four people, and…
That’s about it. I find myself crumbling in the face of a game that expects you not to play as a leather-wearing cop in an adventure game themed around mahjong but to play actual riichi mahjong.
You’d think having the hints turned on (toggleable via the options menu) would help me out but in practise they’re terrifyingly hands-off with not a single “Maybe you should discard this tile” marker in sight, and when they do show up to offer advice they come and go in a flash, meaning unless you more or less already know what you’re looking at and what you should do they may as well not be there at all. The call menu doesn’t help a great deal either as it doesn’t remove calls you can’t make at that moment in time (for example: It will allow you to try and call a ron at almost any time, even when you shouldn’t) but at least Mahjong Cop doesn’t allow you to follow through with any of these technically illegal moves, which would normally result in a chombo (stay with me, please).
So I scuttle off to read through the manual more thoroughly than I did the first time and to its credit there are not only many pages at the back dedicated to explaining various terms and showing many possible yaku but there are also little tenpai quizzes in a question/answer overleaf format running along the bottom of most pages – a lovely use of a long-neglected page flipping medium. It is however all still a bit overwhelming for me, the videogame equivalent of being handed a detailed manual for an internal combustion engine when you just wanted to learn how to play Sega Rally.
Maybe it’d be best if I went off and played some of Final Fantasy XIV‘s Doman (Eorzea’s fantasy Japan) mahjong for a bit instead? I remember the last and only time I tried that it had some pretty thorough help in the match as well as out of it. To my pleasant surprise I find it does help me understand the game a little… mostly in the sense that I am not utterly crushed within minutes, but at this moment in time I’ll take that as a win. I now know what a chi, pon, and kan are, and when the fluffy Moogle to my character’s side wins yet another round I at least have a vague grasp of how they did it, even if the finer details are still beyond me. The only thing to do is get serious and properly research mahjong rules, to read about melds, closed hands, open hands, dora and han until I can’t take any more.
And after that… sometimes I lose just a little bit less than before. On a few occasions I even draw – and then lose the next match. Still! That’s some sort of progress. But at least now I know the difference between a tenpai and my haipai. The three psychic-style power ups available for those good enough at mahjong for them to actually make a difference still come and go without troubling my opponent’s tactics, but at least now I can, well, pretend I might put them to good use. The knowledge-testing quizzes accessible from the title screen continue to remind me that I’m not even a novice at this damned game, but… Mahjong Cop Ryu is so mahjong I really want to raise myself up to its standards. There’s something irresistible about a game that lures you in with a ridiculous plot and then gets really serious about something else really fast, a game that won’t let you be part of its cool little gang unless you care enough to put in the effort.
So I keep trying and trying and trying, to the point where every grumble emanating from my corner of the living room was met with cheeky “Oh, looks like someone’s playing that mahjong game again” style comments and… I win! The Definitely-Not-The-Terminator-Via-Wrestling before me is visibly upset, and I prepare to struggle all over again against someone new…
Maybe the adventuring gets a little more in-depth as the game goes on. Maybe there are elaborate cutscenes and a few more speech samples. I’m afraid I can’t tell you because I’m so bad at mahjong I don’t think I’ll ever find out, but at least I now know I want to. If you had hoped, as I did, that this old Mega Drive release would be an easier or more entertaining entry point into the world of mahjong then you’re in not for a disappointment but the digital equivalent of a bucket of ice tipped down the back of your shirt – and oddly enough, you won’t mind. Mahjong Cop Ryu is the embodiment of “I know I can do this! I just need one more go…“.