Since I became infatuated with Japanese mahjong about a year ago, I've just been digging and digging for related material. I've got bookmarked searches on Nicovideo, I'm always clearing out the $1 Kindai Mahjong manga section at Book-Off, and I often find myself looking for mahjong videogames despite the fact that the best online MJ client is just a click away. This kind of thing is just what otaku do.
Anyway, there was a website a couple years back called Mahjong in MAME. The arcade emulator constantly adds new stuff, and there must have been a severe glut in the 80s and 90s, because in almost every update MAME used to add a bunch of mahjong games. They were mostly incomprehensible to the audience, so this site saw and filled the "educate the masses on mahjong videogames" niche. Now it's been a long time since that site was active, and as I find myself digging though mahjong roms in MAME these days, I thought I'd give writeups a shot.
For those of you who maybe were at our panel (I plan to run it again at a certain upcoming convention, but Carl's far, far away) or stumbled upon my old "help with learning" posts, I want to make a note. Do not learn mahjong on arcade mahjong games (unless you're in Japan and on Sega MJ or Fight Club in which case you don't really need me, do you?). Use proper simulations instead: there are plenty. These arcade games are strictly curiosities, and those who know me know too well that I am a curious man.
So, that said, here is Usagi. This is a game by Warashi-- if they're known for anything it's probably for their shooters, like Shienryu and Trigger Heart Excelica-- based on the manga by Makoto Itou (no relation), a regular $1 Book-Off pickup of mine. I will allow the English blurb on the back of the book to explain for me:
FIGHT LIKE A WILD ANIMALS!
A MAHJONG GROUP "ZOO"
BY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
GOING INTO ACTION!!
So that's what it's about. You play standard mahjong rounds (East-only) with a few twists. First, this is a team match. The character you see in the middle of the screen is your partner, and likewise the players to your left and right are allied against you. This creates some interesting dynamics. For example, dealing into your teammate is not a disaster. All the points go to them, after all, and that just means you've exchanged points amongst yourselves for no actual gain. It's also a way to end a round quickly when you get the feeling the other team has something good and you want to deny them their points.
Second, the characters are all nicknamed for animals (the title Usagi is the name of the protagonist, who is in the above screenshot) and as such they have certain in-game powers that seem to come up at random. If you're playing the title character, for example, the game will tell you what tiles are dangerous. I recommend picking Jackal (the blonde girl) as your partner. She'll probably win for you!
There are two Usagi arcade games which I haven't bothered distinguishing between: MAME runs the first, which runs on PS1 hardware, but I've taken my screenshots from the sequel, which runs on the Naomi board. The game has weird input problems on my setup (the D and L buttons just do not work for some reason and there's nothing I can do about it) but I used it for screenshots on account of the beautiful high-resolution art. As always in the grey area of emulation, finding the goods is 100% your responsibility. Happy Googling!