It really goes without saying that not every game released in Japan makes it to the West. So far the Mega Drive has been lucky in that it has only seen a small handful of games that weren’t localized, a trait that will come to almost define the system’s library (most likely due to the incredible disparity in popularity of the system in America and Europe versus Japan. In Japan, the system was marketed early on as a real contender for arcade-style graphics and game play, but lost that market to a demographic already spoiled by the PC Engine and disillusioned by Sega’s slow start, something from which the system never really recovered) So far there have only been two games released in Japan that didn’t see an American release, and neither of them were a particularly huge loss for the Western world. Sure, a flashy war game and a surreal Technicolor platformer probably wouldn’t have hurt the American success of the Genesis, but they could have been ported over if someone wanted. Even Super Hydlide made it over during the opening salvo, and that has to be at least as inscrutable to an American gamer circa 1989 as any boss battle against a racist caricature of a Japanese man dressed as Cinderella.
(On a related note: The Oso-matsu Kun article continues to be the most eagerly sought out and read page on this website. Could some kind soul explain why in the comments?)
However, during the game deluge of December 1989, Sega managed to release something that managed to completely and utterly evade the interests of Western game fans: A novelistic adventure game/Mahjong simulator about a psychic detective called Mahjong Cop Ryuu – Shiro Ookami no Yabou (Mahjong Cop Ryu: White Wolf’s Ambition, more or less). And this isn’t mahjong as we understand it on this side of the Pacific either (that’s technically Mahjong Solitaire and was something of a fad in Japan at the time due to Activision’s Shanghai); this is the full on inscrutable betting game Mahjong, modified for two players and to accommodate the psychic powers and lightning bolts that a name like Mahjong Cop Ryuu naturally suggests. All of this comes in handy when Ryuu must use his wits, psychic cheating abilities, a quick detective’s intuition and a quicker gun to face a conspiracy to…
…I have no idea, honestly. Even with a functional knowledge of how to play Mahjong (it’s ultimately not that different than Western trick-taking games like Hearts) I found myself completely unable to progress into the no-doubt seedy mahjong underworld of Mahjong Cop. The game doesn’t seem to have puzzles between the Mahjong matches, but what it does feature is endless dialog trees, each rich with heavily condensed and colloquial Japanese text. It’s entirely possible to power through the first dialog with what looks like Anime Terminator and get to the part where he soundly trounces you in a game of Mahjong, but answering one prompt wrong sends you back to the beginning for more tedious, slow scrolling text (complete with every character receiving its own obnoxious typewriter sound effect like a high school student’s Power Point presentation).
So what am I qualified to say about Mahjong Cop? Precious little, honestly. The cover art is absolutely amazing and rife with all sorts of out and out copyright infringement. The music is also pretty great, as witnessed by the incredible opening song:
And I am sure if you understand Japanese, you are in for a treat if this guide is to be believed. But unfortunately, Mahjong Cop is just a game that I am linguistically and culturally unequipped to play. And considering the general lack of enthusiasm in translating the few lost “classics” (apparently Mahjong Cop is hardly beloved in Japan) for the Mega Drive amongst the emulation community, it will likely remain that way. Fortunately, I think we can manage.