Standalone Wii Review: Akko de Pon!

Considering this is my third review of a mahjong game on the Wii (fifth overall if you count the DSiWare previews I did for Nintendo Life) and the fact that I buy all of my Japanese imports, it’s probably fair to ask how many mahjong games one person needs. After all they’re all played with Japanese riichi rules and they tend to have common control interfaces, so if you’ve played one you can pretty much jump into another one cold and know what to do.

Akko de Pon! breaks the mould a bit, not only by having characters which look like caricatures drawn by a roadside artist, but by having gameplay that places a premium on cheating – surely unique in the world of mahjong games.

In the primary Story Mode of play, you’ll move on a wraparound linear track between several locations in the game world, each of which features one or two characters to play against following a brief bit of dialogue with the omnipresent character that everyone else defers to known as Akko-san. Given my lack of Japanese knowledge it’s not entirely clear, but he seems to be mentoring you on the way to becoming the number one ikasama (a slang term which literally translates as “super squid” or “Lord Squid,” but actually means “low-down cheating scum”). At least I assume so, because if you lose a mahjong game he seems unhappy and if you win he’s ecstatic (even though you’re beating him in the process).

As soon as you start a game of “majaan” (as it’s called in Japan) you’ll note the difference between this game and all the rest. Most games like Koei’s Mahjong Taikai series focus on the bare essentials of play: drawing and playing tiles without so much as a virtual die roll to show you whether you or one of your computer-controlled opponents is going first. Instead Akko de Pon! presents a virtual recreation of an actual mahjong game, from mixing up the tiles, through the die roll and drawing of tiles – the only thing missing is building the wall! Of course the reason for all of this is to provide more opportunities to use the many methods of cheating available.

During the first hand it’s unlikely you’ll be doing any serious cheating because you need to build up your “ikasama gauge” first and then buy cheats with it. The gauge builds up naturally via drawing and playing tiles, so partway into your first hand you’ll be able to pull off something small, but you’ll probably want to hold off on pulling up the cheat menu until the second hand. The language barrier does present a problem with understanding how some of these work, but most of them are pretty straightforward and are executed with the pointer or the game’s standard sideways remote orientation and either the d-pad and buttons or motion controls.

The cheats are grouped in different tabs and fall into some basic categories depending on when they’re undertaken. The cheats in the opening tile mixing involve using the pointer to pick out matching tiles which are then planted in the part of the wall closest to you and highlighted so you can try to manipulate events to get those draws. During the game you can either peek at the tiles on the wall in front of you or try to swap tiles from the wall with those in your hand. Cheats involving the wall are a bit fraught as it’s possible to be caught by another player (though I couldn’t figure out how to catch them) which not only ends the hand but costs you a 12,000-point penalty (ouch)!

You can of course decide to play without cheating at all, though the other players tend to do it all the time – mainly swapping out tiles in their hand for ones in their part of the wall. You’ll know this is happening because they always make some kind of verbal announcement – isn’t cheating supposed to be secret or something? In any event it does add a bit of spice to this game mode, which is otherwise pretty brief as there’s only seven groups of opponents. Once you’ve beaten them all there seems to be little incentive to continue playing as there’s no medals to earn or further opponents to unlock, though as with other mahjong games there is a Free Play mode so you can have a quick game; choosing opponents and setting the rules yourself.

What will probably keep you coming back for more is Mission Mode. There are 100 missions in all, each of which has an objective for completion. The game plays normally until the objective is met, which will then end the match and mark the mission cleared. I played the first two which had pretty basic goals: win a hand “tsumo” (from a draw) and win a hand “ron” (from another player’s discard). Cheating was disabled for these, though given the game’s focus and considering the number of missions I imagine later missions will require certain cheats to be pulled off or hands created. Other extras include a guide to playing mahjong, a guide to actual mahjong cheating and the ability to review your game stats.

When Success was getting ready to publish this game around the Wii’s launch they held a press conference showcasing the voice talent behind it, who are apparently famous Japanese actors – though that won’t be much of a draw even if you know who they are since that’s such a small part of the game. I would like to have seen 480p and widescreen support, but given this game came out early in the Wii’s lifecycle I’m not surprised to see it’s 480i and 4:3 given the slower uptake of widescreen TVs in Japan. Success has certainly succeeded in putting out a mahjong game with a difference both in the novel presentation and the equally novel cheating mechanic; developer Horipro have done a good job on the Wii motion and pointing controls in support of the latter.

If you’re looking to put an additional mahjong game on the shelf I certainly think this is a decent one to get for the novelty value, though it’s the Mission Mode that will likely prove the bigger draw in the long term. If you’re only in the market for one mahjong game, it’s probably best to stick with Nintendo’s WiFi-enabled Yakuman Wii or Koei’s Mahjong Taikai Wii, which I still think is the best mahjong game out there.