Despite being a huge fan of video games in general, I haven’t bought very many video games as of late, so I think it’s all too fitting that the latest game I’m playing is something that pretty much doesn’t NEED to be a video game but sure enjoys being one. The game I’m referring to is (deep breath) Kidou Gekidan Haro Ichiza Gundam Mahjong + Zeta: Sara ni Dekiruyou ni Nattana! Or in short, Gundam + Zeta Mahjong for the DS. Being Gundam doesn’t really imply any gameplay functions and mahjong certainly doesn’t require any sort of electronics to play, but it’s got all sorts of fun touches that may have you playing it over regular mahjong (or free online mahjong).
Gundam Mahjong is essentially mahjong + super meter. Before the match itself you pick a character, each of whom have their own special abilities, as well as a “figure” that gives it own unique bonuses. Char for example has the ability to see an opponent’s winning tiles if they declare “reach,” as well as the ability to deplete every other super meter. Otherwise it’s just normal mahjong. And if you have trouble remembering the rules, there’s a handy built-in guide (though you’d have to know Japanese to use it).
The playable characters are Amuro, Kai, Bright, Sleggar, Char, Lalah, Ramba Ral, Garma, Dozzle, Kycilia, Gihren, Kamille, Emma, Quattro (yes, he’s considered separate from Char), Jerid, Yazan, Scirocco, and Haman. Other characters make cameos, with Frau Bow and Four Murasame being the most prominent. It’s interesting to note which characters in Gundam are considered “characters of action” in the greater consciousness of its fandom.
The selection of Mobile Suit and Mobile Armor figures (it’s implied in the story mode that everyone is a figure-collecting otaku) is much more broad, tapping not only into the two main series but all of the Mobile Suit Variations and side stories from both the One Year War and the Grypps War. You can even use Johnny Ridden’s Mobile Suits. There are certain Mobile Suits that can only be used by specific characters, like Amuro with the original Gundam, Jerid with the Baund Doc, Haman with the Qubeley, and so on. Part of the fun is in deciding which figures to use with which characters that best utilizes their super moves. Char’s Zaku II for example allows Char to gain meter at 3.5x normal speed, which goes well with his meter-killing super. If you’re a real romantic, I suggest pairing Kycilia Zabi with one of Johnny Ridden’s mobile suits.
There’s a free play mode, a story mode, and you can customize the rule set or use a pre-existing one. The game is packed with clever nods big and small to the Gundam franchise, particularly in the way characters talk to each other during the game. When Garma wins, he will comfort his opponents by telling them that it’s not that they were weak, but that he’s simply too strong. Then he’ll recite his winning hand. The best moments are probably when you declare reach, as the music changes accordingly. Nothing says Char’s about to win more than this song.
Even without the Gundam elements though it’s still a solid mahjong engine, and you can even battle people over wireless and wi-fi. About my only complaint is that sometimes the computer opponents are a bunch of cheaters, but that comes hand in hand with any sort of game like this. So, overall impressions are about as obvious as you can get. If you like Gundam and you like mahjong, then check it out, but don’t trip over yourself in trying to obtain it.