Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nintendo Computer Mah-jong Yakuman (コンピュータ マージャン 役満, 1983)

In 1989 Nintendo released the Game Boy - the masterpiece of engineer and inventor Gunpei Yokoi. The Game Boy offered an interface port through which two (or more) Game Boys could be connected to each other, using the so-called link cable. This provided head-to-head gaming and exchanging of game items, which many Game Boy titles - including the smash hits Tetris and Pokemon - used to great effect.

Following the Game Boy, the game link would be adopted by other handhelds including the Sega Game Gear, the NEC PC Engine GT and the SNK Neo Geo Pocket, to name a few.

Although the Game Boy was the first game platform to bring the link feature to the masses world wide and make it successful, it wasn't the first with this option. That honor falls to another Nintendo game created by Gunpei Yokoi: the Computer Mah-jong Yakuman (コンピュータ マージャン 役満).

The Computer Mah-jong Yakuman was released in 1983, three years after the launch of the Game & Watch series. Contrary to the Game & Watch series, which had stormed the world since the start of the 80s, Computer Mah-jong Yakuman did not see a Western release. This was probably because of the limited popularity of May-jong outside Asian territories.

The small sized manual resembles those of Game & Watch games

Computer Mah-jong Yakuman was aimed at a more adult market and does not use the Game & Watch series name (it also does not include a clock function). The product code is MJ 8000.

Nintendo Computer Mah-jong Yakuman (1983)

The size of the game is around 24 by 8 centimeters, and it is 2.5 centimeters high.

The game play is more elaborate than the typical LCD game of the time. This was reflected in the retail price of ¥16,800, which at the time of release was around three times the price of a Game & Watch game.

Better read the manual before diving into the game. Many buttons!

The game play requires a large number of buttons; to select Mah-jong stones on the display and make moves. The manual does a good job of explaining all this.

Like Game & Watch, Computer Mah-jong Yakuman uses an LCD display. But instead of using crystals to represent individual figures like Mario or Donkey Kong, the game has an LCD dot matrix display, with rows of tiny dots, similar to the screen of the Game Boy (except that each dot could only be on or off without a shade of gray).

The game has an LCD dot matrix display

The manual shows how each of the 34 different May-jong tiles is represented on the dot matrix screen. Although the characters and drawings are simplified because of the limited amounts of dots (the limited screen resolution) available, most are still easily recognizable.

The manual shows how the traditional Mah-jong tiles appear on the screen

When we take a look at the back of the game, we see the battery door. It runs on 4 AA batteries.

Although the game is nicely portable, Nintendo clearly expected Computer Mah-jong Yakuman to also see a lot of use at home. For this Nintendo provided the option to power the game with an AC adapter, saving on batteries. The adapter was sold separately, for ¥1,000. It has product number MJ 8001.

Computer Mah-jong Yakuman AC Adapter MJ 8001

The top side of the game has two connectors: one for the AC adapter, and behind a small sliding door, there is a second connector for... a game link.

Game link (MJ 8002) and AC adapter (MJ 8001) connectors

With a single Computer Mah-jong Yakuman, you would play against a computer opponent. But the "for 2 person connector" (2人用コネクタ) allowed two Computer Mah-jong Yakuman games to be hooked together. This provides a four player game for two human players and two computer opponents.

The game link cable (2人用ケーブル) was sold separately, for ¥2,000. It has product number MJ 8002.

Computer Mah-jong Yakuman game link cable MJ 8002

This game link cable is the first of its kind, predating the Game Boy link cable by 6 years.

Game link connector and cable

It is very easy to hook up two Computer Mah-jong Yakuman games. Simply plug the cable in both games and you are ready to go.

Although this link cable was a nice innovation at the time, it wasn't until the Game Boy before linking up became a success. The sales numbers for the Computer Mah-jong Yakuman were a drop in the ocean compared to the phenomenal success of the Game Boy. It must have been hard for the average Computer Mah-jong Yakuman owner to find a friend to link with. The Game Boy on the other hand, became so widespread that it was never difficult to find another Game Boy to connect to.

Most likely produced in small numbers, the cable has become very difficult to track down these days. It is much harder to find than a copy of the Computer Mah-jong Yakuman itself.

The full Computer Mah-jong Yakuman family: games, adapters and link cable

The year 1983, in which Computer Mah-jong Yakuman was released, was a watershed year for Nintendo. The Computer Mah-jong Yakuman represents the end of an era (which started in 1977 with the Color TV Game Series) of dedicated game machines that could only play a single type of game . Nintendo would continue to release new Game & Watches for a while, but from 1983 onwards the more complex video games would find a new home: the Family Computer. But that's a different story altogether.

Check out the following post for a marketing brochure featuring the Computer Mah-jong Yakuman.


  1. Hi,
    Do you know, nowadays how much a Nintendo Computer Mah-jong Yakuman with box and manual could cost?
    Thank you,

  2. Hi Guiherme. It is difficult to give a price for these items, as they are rarely for sale. So here is not much information to go on. But you can expect a loose one to be around 5000 yen, and a nice boxed one more close to 15000 or 20000 yen. When buying a second hand one, it is always important to check the condition of the LCD, as this tends to be broken (crystal bleed) often.

  3. Hi Erik V
    What's the sequence of wires in the Link Cable?How can I link two machines without the Cable?

  4. Hi Eric,is it possible to repair broken and bleeding lcd displays of these?

    1. Hi Simon. Unfortunately those LCDs cannot be repaired. Bleeding and breaks are irreversible, as far as I know. For some reason these Yakuman games suffer from bleeding more than other games from this era.

  5. Where would one purchase one of these second-hand?

    1. Search, but it may take some time as they do not appear frequently.

  6. I would love to see one in action. I suppose it is Riichi Mah-jong ?

  7. Do you know the exact release date