I'm going to dive right in here and suggest that most people have probably never thought "I wish there was a videogame that involved changing coins into other coins of different denominations". Then again, I don't suppose anyone ever though "I wish there was a videogame that lets me stack assorted falling shapes in such a way that they form lines across the screen" until Tetris was released, and Tetris seems to have done okay for itself. Will the same apply to Face's 1997 puzzler Money Idol Exchanger? Let's find out! (Here's a hint: no, it won't.)

Also known as Money Puzzle Exchanger, this arcade puzzler is certainly true to its title. It has puzzles, exchanges, idols (Japanese variety, not statues) and most of all it has money. Actually, most of all it probably has anime girls.

You play as anime girls, (or, in one odd case, a Harpo-Marx-haired schoolboy called Coquetry who for some unexplained reason is dressed as a dog,) which one assumes is where the Idol of the title comes from and the game isn't worshipped by some isolated voodoo tribe. There may well be a story, but MIE is so deeply, incomprehensibly Japanese I couldn't begin to tell you what it is. All I know is that it features a lot of money and the exchanging thereof.

The gameplay is a fairly standard affair with one devilish twist - maths. Coins move down the screen, and if they cross the bottom of the screen then it's game over. To stop this from happening, you can pull a coin down toward you, move it left or right and fire it back up toward its coppery brethren. Place enough coins of the same ilk together and they disappear. Simple, except to get anywhere in MIE you'll need to start chaining your disappearing coins together, and this is where the maths bit comes in. Each coins has a value, either 1, 5, 10, 100 or 500, and when they are combined they leave behind a coin equivalent to the next value up. For example, putting five 1s together causes them to disappear, leaving behind a 5. Two fives together, they disappear, and a 10 appears. Two 500s don't leave anything behind but empty space, though. So, the aim of the game becomes forming cascading chains of coins.

If this all sounds very familiar to you from, say, Magical Drop, that's because they're almost identical. So similar, in fact, that Magical Drop creators Data East apparently sued Face over the similarities, resulting in Face's bankruptcy. Oops.
There are a couple of power-ups to complicate matters, one that removes all the coins of a certain denomination and another that moves all coins of one rank up to the next (e.g. 5s to 10s). However, they're more of a hinderance than a help, leaving you pretty much on your own when it comes to making chains. This is unfortunate for me as I have all the foresight of a mayfly with A.D.D. when it comes to puzzle games.

Of course, all this is prefaced by the obligatory anime intro:

A pink-haired schoolgirl who transforms into some kind of superhero? I'm shocked. It does seem odd that this intro doesn't have lyrics, though, really generic lyrics like
Let's currency, we will fight,
Summer memories of copper coins.
Burning money energy,
Love in the Buraux de Change,
Money Idol Exchanger!
Or something along those lines. Speaking of the music, it's pretty much what you'd expect; above-average cheery J-pop midis. However, the theme of Exchanger (who I assume is the main character - you can see her in a few of the pictures in this article) is so catchy that my brain has been playing it on a near-constant loop since I first heard it a week ago. Here it is for your listening pleasure, and I can only hope that it isn't like the tape from The Ring.

What else does MIE have to offer, besides the novelty of being a puzzle game set in some kind of pastel-coloured superhero Bureau de Change nightmare? Well, it's got bad translations. Yay!

I didn't pay the money, no. What are you going to do about it? "You have to pay" sounds like the threat of a lumbering Jason-Voorhees-esque monster, doesn't it? How jolly.

Umm... pardon? I think she's trying to tell you that when you make a chain, the new coin appears at the bottom-right-most point.

My personal favourite. "I shall assist you in my heart." So not in any actual, helpful way, then. Thanks. If politicians were cutesy anime girls, then that is the kind of weasley answer they would give when asked about their response to a major humanitarian crisis.

One of my main problems with MIE is that the main 1P mode where you face off against a CPU rival is just too hard for my age- and booze-raddled brain. After the first two or three levels, your opponents become flawless, rocket-propelled gods, chaining vast fortunes of coins into waterfalls of pure pain while I struggle to even set off the most basic of combos. It's almost certainly down to me being rubbish, but if you're looking for a challenge in your puzzle games then you could do worse. Fortunately, there is a single-player "endless" mode where your only goal is to survive as long as possible. I managed to break into second place on the high-score table, which I believe qualifies me for a job as Governor of the Bank of England (first place nets you Chancellor of the Exchequer).

And that's all I can tell you about Money Idol Exchanger, really. It's not a vastly complicated game, and the gameplay never really changes, other than the CPU opponents getting harder. That said, it's a thoroughly solid puzzler which hold up to the maxim of all good puzzle games: a premise that is simple to learn and difficult to master. The graphics are pretty well drawn and the music veers between above-average and mind-enslavingly catchy. Really, the only thing you need to consider before playing MIE is how much you like anime girls, I guess. Big fan of anime girls? You'll probably like it. Big fan of puzzle games? You'll probably like it. Big fan of anime girls and puzzle games? Well, you might want to have a doctor on hand when you first play it in case your heart jumps out of your chest and tries to make out with your eyeballs. Overall, MIE is well worth a play; even if it does nothing particularly spectacular or novel, it does what it does well. Plus, there's a character called Debtmiser. What's not to like?

1 comment:

  1. Worth noting that there's an arcade/PS1/Saturn game called "Mouja" - or "Moujya", depending on how you choose to romanize it - that has the same coin-counting gameplay, albeit with Puyo Puyo instead of Magical Drop (and cartoon cats instead of anime girls).

    Actually predates this game by a bit.


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