Inside Pulse 12

Review: Money Idol Exchanger (Sony PS3/PSP)

Money Idol Exchanger
Developer: Face
Publisher: MonkeyPaw Games
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 11/16/2010

Apart from a few games when I bought my first PSN card, I’ve avoided picking up any of the PS1 Classics available for download. I pretty much have a physical copy of the games I really want and I prefer to play disc versions. I also don’t like paying money for something that I don’t get a physical copy of which lowers the appeal.

However, I can’t help but be interested in the Japanese import section that has recently been added. It is a chance to play games you might not have even heard of, let alone get a copy of. When I found out that Money Idol Exchanger was one of those games, it peaked my interest.

Can this game survive the language gap, or is this one title that should have stayed in Japan?

Modes

MIE contains the typical bevy of modes found in old puzzle games. You’re standard option for play is a simple arcade mode. You can chose one of three difficulty settings that appear to only change the number of opponents rather than the toughness. You play against each opponent best two out of three. Then you move on and face the next challenge.

Also included is a story mode that is entirely in Japanese. I honestly have no idea what was going on except that it appears a bunch of people are picking on the main character and it takes place in a school. Characters seem to transform into ridiculous costumes at a whim, and I was left perplexed.

Beyond that, you also have a survival mode that eschews head to head play for a more classic puzzle game experience. The goal is simply to see how long you can last and how big a score you can get. There’s also a two player head to head mode that I didn’t get to try out as I was playing on the PSP. As a note, if you play this on your PSP, don’t even chose the two player option, as you won’t be able to back out and you’ll have to quit the game altogether.

Finally, there’s a basic tutorial and a suite of options to play around with. Both are completely in Japanese, so they’re hard to work around. If you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you can gleam a lot of information from the tutorial and figure out some of the basic options such as changing the control scheme or turning off the music. Still, there were several options I was downright afraid to touch for fear of what they might do. I didn’t want to accidentally erase my file or anything after all.

The gameplay never really gets mixed up in all of these modes, but that doesn’t stop the game from having plenty of content. The arcade mode is full of challenging opponents while multiplayer and survival are sure to kill some time for dedicated players. (The former only if you’re playing on the PS3). The only thing that suffers from the language barrier is your ability to use the options and understand what’s going on in the story. Thankfully, this doesn’t hurt the game too much.

Graphics

Well, seeing as this is a more than decade old game, you’d expect the graphics to be a bit dated. You’d be right. Even when it was on the PSX, it was a port of a Neo Geo game, so its been tossed around a few times. At this point, the debate over graphics is about function rather than style.

It does have some style though. The characters are designed in classic anime fashion. Characters have big eyes, goofy costumes, and a tendency to emote over the smallest thing. These models are present in the background of the corresponding player and usually react to whatever is going on. Get a combo? They’re happy. Did the other guy get a combo and therefore bury you in coins? They’re unhappy. You get the gist. They’re are also miniature spite versions of these characters at the bottom of the screen. They represent the player and move around with your inputs. They look all kinds of ridiculous.

Beyond the anime style, all that’s left is a basic looking puzzle games. The pieces you play with are coins designed off of the yen specie. As such, there are a number of colored coins to contend with. As they match, the coins spin around and sparkle before disappearing. It’s a simple effect comparable to what you normally see in puzzle games. I only mention it because there isn’t much to talk about in the graphics department.

It isn’t going to wow you with a unique art style or flashy presentation, but the graphical package for MIE is solid and does what it needs to make the game playable. I have no complaints. As long as I can tell what everything is by looking at it, I’m happy.

Audio

I must say I wasn’t expecting the music for this game to be as good as it is. I can’t really describe it well because I’m not well versed it what all of the various styles are called, but it is some solid fast paced synthesizer music that only fits great as background music but is something I’ve been seeking out to listen to as I write this review. It is pretty enjoyable stuff.

There is some voice acting in the game, but it is all in Japanese, so I couldn’t understand a word of it. Given that this takes place in a school and the players are mostly of the younger crowd, the voices were annoying. I usually skipped the story sequences for this purpose. However, the older voices were all right. There are also voice clips that play during gameplay, usually accompanying combos. These get repetitive but you end up using them as cues as to when your opponent is about to drop some coins on you. At least it is useful.

The sound you’ll hear the most is the slide whistle like effect that plays every time you move a coin. It gets pretty annoying almost instantly, but is the same kind of noise you get in any puzzle game. You’ll also get plenty of chimes for when you match coins together or for big combos. Again, it’s the standard.

Apart from the music, there’s nothing particularly good in the audio department. It’s nice that there is voice acting, but like the repetitive sound effects it can get old after a while. If there’s a way to turn off the sound effects, I’d really like to know so I can enjoy the music in peace.

Gameplay

The goal in MIE is simple. You want to keep the coins at the top of the screen from reaching the bottom while matching coins to create combos that pile on your opponent’s side therefore causing them to bottom out instead of you.

On the bottom of your side is your avatar. You move him/her with the d-pad and grab coins with the X button. You can only hold one type of coin at a time, but you can pick up additional copies of the same coin you’re currently holding. For example, you can grab one blue coin and then move over to another and grab it as well. When you release the coins, they’ll be released in a neat stack. You can release any coins you’re holding with the circle button.

The coins you’re matching aren’t just mere color variations. In fact, they represent real coins and are matched together accordingly. You need to match five 1 coins to combine them into a 5 coin. Two of those combine to make a 10 coin and so on. This pattern repeats until you match two 500 coins. When they’re matched, they disappear. Hopefully you can see how crazy combos can be made with this setup. If you grab two 50 coins and drop them so they will land on a stack of four 100 coins, the two coins will turn into one 100 coin which will then chain with the four other coins to create a 500 coin. Also, it should be mentioned that coins do not need to be in a vertical stack to be matched. They need only be touching. It leads to a pretty deep puzzle system that is a blast to play.

In addition to all of the various coins, there are also two different special items that can be found and matched in pairs. Blue ER items will erase all coins of a certain amount. Also, green RU items will upgrade all of one coin to the next highest amount. These special items are rare, but they can change the game if you can match them up.

Like I said, this is a head to head battle puzzler where combos are the immediate goal for success. Every time you chain a combo together, you will add coins to your opponent’s side from the top down. They’ll do the same to you. It creates a back and forth that becomes quite compelling. Also, the more coins you have, the more chances for combos you’ll have, so simply piling on coins isn’t a sure way to success. You need to keep the pressure up as AI opponents will definitely haunt you for inaction.

Overall, the setup is simple, but there is a certain franticness and depth to the proceedings that make it a blast to play. Creating chains and matching coins would have been fun enough, but adding in that competitive element amps up the experience to another, ultimately satisfying level entirely.

Replayability

As I mentioned in the Modes section, you have about three or four options for play, but all of them amount to the same gameplay style, limiting the game’s replay when compared to something like Tetris DS or Picross. Tetris had six different takes on the classic gameplay, whereas each puzzle in Picross offers a new and unique picture to uncover.

Still, thanks to the challenge the game offers, you can get a ton of time out of it. The idea here is that you’ll replay until you can make it through without losing, or continue playing to get higher and higher combo chains.

Basically, this is the kind of game that you’re likely to play for bits every now and then. It doesn’t take up much space on the memory stick, so I can see myself keeping on and playing whenever I get the chance.

Balance

This game is tough. Enemy characters are adept at setting up combos and can make near miraculous comebacks. If you play the arcade modes, expect to be able to beat only the first couple of challenges before you start feeling the pressure. I’ve lost a number of times in a row before being able to win, and that was only on the third opponent!

The game is almost too hard at points. I’ve felt that I was playing better than ever. I was matching coins left and right and even landing combos. Then all of the sudden, I’m buried under crap and my opponent laughs all the way to the bank. It can take only a couple of seconds to derail your best work.

If you’re looking for a challenge, this game will definitely bring it. If you’re looking for a leisurely puzzle game to kill time with, then you’re going to want to look somewhere else.

Originality

There are two reason that this game just won’t earn any points for originality.

Firstly, this is a port of a port of an old Neo Geo game. Even if the original game where one of the most original games of all time, it would be hard to score points here.

Secondly, this game was sued for being a clone of Magical Drop. The developers went bankrupt because of it. That should tell you something right there.

Addictiveness

One of the hallmarks of a good puzzle game is its ability to suck you in. In particular, if a game like this can keep you anxious to play despite repeat losses, that is something truly special. I’m happy to say that this game fulfills both of those hallmarks.

For starters, the gameplay is simply too much fun to be denied. Once you get into matching coins and scoring combos, it’ll be hard to stop. The competitive aspect also adds to the addictiveness factor. It’s easier to keep playing when there’s a taunting enemy to beat.

While it remains to be seen how often I’ll go back to the game after this review is done, I will say that while I was playing, it was hard to put the game down until I had beaten several guys in a row. That adds up to a good score in this department.

Appeal Factor

As this is an import title, the appeal factor is a bit low for those of us in the states. This is only exacerbated by the fact the game is in Japanese. English speaking/reading gamers will have to be able to get past this fact in order to get enjoyment out of the game. That will be easier for some than others.

As far as price goes, the game is cheaper than your run of the mill PSX game on PSN. This will certainly lower the barrier to entry for players who’d otherwise miss it. Also helping the game is the fact that puzzle games are one of the few genres that players who speak different languages can enjoy.

If you’re interested in import games and puzzle games, this is a definite must buy.

Miscellaneous

I’m pretty much out of things to say here, so I suppose I’ll sum things up.

This game has plenty going for it in terms of gameplay, addictiveness, and modes worth playing. It’s in Japanese, which will make it a tough sell for English speaking gamers, but those who do make the purchase will find a worthwhile game.

The Scores
Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Mediocre
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Decent
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
I’m glad I got the chance to play Money Idol Exchanger. The gameplay is fun and addicting, which is the most important aspect of any puzzle game. The only reason the score isn’t higher is because the game doesn’t have mass appeal and gets a zero for originality. For those who don’t speak or read Japanese, there is perhaps a sizable barrier to entry in order to get into the game. If you do make the decision to play this game, you’ll be rewarded. This game gets a solid thumbs up from me.

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