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RELEASE DATE (JP): November 5, 1998 GENRE: Puzzle
// review by SoyBomb

No money? No problem!

Playing video games costs money. There are more games out there than I could ever reasonably afford. But what if there was a game that actually focused simply on the art of making money? I'm not talking about grabbing coins like in Super Mario Bros. or farming vegetables to raise funds as in Harvest Moon. I'm talking solely about collecting money and that is all. For those of us who are little more than money-grubbing greed machines, there is Money Idol Exchanger. Originally released for the arcades, Money Idol Exchanger (or, as it was known in overseas arcade centers, "Money Puzzle Exchanger") also saw ports to the Game Boy and the PlayStation, both of which never escaped Japan upon initial release. I'm going to be checking out the PlayStation version, which has popped up on the PlayStation Network as a Japanese PSOne Import.

Money Idol Exchanger is a cute puzzle game that mixes two things that, supposedly, everybody likes: money and anime girls that look randomly upset or scream without warning. There are multiple modes of play, but they all lead to the same game mechanic. In a playing field, there will be a variety of coins in six different denominations (1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500). Your goal is to grab coins of the same amount and toss them back into the field to form a string of at least five (or two, if you're matching 5 or 500 coins), all touching each other (except diagonally). Doing so will make them disappear; in their place will be a coin of the next heighest denomination. For example, matching together five '10's will result in the appearance of a 50. Getting rid of two 500 coins together will cause them both to simply vanish, leaving no further coins. As you play, the stack of coins will slowly descend from the top; you need to make matches quickly and efficiently to keep the pile from touching the bottom, at which point your game would end. To help you out, there are also two specialty coins, ambiguously labeled "ER" and "RU". "ER" refers to "erase", which removes all coins of a similar value (though how it chooses which coin denomination specifically is a mystery to me). "RU" means "Rank Up!", where all coins will increase in value by one rank (1 becomes 5, 5 becomes 10, and so forth). This may seem easy, but you really need to move efficiently or you'll be quickly buried under a huge pile of money with a much lower chance of digging your way out to freedom. And no, you don't get to keep that money.

Now yes, I did mention anime girls earlier. When you are playing, you do get to choose what character you want to portray, similar to a fighter. Unlike fighters, however, you're not really brawling as much as challenging each other to a duel... of coin-based puzzle action! Their names are in Japanese here, though the translated arcade version does have some weird nicknames such as Debtmiser, Coquetry, and Mightdealer. That's bizarre. I don't believe any of them have different stats, so your choice boiled down solely to vanity. Do you want the tall girl with the glasses and the flamboyantly-displayed frontal endowment, or do you just want a girl in a bear suit?

Exchange money and fight your friends! ...What?

There are several modes to keep the penny-pinching gamer crowd happy. For those who just want a casual experience, there's the "1P" mode, where you basically keep on playing indefinitely until you lose. For a tougher challenge, you can take on computer opponents one by one until they are all defeated. "2P" can pit you against a second player. A tutorial is also available from the main menu to deliver the basics of how to play (though it's in Japanese, so take heed to the visual demonstration on the side). Unique to the PlayStation version is a Story mode. Choosing between two different girls, you'll get quite a mouthful of dialogue between bouts with the remaining femmes, complete with voice acting. I'm unsure as to what the plot is, but the girls tend to get angry rather quickly, so I'm guessing there is much conflict and that it can only be resolved through puzzle battling.

The game prides itself on being as adorable as possible for a currency game, as evidenced by the constant appearance of cute girls, both during gameplay and in the somewhat animated introduction. The puzzle playing field itself is functionally good-looking, but the real graphical effort went into the design and animation of the Ladies of Money Idol Exchanger. Extra work could have gone into the Story mode: although the new character portraits are effective and display a wide variety of emotions, the background are extremely pixelated and devoid of any distinguishing detail. I was playing on a diminuitive PSP screen, and they were STILL highly pixelated. I would hate to see this on a TV! The music is rather peppy and percussive, though the number of tunes is very limited, so it seems. The game features some voice acting for the girls. I'd recommend playing this game with the volume down if you're in a public place; you're liable to scare someone with the random shrieks that emit from your speakers.

If you want an out-of-the-ordinary puzzle game, Money Idol Exchanger is a good change of pace from the usual fare. It may evoke memories of other puzzlers like Puzzle Bobble or Magical Drop, which have similar methods of play. The only downfall to this is that most of the text is in Japanese. Fluent readers will have no issues, but those who cannot read Japanese will require a little trial and error to navigate the menus (and, like me, will have no idea what's going on in the story). Regardless, for fun pick-up-and-play puzzle action, Money Idol Exchanger is pretty darn good.

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