Since the dawn of the Nintendo Switch, even without a Virtual Console, retro games have been pumped out for the platform. Neo Geo arcade games, to be exact. This past month has been no exception for Arcade Archives' Neo Geo releases across the Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The latest to join modern hardware is an underrated gem, one that shouldn't be lost among the glitzier releases of Donkey Kong and other classics.
It's Money Puzzle Exchanger (better known as Money Idol Exchanger in Japan), a puzzle game that made its debut back in 1997 and over the years has often been compared to the likes of Magical Drop. Similar to Tetris and Puyo Puyo, its map is a vertical area, with lines of new coins dropping. That's where the similarity ends though. In Money Puzzle Exchanger, your goal is to grab coins and couple them with their matching amount to consolidate them into bigger coins. Over time, more lines of coins drop, making smart matchmaking essential to build up combos and keep your screen from being overwhelming.
It's exhilarating in the same ways the best Tetris, Puyo Puyo, and Magical Drop games are. Head-to-head battles, whether against the computer or another player, are intense. Even after hours with the Switch port of Money Puzzle Exchanger, I still have yet to overcome the last opponent in the single-player campaign-like mode. (There's no story, but you're set against all the game's characters.) In this mode, you can choose from two idols: the cat-eared Sakura or Asahi, who looks like she's part-mech for some reason. Otherwise, you can play alone through its Solo Play (which is pretty much an endurance run), or its two-player head-to-head competitive mode. The port also has both the Japanese and English versions packed in.
For being a Neo Geo arcade port, Money Puzzle Exchanger employs enough additional features to make you feel like a snobby rich kid at an arcade with a bottomless pocket of quarters and a billion cheat codes memorized. You can add "credits" to your playtime at your leisure—99 max, I checked. With this you can render Game Overs to be rare, should you choose to take advantage of the ease of tapping the left bumper button. You can play with difficulty settings to make the computer more challenging too (or less so), among other features to tweak to make it similar or dissimilar to its arcade origins.
Money Puzzle Exchanger itself is a mixture of the frenetic mathematics and adorable magical girl theming that's made it stand out in my mind over the years, even if before this weekend I had only played it for fleeting occurrences at miscellaneous pop-up arcades and friends' houses. Money Puzzle Exchanger has all the familiar trappings of 1990s anime: long-ass legs, "oh-hohohohoho" laughs, an intro with running silhouettes and dazzling sprite art that feels straight out of an anime, impeccable character design that makes modern anime look dry and boring in comparison. Money Puzzle Exchanger blends these elements to build a puzzle game that'll have you hooked with the first combo you chain, whether those perfectly snaked lines of 10 yen coins were intended or not.
Unlike Puyo Puyo's combo-building necessity and Tetris' gap filling catharsis, Money Puzzle Exchanger is a game about sorting out money laid before your very eyes. There are one yen coins, five yen coins, 10 yen coins, 100 yen coins, and 500 yen coins. By joining up certain coins together, they turn into whatever they add up to, effectively lessening the tiles on the screen. But it's not simple instances of matching four like-numbered things like in some other puzzle games. You have to add things up accordingly. For instance, five or more 100 yen coins in a single horizontal or vertical chain (either in a straight line, an L-shape, or otherwise) can morph into a 500 yen coin, and when a 500 yen coin is placed next to another 500 yen coin they both disappear. The more on the fly calculations you make, the better off you'll be and the longer you'll last.
As someone who frankly isn't good at even the most basic arithmetic, Money Puzzle Exchanger is great basic practice for those of us who aren't too savvy with math. (For real, while I was in advanced classes in school for virtually every other subject, I'd always be lagging behind in remedial math. We all have our strengths, I guess.) It also takes me back to juggling an unfamiliar currency in an unfamiliar country, during my first and only trip overseas. Like the Picrosses, Lumineses, and other chill puzzle games that have graced portable platforms in the past, Money Puzzle Exchanger feels like it's finally landed on the platform it's always been destined for.