Monday, 8 June 2015

Mouja (Arcade)

I'm sure the fine, discerning readers of this blog will be familiar with the Neo Geo puzzle game Money Puzzle Exchanger, which combined the fast-paced gameplay of Magical Drop with the excitement of mental arithmetic. But if any of you aren't, instead of matching colours, the player matches denominations of currency: five ones make a five, two fives make a ten, five tens make a fifty, two fifties a hundred, five hundreds a five-hundred and two five-hundreds disappear. According to legend, the similarities between Money Puzzle Exchanger and Magical Drop were so great that Data East sued the devloper, FACE, into bankruptcy. I'm not sure how true this story is, since the game managed to get ported to Playstation and Game Boy.

But anyway, what does any of this have to do with Mouja? Well,Mouja is like a version of Money Puzzle Exchanger without the Magical Drop plagiarism: rather than Magical Drop's idiosyncratic "pulling orbs down and thrusting them back up" mechanic that MPE stole, Mouja has a more traditional "orbs fall into a pit from above in pairs". Otherwise, it has all the arithmatical fun seen in FACE's allegedly ill-fated game. In fact, the "one" coins look exactly the same, too, but it's a pretty simple design anyway, and the other coins all look different enough.

Mechanically, it's alright. I prefer Money Puzzle Exchanger though, since Magical Drop is my favourite puzzle game series, and MPE is like a nice little variant on the theme. Mouja feels a little clunky and reliant on luck as much as skill. There is a huge problem with this game, however: the single player game is brutally, sadistically difficult. A lot of arcade games are harder than they need to be because they want players to get addicted and feed more coins in and continue their way to the end. Some arcade games are hard because they're legitimately well-designed games designed for skilled players. Mouja, on the other hand, feels like it is the outcome of one of two scenarios.

The first scenario leans on something I once read about videogame AI: that programmers make it as good as they can, then scale it back to make it fair on human players. It sounds feasible, and Mouja feels like the programmers might have done the first part and forgot about the scaling back. The second possibility is that it really is a game designed with sadism in mind, and evidence backing this up comes in the form of the game's scoring system: not only is it fairly inscrutible, but sometimes scores go down and even into negative numbers, with no explanation.

Obviously, I can't really recommend Mouja, except as an exhibit to satisfy your grim curiosity.

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