An interesting development in the classic arcade world this week, and one I thought worth interrupting my intended article for the blog today (sorry Wolfie!).
Monkey Magic is an arcade title you are unlikely to have heard of; and for good reason. Released in 1979 by Nintendo in very small numbers, it was one of their very early colour arcade games. The machine never saw the light of day outside of Japan. It is very difficult to gather information about Monkey Magic‘s release, or even if it made it out of the factory at all. It appears that Nintendo built the game as a cocktail table and a dedicated upright.
There is a flyer for the game, which shows a picture of the upright cabinet in some detail:
Great artwork, and a really stylish looking cabinet. The other side of the flyer shows the game screen, with a description of gameplay:
But of course it’s all in Japanese. My translating skills aren’t that good(!), but in essence, Monkey Magic is a Breakout clone, taking cues from Atari’s 1976 title, using a classic spinner and serve button. The player controls a paddle which is moved with the spinner across the bottom of a screen, and the aim is to keep a ball in the air, firing it back up the screen hitting targets to score points, as it drops back down. If the ball is missed, the game ends.
It’s spin for want of a better word, is that you are aiming your ball at a brightly coloured, large Monkey’s head at the top of the screen, rather than at rows of blocks as you’d find in Arkanoid or Breakout. The game adds some really innovative elements that set it apart from its heritage of a typical me-too block-clearing game.
This gameplay video best describes how the game works:
You can see some of the additional twists to the game here.
- Shooting the Monkey’s nose speeds the ball up significantly.
- Shooting the three arrows upwards, will eventually open his mouth, and you can start taking out his teeth.
- Bonus points can be earned by passing the ball over Monkey’s eyes.
- Small monkey heads create additional obstacles, and will change the ball’s direction when hit.
There are no levels or screens to clear, the game becomes increasingly difficult, and elements already taken out will reappear over time.
A cocktail kit is known to exist, including dedicated control panel. Collector Andy Welburn shared some details on this in this video last year:
I assume this how the game ended up finally being uploaded to MAME only recently.
Watching the game in action, it looks to me as if Money Magic is actually better than the game it clones – a rare instance. Little is known about its development, but it appears that it could be one of a handful of games created by long-time broadcasting hardware company Ikegami Tsushinki, acting as a sub-contractor for a variety of Japanese video game companies – in this case, Nintendo.
But the upright cabinet was more of a mystery. All I’ve ever seen is a singular picture of what appears to be the upright game in-situ, presumably in an arcade in Japan. Several collectors have tried to gather more information about this cab after this photograph surfaced a couple of years back, but without success:
Unfortunately, this picture was taken over 20 years ago. As no uprights have ever surfaced, it was thought that this cab perhaps never made full production; and if it did, all the cabinets built were now long gone. But with the code uploaded to MAME, at least it could be played.
That was until earlier this week. Listed on Yahoo Auctions (Japan’s equivalent of eBay), is what is clearly an original, upright Monkey Magic cabinet. Here are some pictures from the auction:
It looks to be in absolutely stunning condition, given its rarity and age. To my knowledge, this is the first time a dedicated Monkey Magic cabinet has ever surfaced. It appears that the original board set is there, and you can even make out some Monkey screen burn on the monitor!
Here’s the control panel – complete with serve button, spinner and player start buttons:
It is a great example of classic 70’s Japanese industrial design and artwork. The auction listing seems to indicate that the game does not boot up, which isn’t surprising – but there are guys out there who can diagnose these boards and get things up and running again.
This is a truly stunning find – an exceptionally rare piece of arcade history – and I would expect this cabinet to go for a hefty price. Shipping cabinets from Japan is likely to be a very expensive business, so the overseas collector market is going to be limited, but who knows? What I do know is that I and many other collectors would love to own this machine. It has got to be one of what must be a single digit number of original Monkey Magics left in the world today – I’d go as far to say that it is the only one you will ever find.
If you are thinking of generously buying this cabinet for me (go on, you know you want to), you can find the original auction listing here. At the time of writing, there are three days left on the auction, and bids are up to just over £400.
What’s for certain is that you will never see another one of these again.
Props I think are due to the seller for pulling this machine out from wherever it was stored for the world to briefly see. I wonder if he really knows what he has here? Let’s hope the new owner shares more details and pictures.
Thanks for stopping by this week.
Update 11th October 2016: The auction ended today at 379,000 Yen (around $3,600 or £3,000).