Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: Boom Street/Fortune Street (Wii)

I am so glad that Nintendo took a chance and published Itadaki Street (Fortune Street in the US and Boom Street in the West). It’s a game that on paper would have had to be a hard sell for the business decision makers.

I can see the board meetings now. “It’s Mario Party, without the minigames. It’s a multiplayer-focused game that can easily take four hours to bring to completion. It’s Monopoly, only complex.” Those three statements essentially describe Fortune Street, and are anything but million-selling game ideas.

Which is why I am glad Nintendo decided to publish it anyway, and loan Square Enix its characters to maximise the game’s marketability. Because for the niche market that the game targets, this game leaves every other Wii game in the dust for multiplayer value.

That niche market is the people who like board games; not just an occasional gathering for Monopoly or Scrabble, but real board games like Puerto Rico and Catan. It’s not really a casual game, see, it is in many ways a complex and nuanced game. And one that isn’t really a video game, either; this one would be easily producible as a “true” board game.

So what is Fortune Street? At a basic level, it works a bit like Monopoly. Players roll a dice, move around a board and buy property. When other players land on that property, they need to hand over rent (technically it’s called “shopping” in this game, as players buy shops, not houses and hotels). It’s possible to exchange properties with other players, and properties are formed into colour-coded “districts,” which work in the same way they do in Monopoly; buy all the properties within a colour to boost the value of them all.

There’s the equivalent of Chance cards, and everything else you’d expect from a Monopoly game. But Fortune Street goes far, far further than that. First up; maps have multiple routes, meaning that it is possible to avoid the nasty squares on the board with a bit of planning, and that small twist effectively removes that element of luck that could ruin a Monopoly session.

This also means that owning properties is generally less effective than it is in Monopoly. Thankfully, there’s other ways to make money. The secondary “market” in Fortune Street is the stock market. Players can buy “stock” in any of the coloured districts as they move around the map. The more people that buy stock, the higher the value of the stock. Obviously, that leads to profit.

A second, more effective way to increase the value of your stocks is to “spruce” the properties that you own. Landing on one of your own properties in this game allows you to invest cash to upgrade any other property you own. Doing that increases the amount of rent that needs to be paid when an opponent lands on the square, but more importantly, a reasonable investment in a property sends the stock value of the district skyrocketing. And that is the main way to profit in this game.

There’s a mass of content in the game, with 15 very different maps, each with their own quirks and are based on various famous settings in both the Mario and Dragon Quest universes. These maps are gorgeously presented, with a wonderful soundtrack pulled from the original games (the Mario Kart map’s soundtrack is especially amusing), lovely character animation and personality.

Only 10 are available out of the box and the others need to be unlocked via the single player game. This is where my one and only criticism for this game is going to come from. Just like Mario Kart, just like Mario Party, Fortune Street feels the need to weight things in favour of the AI if you happen to be doing well. Miraculous rolls that land the AI on the ideal space, over and over again, even when surrounded by hostile territory is a persistent problem. Further, trying to trade properties with an unimaginative and rigid AI opponent can have you tearing your hair out, right up until you work out how to exploit it, and then it becomes laughably easy. Though it would always have been unreasonable to expect a game of this complexity to have AI to match, it’s nevertheless a disappointment that relegates Fortune Street as yet another Mario-themed party game that has a single player mode only good for unlocking stuff.

Thankfully there’s a solid WiFi online mode; though finding people with a couple of hours to burn to play a game might be an issue. The 15 maps will last you a long while in local or online multiplayer though, as there’s a theme to suit just about every mood.

This game has all the charm of the other Mario Party games, but Fortune Street is different in that it has real depth to back the charm up. For board game fans, this game will have them throwing out those copies of Mario Party; this is an unfortunately obscure but brilliant little game. And now we just have to hope for a 3DS version – Fortune Street on the go would be incredible.

-Matt S



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