English | Platform: Wii | Release: December 5, 2011 | Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Square Enix | 4.33 GBGenre: Board
Fortune Street, developed by Square Enix, brings together the characters of both the Mario and Dragon Quest universes into one gaming experience. Now fans of the two series can finally see Yoshi stand alongside a Slime, or Mario face off against a Platypunk… just not in the way you're probably expecting. Rather than an epic adventure (or sports collection), Fortune Street is a video board game in the same vein as Monopoly. Known in Japan as Itadaki Street, Fortune Street marks the first time this franchise (which has been around for more than two decades) will be released in the States.
Created by Yuji Horii, the man behind Dragon Quest, the game has players rolling dice and moving around oddly-shaped boards. Much like Monopoly, you use your starting wealth of cash to purchase unoccupied property you land on, which you can expand the value of by investing in (you can do this when you land on one of your own lots or on the bank square). Buy more than one piece of property in the same district and the value of your assets rises. If someone lands on one of your lots they have to pay you rent that turn. Your property becomes your primary source of income and power as the game progresses, so it's extremely important to invest wisely. The ultimate goal is to make as much bank as possible and force your opponents into bankruptcy.
But it doesn't stop there. There are a few key differences that set Fortune Street apart from Rich Uncle Pennybags' board game and help make it an even deeper and more complex experience. Along the way you also have to try to land on all four suit squares (Clubs, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds), then make your way back to the bank square to claim your promotion (complete with a pay packet). Each board is also separated into different districts, and the more shops you own within a district the more rent you'll be able to charge. The inclusion of a stock market also forces players to think about how they invest in these districts and in their own property. Depending on how the market fluctuates you can either win or lose big. It's an interesting addition to the formula, but it does add a sometimes annoyingly random element to the equation when all of your planning goes awry thanks to a sudden drop in the market.
Although the game has a tutorial mode, and makes sense once you're actually playing it, the steep learning curve is likely to put off a lot of players unfamiliar with Itadaki Street. Between special square effects, investing, the stock market, districts and more, the game's many layers can make for a somewhat convoluted formula at times. The best board games don't operate like that, and it sort of steps on its effectiveness as a fun party game - and means it will likely only appeal to board game enthusiasts and those who just want to see Mario and Dragon Quest combined, no matter the format. Yet Fortune Street is actually quite fun if you're in the mood to sit down for a few hours (and yes, these games can go on for a very, very, very long time), and for what it is it's a quite full experience. Still, the fact remains that it doesn't come off as the kind of game that will appeal to most gamers, casual or otherwise.
But if you are one of those people who loves a long, involved board game, Fortune Street should keep your attention. You can either play against the computer or online, choosing Free Play to pick any board and any CPU characters you like or Tour Mode to play through boards with pre-set tasks and character selections. Familiar music and sound effects from each franchise also set a great tone, and the board selections are cool too, with Mario and Dragon Quest-themed locations acting as a great backdrop for these characters. It is a bummer that these themed boards don't have a tangible effect on gameplay, however. Other than placing the various squares in different locations, whether you're playing on Starship Mario or the Ghost Ship really doesn't change the way the game itself plays, just what you're looking at as you wait for your turn.
Character selection has absolutely no effect on the gameplay either. It amounts to the same thing as choosing between the shoe or the dog in Monopoly, having no consequence on how you move around the board. The only difference is that the CPUs you pick in single player make different comments depending on who they are. Yoshi will talk about cookies, Baby Bowser will threaten to destroy you and take over the board and Slime will make hilariously cheesy comments about squishing and squelching and such. You can also play as your Mii, not too surprisingly, using currency you collect from completing the boards in Tour Mode to buy various outfits and costumes for them to wear in the game. Given how little interaction this game requires from the player, the boards and characters should have had more of an impact, if only to make things a little more interesting and varied from game to game.
If this all sounds like too much to swallow, the game does, thankfully, offer an easy mode to ease players into the experience, taking out the stock market and districts mechanic. All you do is buy as much property as you can and try to up your net worth until you reach a certain amount. Then it's a race back to the bank to claim victory. This does significantly shorten the game, perhaps making it more accessible to younger players, or just players who don't have five hours to spend on one playthrough. It does take out a lot of the depth, but it's still fun to play this way if you're in a rush, and certainly makes for a more digestible experience.
Fortune Street is not a game for everybody, and most people will likely find it too slow to really get into. Still, there’s a lot more to this video board game than meets the eye, and if you actually give it the time of day you’ll have more fun than you think. Seeing the Mario and Dragon Quest characters brought to life on the same board is also a treat, especially for fans of both series.
However, Fortune Street’s biggest drawback comes from the fact that it doesn’t distinguish itself enough from a standard board game. It doesn’t offer enough visual input or require enough actual interaction to set it apart from a tabletop game (something games like Mario Party excel at). At the same time it lacks the tactile experience of actually moving around real pieces on a real board, leaving it in an awkward middle ground that, in truth, offers nothing to justify playing it this way versus on a table.
The game still has things going for it. It’s a clever take on the Monopoly formula, and playing online offers a great option for people who can’t find a buddy to play with at home. If you love lengthy board games, or are looking to take a chance on a very different gaming experience, Fortune Street might be worth your investment. Otherwise, just stick to the Nintendo version of Monopoly and look to the Wii’s other offerings for your video game needs.
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