Earlier in November we had the chance to head to a Nintendo Holiday Preview Event and play current and upcoming Nintendo games. One of the games we got to play was Fortune Street. This is a game I had absolutely no clue about except that it was announced at E3 this year. It is a board game that, much to my surprise, has a long history to it given that it has been around for approximately 20 years or so in Japan. Well, since the Holiday Preview Event, we have gotten a chance to play the final retail copy, and I have to say that this game is a board game lovers dream, playable on the Nintendo Wii.
As I mentioned Fortune Street has been around for 20 years, but only in Japan. I had to do a bit of research to understand more. In a nutshell, the game has garnered quite a following in Japan, under the name of “Itadaki Street”. It is a computer based board game that was first released in 1991 on the Famicom. The game has since seen sequels on the Super Famicom, PSone, PS2, PSP and the DS, but to my knowledge I don’t think we have ever seen any here in North America as it has been a Japan only title. Well that has officially changed as we N. Americans have finally been given the chance to play the series on the Nintendo Wii on our home turf.
The big thing about Fortune Street on the Wii is that the game includes a combination of characters from the world of Mario and the world of Dragon Quest. So you’ll find characters like Mario, Luigi, Daisy, Bowser, Donkey Kong or Wario to name a few of those from the Mario Universe, and you will find Slime, Platypunk, Alena, Jessica, Young Yangus or Dragonlord to name a few from the Dragon Quest Universe.
So, you have a bunch of characters from different gaming universes, but what about the gameplay you ask? Well, the best way that I can describe it is that it is a game that is very much akin to Monopoly. You choose a character and then choose a Mario or Dragon Quest themed board to play on. You roll the “virtual die” to move around the board. Each board that you play on has properties that, if you land on, you can buy. Upon purchasing said property, once another player lands on that property they have to pay you a fee. You can build more buildings on each property too (e.g. shops) and this improves your property’s value that also results in players who land on it having to pay more. The ultimate goal is to bankrupt your opposing players and have you finish the game with the most net worth.
Much like Monopoly, there are also other types of squares on the board, and in Fortune Street there are squares with suits (think clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts) that you need to land on, and once you collect all these suits and make your way to the bank square (like the “GO” Square in Monopoly) you are given a promotion and a pay bonus. Although it seems simple, Fortune Street is more then just buying up properties and earning promotions via the suits you collect for promotions. The game has two settings for you to play, easy and standard. The difference between the two is how in-depth the game can become.
In Easy mode, you’ll find that as you build your shops such things as property values and net growth increases, while you are also given price bonuses for building shops that are next to each other. It’s a very general feeling when playing this mode and much easier to just play. It is very dumbed down from what the game can become given it takes so much out of the gameplay formula.
When you play in Standard mode however, things become more involved, and more in-depth, as here the business side of the game really starts to shine. The board is divided into districts and you have to start paying close attention and monitoring your properties more. Building your shops within certain districts gives you bonuses such as stock price boosts. Yep, there is a very financially oriented feeling to the game, and more so in the Standard mode given that stocks now play into the gameplay formula. In Standard mode, landing on the Bank square allows you to buy stocks in certain districts, which in turn raises overall stock prices and increases values within that district you bought the stock in. These stocks that you buy also pay out bonuses when a transaction occurs (e.g. someone landing on our property and paying a fee). You will have to manage your stocks and the districts you have properties in to maximize your earnings. And just like real life, the stock exchange can take a hit in Fortune Street and cause you to take huge losses when you are not expecting too.
Do you really wanna be a business tycoon in Fortune Street? Well you can. You can buy your opponents shops/properties for highly inflated prices should you have the cash. Buying your opponents shops can really take a dent out of their income. You can even mess with their property values too by offloading a large number of stocks that you may have in the district that they have made the most investment in themselves (e.g. building shops and buying their own stocks). It is amazing how business like this game is and how much your decisions can affect the gameplay.
I have to say that I was somewhat daunted by the depth of the Standard mode, and even on Easy I had to think a little more often than not. Heck, I am not the best when it comes to money in my real life (I hate budgets dammit) so to try to keep any semblance of a business strategy in game was somewhat daunting. That being said, there is a pretty good tutorial mode in Fortune Street that brings you up to speed when learning the ins and outs of the game. I was able to grasp the nuts and bolts of what I had to do and what to look out for, and within a few hours I found I was starting to become quite a virtual business tycoon. Sure, I still took some unnecessary gambles, and I made some bonehead decisions, but in the end anything that resulted in my virtual financial demise was my fault, and nothing else.
Fortune Street’s greatest strength, which is its depth, is also one of its biggest weaknesses, and this lies in both the single player and multiplayer experience. In regards to the single player, playing a game against the computer AI can take a LONG time given you are trying to out do one another as you snap up properties, build shops, buy/sell stocks, and even purchase your opponents properties/shops. Games can go on for hours. Thankfully you can save midgame or you can use the Out to Lunch mode where the computer takes over your character. Regardless, be prepared for some long game sessions. You’ll use your Mii in the single player mode, and by playing well you will earn stamps that can be used to buy items (e.g. clothes or animations) for your Mii in-game. To buy all the items you’ll have to play a lot of single player games, so for those completionists out there, be prepared for such.
In regards to the multiplayer, you can have up to three other players play with you; however, you must be warned that as a multiplayer game, it is not as exciting as any other “party” type board game you may have played in the past. This is not a party game by any means as Fortune Street takes commitment and patience to play, given the complexities of the financial theme. You will truly have to be a board game fan to want to play this game with others in the comfort of your own family/living room. There is no physical interaction a-la Mario Party. It is all about thinking things out as you try to financially dominate the board in your effort to become the player with the highest net worth. Sure, there are a few mini-games, but they are far not that big in terms of the overall experience. So if you plan to play with others, you’ll want to get lots of snacks, a few beverages of your choice, and get comfortable for a long gaming session. On a side note, should you not have anyone at home to play with, you can take Fortune Street online and play with a friend or two over the World Wide Web.
Visually speaking, Fortune Street does a good job at bringing this board game experience to life. The characters are fairly well animated as they hop around the board, and the boards themselves are well designed with pleasant backgrounds to match the theme of what board you are playing. In essence they do look good. That being said, given there is not a whole lot of life to the boards overall, as they are just tiles with pretty backgrounds that are animated now and then, more could have been done. Sure, the colours jump off the screen, and the characters are solid, but there is not a whole lot going on here. Given how long a single game can take, the visuals can become somewhat stagnant after awhile as there is just not a lot happening here and more visual stimuli in the long run could have made the long games seem better.
If there was one area that I was a somewhat disappointed in it was the sound. If you’re expecting a lot of voice work from the plethora of characters found in this game, you’re definitely going to be disappointed as they communicate via text, so you’ll be doing a whole lot of reading. I know that in some ways, if there had been voices in the game, we’d be hearing a lot of the same sayings after awhile given how long a single game can take, but that being said I am a bit disappointed that there really isn’t any voice acting of any kind, and with the diversity in the actual characters, it would have been nice. The music in Fortune Street is pretty good, but if there is one thing that really was noticeable it was that the music didn’t really match that of the playing a board game. More often than not it was like the music suited the theme of the board itself, but not the game as a whole. It was as if the epic music track that you would listen to while playing was more suited to an actual action, platform or RPG game, but in a board game of this nature it did just not seem to match. Don’t get me wrong, it was good music, but to listen to it while planning my financial strategies just didn’t make any sense. Finally, the rest of the sound effects, from the dice rolling, characters moving, and the various mini-games, all managed to sound good enough.
At the end of the day Fortune Street is an interesting game to say the least. It offers up two gaming universes coming together to provide one original videogame board game experience. The depth of this title is much more than I had expected it be, but that being said, the depth Fortune Street offers is also one of its main weaknesses, as the game sessions take a long time to play and there is not a lot of interactivity for the multiplayer component. At the end of the day, should you be a true board game fan, and you have friends who are the same, I can’t see any problem recommending this game to you; however, those looking for the next great party game may want to stay away, as this is far from a true party game experience. Is Fortune Street a bad game? I would say definitely not, but it does seem to be aimed at a particular audience that’s for sure.