Fans have been clamoring for the popular Japanese financial board game series Itadaki Street to make it to North America since the original was released back in 1991. Fortune Street for the Wii scratches that itch bloody.
Featuring charming characters from the Mario and Dragon Quest series, Fortune Street seems like the perfect family party game, at least until you start to look past the colourful characters to the complexity of this Monopoly-flavored monster. I have to keep track of stocks? Can't I just pass Go and collect $US200? I mean hell, just look at the screens below. If you have any idea what is going on there, you might be the one per cent. Man, now I'm sad no one gave the game a 99, just to validate that reference.
What did game reviewers give this dense slice of financial gaming pie? Let's take a look.
As soon as you start up Fortune Street, you need to go into the options and turn both "game speed" and "text speed" up to their fastest settings. Then, when you get ready to choose your board and start the game, you must reduce the amount of money required to win by at least half. Even with these utterly necessary precautions, you should probably block out a big chunk of your day to dedicate to Square Enix's board game.
At its default settings, Fortune Street will wear out both its welcome and its players before the conclusion of a single game. That is, of course, if you can find someone to play with, which seems unlikely, given the presumably small pool of nearby friends who love Mario and Dragon Quest, love the real estate market, and have nothing going on for the whole day.
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.
Standard mode is a bit more involved. The basics are the same as easy mode, but it adds a stock market, so players can buy and sell stocks in various color-coded sections of the board called districts. Whenever you pass the bank, you can buy new stocks in any district, even if you don't own anything there. So even if you get screwed out of buying any property in a particular district, you can invest in stocks that give you a payout every time someone invests in that district or has to pay money after landing on a square in that district. The risky part is that you can also lose money on stocks — if one player sells off a bunch of stock at once, the stock price plummets and all other stock owners take a hit. The mix of risk and educated guessing goes a long way to make the game more exciting.
All of this — collecting suits, buying and investing in property, and buying/selling stocks — adds up to a lot to juggle and manage, and it's what makes Fortune Street so satisfying to play. It really feels like a competition rather than a game of chance (although there were times when we cursed an unlucky roll of the die, for sure), so the rivalry between players feels very real, unlike most waggle-heavy or chance-based party games. Each game we played was always a tensely close race among players, especially since each player's investments constantly affect everyone else.
Fortune Street offers both single-player Tours and free play, as well as four-player local and online multiplayer. Single-player can get especially tiring, given the lack of social interaction. This is particularly bothersome in the Tours, where even the smaller boards last for more than two hours on average. Losing on one the Tour boards often means you will have to replay the entire board. There are three Tours: one with a Super Mario theme, one with a Dragon Quest theme, and an unlockable variation that is only available after the first two are completed. Each Tour has 6 themed boards to play that include different characters from their respective series as the other players. Winning Tours gives you stamps, which you can spend on the many accessories for your Mii. The biggest downside of Tour mode is that you cannot play it with other people. It would have also been nice if they included some way to fast forward through NPCs' actions, but they only include the option to accelerate players' movements and text speed.
Multiplayer is much better, thanks to the ability to interact with friends. However, all your progress in multiplayer is lost once you finish the game. Online is a bit better in this respect, though, as the game keeps a record of your online achievements, but it lacks the social interaction local multiplayer provides.
Be warned; Fortune Street is not a game for casual play. It's not a party game in the sense that you can jump in and jump out for a quick minutes of fun. It's a game about making investments, and that begins with an investment of time. Again, it's very much an old-fashioned board game experience, the kind of thing you played with your grandparents long into the night before setting the board aside for the evening and resuming the next day. Heck, even that part of the experience carries over here: Fortune Street includes a "quick save" ability for those especially gruelling sessions. Up to three games-in-progress can be saved, so you can switch back and forth between opponents both local and online.
Whatever its minor quirks, I can't overstate my satisfaction with Fortune Street. Though it's technically developed by Square Enix, Nintendo's choice to finally publish this series in North America shows some awareness on its part. The publisher seems to have heard the persistent whining of board game fans bored to death with brain-dead Mario Party releases. With the addition of both local and online multiplayer, Fortune Street is a much smarter, infinitely more playable title. If you're a fan of board games, it deserves your support.
There just isn't enough time anymore.