Monopoly Streets for the Nintendo Wii is the latest Hasbro game to arrive on home consoles; it attempts to streamline the Monopoly experience for the home user while updating the classic board style to be more in line with today's video game market. Instead of getting a flat, classic board game, there are new 3-D character models to represent classic gaming pieces like the race car, top hat, wheelbarrow, etc. Along with that, the board has been revamped to display an upscale, 3-D world, breathing new life into classic properties like Boardwalk, Park Place and even crummy old Baltic Avenue.
Most people have played Monopoly before, but for those who may be new to the experience, allow me to break down a bit of what makes the long-running board game so popular. A number of players, generally four or more, take turns rolling dice to see how far they'll advance along a square game board. Each movement takes you to a new location that you can buy or auction to the bank, provided it isn't already owned by an opposing player. If it is owned, then you pay rent to that player. Along the way, there are a few additional spaces that'll throw a wrench into even the best-laid plans, such as the Go to Jail location that puts your game piece in jail so that you forfeit your turn; the famous Go location, which allows you to collect $200 by passing it; and Chance and Community Chest, the random card locations. The core gameplay is surprisingly addictive, and while a standard Monopoly game can take quite some time, it's hard to deny that the game is a lot of fun.
By default, a video game based on Monopoly should be pretty good. It is difficult to screw up the core concept, and Monopoly Streets reflects that. When you get down to it, it's a new game of Monopoly that adheres to the classic rule structure, and your enjoyment of the game hinges on whether or not you like Monopoly. It's the extra stuff — the benefit of being a video game — that determines whether or not Monopoly Streets has any merit. When it comes to that, I'm hard-pressed to say that it's something you should check out. I enjoy the Monopoly aspect of Monopoly Streets, but the video game additions really drag down the experience.
The newly animated game pieces detract from the overall Monopoly experience. Most players are familiar with the classics, such as the thimble and top hat. These iconic little pewter pieces are still present in Monopoly Streets, but they're aided in their animated movement by a new character: a hillbilly caricature for the wheelbarrow, a captain for the battleship piece, etc. I don't have an issue with the inclusion of the characters, but the sounds and noises they make are annoying, horrendous and far too frequent. Take, for instance, the hillbilly caricature's frequent cries. She has three different noises she can make, one of which is akin to, "OOOOIIIIEEEEEE!!!!" It's one of the most annoying sounds I've ever heard, and to have it repeated over and over again is a sin against humanity. Thankfully, there is an option to eliminate these annoying sound effects altogether, but it shouldn't have been in the game in first place.
Another aggravating aspect of Monopoly Streets is how poorly it relays important information to you. When you're playing a game of Monopoly, it's easy to see where you are on the board in relation to other players, their property, and whether or not they're coming close to your property. This can be a great way of deciding when to commit to house upgrades, which raise the rent on your property, and it can certainly help you win the game. The 3-D design of Monopoly Streets restricts your view; during your turn, it typically shows about three or four spaces adjacent to your location, and when it's not your turn, you'll see around the area around opposing players' gaming pieces. During your turn, you have two options to view more of the board, but neither is ideal. One allows you to pan over each space one at a time; this process is slow and will certainly aggravate other players. The other option is to bring up an overhead map; this option is the better of the two, but the map lacks detail, so it doesn't even list the names of the locations. Unless you've completely memorized the layout of the Monopoly game board, this isn't a particularly useful function.
You also lack information regarding opponent-owned properties. Each player occupies a certain amount of screen space; one player is displayed in each corner of the screen, which shows their game piece, the amount of money they currently have, and their owned properties. The displayed property pieces only show you the color but not the name, so it's tough to figure out which property your opponent has purchased. If you're trying to figure out whether you need to buy St. James Place or Tennessee Avenue to keep your opponent from getting a Monopoly, good luck doing so — unless you're relying on memory.
My final complaint is that most of the content is locked at the outset, and it'll take some time before you can access it. If you win a game, you earn some in-game currency that can be spent to unlock additional pieces, boards and even Mii character support. I'm not opposed to having unlocks, but the cash earned from winning games is pretty marginal compared to the cost of each item. To unlock one item, you have to win one or two complete games. Some of the locked pieces aren't particularly great, and in my opinion, some of them should be present in a standard Monopoly game. Locking all but two of the board varieties is pretty limiting, so if you want to jump into a game with friends, you're stuck playing the same two boards until you earn the in-game cash to check out some of the others.
On the plus side, Monopoly Streets has quite a few available rule varieties, some of which were new to me. Aside from the classic Monopoly rules, you also have stuff like Speed Die, which tosses a third die into the mix along with some extra cash. Then there's Short Game, where each player starts by owning three random properties, and you only need three houses (instead of the standard four) before you can purchase a motel. There's also a mode called Bull Market, which auctions off all the properties and only lasts for 20 turns, with the richest player being declared the winner. The Jackpot mode allows you to upgrade properties without having a monopoly, and finally, Fast Deal mode puts properties up for auction automatically when landed on, and the first player who collects two color groups wins. There's a lot of variety in the modes, and these will definitely keep you busy.
I still can't shake the feeling that I'd rather break out my actual Monopoly board instead of popping the Monopoly Streets disc into my Wii. It's not an awful game since it's based on something that I definitely enjoy, but the added features don't add much to the gameplay, and I feel that most of the additions got in the way of the fun. It's not a replacement for the real thing, and I wouldn't suggest it to old-school fans of the game. You should pass up this title, regardless of how much you may love the Monopoly game.
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