In 1991, ASCII introduced Japanese Famicom players to Itadaki Street, a video board game that can be best described as a more complicated version of Monopoly. The game did well enough that a sequel was released three years later in 1994 on the Super Famicom, with publishing duties taken over by Enix. A semi-sequel was then released in 1998 on the PlayStation while the true third entry came in on the PlayStation 2 in 2002. Since then, the series has been released with greater frequency over a variety of platforms and had its cast change from original creations to more recognizable faces from the Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Mario franchises. Finally, after years of it being restricted to Japan only, Nintendo and Square Enix are bringing it here under the name Fortune Street. Should you have the patience to sit through some rather lengthy sessions, you'll be rewarded with a deep game.
As mentioned earlier, Fortune Street plays out like Monopoly with some major modifications. Up to four players can participate, picking from existing characters or using their Miis. This is a cosmetic choice, so no benefits or detriments are seen when picking one character over another. The overall objective is to reach the bank with a certain amount of gold and be declared the winner. This gold value is determined by the amount of cash you have on hand as well as the value of the assets you own. When playing on Easy mode, the only assets you worry about are properties. Whenever you land on an unowned property, you can purchase it from the bank, and anyone who lands on that property will have to pay you the specified amount for shopping there. Buying up adjoining properties will automatically upgrade them by increasing their net worth and the fees you charge. Landing on your own property gives you the opportunity to invest your money into upgrading a property, though the amount you can invest is limited by the property's max capital listing.
There are other things to do here aside from landing on properties and paying and collecting fees. You can buy properties from other players by either landing on them or before you roll your dice. You can also sell your properties this way, put them up for auction, or do an exchange with other players. Landing on special squares will temporarily give you benefits, such as second dice rolls and the ability to earn a percentage of other people's profits for a round; they could also give you detriments, such as disabling your ability to earn money from properties for one round. You can also collect the four different suit symbols on the board. Doing this and going to the back will net you a level promotion, which is how you earn more money outside of collecting fees. Finally, landing in the arcade square lets you participate in games of chance, where you can either earn money, get benefits or nothing at all.
Going from Easy to Standard mode throws in a plethora of changes that make the game wildly different. Properties are now split into different colored districts, and while you don't need to own two adjacent properties to give them automatic upgrades, you need to own them in the same district for the upgrade. Vacant lots are added to the mix, where the player can put down different building types for advantages while others pay the fee and get no benefit. The new building types include tax offices, where you get at least 5% of your own net worth while others must pay at least 10%, and balloon ports, which let you travel to any square you want.
The biggest addition in Standard rules comes from stocks. Landing at a stockbroker office or stopping by a bank lets you buy stocks in any district on the board, whether or not you own the shops. The value of the stock goes toward your net worth, but the real advantage comes from investments. Anytime someone buys property in that district, invests in the properties there, or pays fees, stock prices go up and everyone who owns the stock gets a profit depending on the number of shares they own. Prices also go up when others buy stocks in the same district. Consequently, selling off district stocks or causing the devaluation of property causes stock prices to go down, making shareholders lose money instead.
Played on Easy, Fortune Street feels like a standard board game with some popular characters thrown in. It's still a good board game, but it isn't anything you haven't seen before. Playing on Standard makes the game much more interesting. The presence of stocks alone introduces a risk/reward system; you hope that people invest more in one district so that you can reap some benefits. At the same time, you also hope that no one sells off stocks in the areas you own, since that reduces your net worth. The cutthroat nature of stocks ensures that many players invest quite a bit of money to stop anyone else from taking over the lead. Throwing in special buildings that only you can use makes things even more hostile, culminating into a board game that is anything but friendly but still highly enjoyable.
Surprisingly, and thankfully, the game features online play. With the exception of the auction function, everything else is intact. The good news is that the experience is rather lag-free, which is expected since the player isn't doing much more than using the d-pad to move a character and either hitting a button or shaking the Wii Remote to roll the die. The bad news is that finding an open game is rather difficult, as it took several tries on launch day before a game could be found using either rule set.
Fortune Street has quite a few quirks. For one thing, content can only be unlocked when playing solo against CPU opponents. You can play as much as you want against any amount of human players, but none of that will count toward the unlocking process unless you go solo. Playing solo also turns out to be a very frustrating experience since you need heaps of luck to barely win a match against a full load of CPU-controlled opponents. Even if you pick the lowest grade ones, it always seems like they'll get some good rolls and reach the upgrades and good properties well before you, even if they have the last turn in a round.
The big dividing point for the game, however, is its length. Using the default settings on a medium-sized board, one game can last between three to five hours. The options are plentiful enough that you can turn off character dialogue, speed up movement and lower the target money goal, all of which can reduce the average length of a game to about an hour. Doing so robs the game of the strategy element it favors so much, becoming a catch-22 scenario where you have to take on long games if you want the cutthroat elements to come along for the ride. This also becomes a burden during online matches, since you'll always have to watch other players make their moves. Unless the host puts in those time-saving options, you could be in for some very involved online matches.
The graphics in Fortune Street try to mirror the style of most Nintendo-developed titles but fall short in some areas. The overall look is rather muddy and a bit pixelated, making the game seem like it's being shown in sub-480i resolution despite it being in 480p. Movements are decent, but you'll see the same motions repeated for each character when they have something to say, no matter the tone. The overall scheme is colorful, and the backgrounds have some moving elements instead of just being static, but the bad filtering degrades the overall look of the game.
The sound is standard fare for the console. The music is composed primarily of remixes to some classic Mario and Dragon Quest themes, and while they sound great, you'll hear so much of the same theme during one game session that you'll grow tired of it. The effects are fine but minimal, so don't expect much beyond music. Voices are completely missing. Unlike other Nintendo games, where characters try to elicit a phrase or sound bite that mimics speech, everyone stays silent.
Whether or not Fortune Street would be a good game for you depends on your answers to a few important questions. Do you enjoy playing lengthy board games? Do you have at least one other friend who enjoys playing those board games with you? Do you not mind a game that only opens up as you spend more time with it ? Are you looking for some depth to your board games? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you'll like Fortune Street as a multiplayer experience. Even fans of the genre will find the somewhat unfair single-player experience to be off-putting, despite the new boards and characters. For everyone else, it'll be a solid rental as long as you go through the options and tailor each game to last about an hour.
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