If you've ever played Monopoly you'll either love the game or loathe it, depending on whether you're any good at it. I generally win, so of course I love playing! I had high expectations of the Wii version of this 70-year old game, and fortunately I wasn't entirely disappointed.
Monopoly is one of the oldest and most popular trademarked board games. If you've never heard of Monopoly, or you don't at least have an idea of what the game involves, you've probably been in a cave all your life. In a nutshell, players compete to build the biggest property portfolio, paying rent when landing on each other players' properties. By a combination of strategy and chance, some players will thrive and others will fail; when all others have gone bankrupt, the last player standing is the winner. Or, when everyone's got bored (generally after 4 hours or so, although I've played games that have lasted 12), the player with the highest value portfolio and cash pot wins.
The Wii version of the game is brought to a waiting world of happy Christmas shoppers by EA Games, in association with Hasbro, the current custodians of the ever-expanding Monopoly franchise. There are also releases for the PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, PC and any number of mobile devices.
There are two ways to play. 'Monopoly Edition' is a faithful reproduction of the standard game; a nice touch is that you can change the 'House rules' on a per-game basis, which can completely change the game dynamics. 'Richest Edition' offers three options for quick play by limiting the number of turns players make, and incorporates some minigames based on elements of the board such as 'Get out of Jail' and 'Bank Pays You Dividend'. Once unlocked through gameplay, each of these Wiimote-waggling games are also available to play on their own, although they will appeal to the lower end of the 3+ age range of the game.
In either mode, you initially have a choice between the classic London board, with its familiar thoroughfares like Old Kent Road and Vine Street, and an international board. The developers have tried to keep up interest levels by rewarding gameplay with unlocking new boards. This is a little annoying, as I don't think I'll be playing the game enough to unlock many of these. In practice, I'd probably ignore the novelty boards and play most games on the London board, although the 'Cheese board' could be fun!
A lot of effort has probably been spent on the look and feel of the game, but I found it a little messy. An attempt at creating an Art Deco playing environment for the standard London board lapses into a riot of primary colours which doesn't work too well. There's a lot of detail on screen, and the process of selecting properties to inspect details, trade, mortgage or swap is a little confusing. I found it difficult to make out all the details on my 32" HD TV and I doubt this would be at all easy to play on anything smaller. Some of the views with a lot of detail would be better suited to the higher resolutions of other hardware formats the game is available on.
I also found it a little difficult to see at a glance which properties belonged to whom, and you certainly can't tell between turns where each player is. Otherwise, the graphics are fairly good, and animations are paced just right, so that not being able to skip them isn't really a problem. Fortunately the music managed not to get on my nerves, although animated Mr. Monopoly's commentary did start to grate after a while.
There are some constraints of the electronic incarnation; where you could have 8 players with the 'real' version, or make do (just about) with 2 or 3, on the Wii you play with 4 players. Always. If you can't force 3 people to play with you, the computer makes up the numbers. In the 'real' game, you're always playing against fallible human beings, and if you're lucky Aunt Maud's attention will lapse long enough for her not to notice that you owe her £35 for landing on Park Lane. There's no chance of that in the Wii version, and the computer always gets to be the banker.
Apart from the minigames, the only time the Wiimote comes into its own is when selecting properties and menu items by pointing at the screen, and when 'shaking' the dice before rolling, which gets very old very quickly. Fortunately you can skip the shaking and go straight for the A button.
In summary, this game has its faults, but it's nowhere near as bad as I feared it might be. Overall EA have done a good job recreating the mechanics of the game of Monopoly, and it's certainly not a bad game, but I found it just missed the mark in capturing the spirit of the board game. I don't see any particular reason to choose the Wii version over other formats.
However much you like Monopoly, you probably won't be playing this very often - just like the board game. So before parting with your cash, you should ask yourself which would you rather have? A cardboard box which opens to reveal a brightly-coloured playing board, a little over £15,000 in actual fake money, some reassuringly familiar metal tokens and a whole bag full of plastic houses and hotels, to be played twice a year and then gather dust on top of the wardrobe, or a keep case containing an instruction booklet and a CD, to be played twice a year and then gather dust on your shelf? That's an easy choice for me - bagsy the top hat and I'll be banker!