Mario and friends are no strangers to the board game scene: the Mario Party series is a perennial favorite, and rightly so. Those games are colourful, exciting and, most of all, fun. But it may come as something of a surprise to find our favorite denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom sharing a board with characters from the Dragon Quest series. Leave it to Fortune Street (Boom Street in Europe), though, to prove that the unlikely pairing has a lot to offer.
Fortune Street has a rich history dating at least as far back as 1991, when it was a simple Japan-only Famicom game based on a concept by Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii. Twenty years later we have the Wii incarnation, and it's safe to say that this is the first iteration that most gamers around the world are likely to play. That's not a bad thing, as the game has a lot going for it.
Played as a board game that takes heavy (but welcome) inspiration from Monopoly, Fortune Street sees players buying and improving the properties they land on, applying fines to players who stop on spaces they own, and collecting a nice monetary bonus each time they pass the starting square. So far, so Monopoly. Fortune Street, however, adds a lot to this solid foundation, most notably the concept of stocks that players can purchase. Stocks generate revenue from the rent collected by other players in the regions that you've invested in, which means you can actually often turn a heavier profit from other players' properties than from the ones you own yourself!
Stocks are purchased at the bank, which is also where you collect your pay. In order to qualify for payment, you need to collect all four suits (hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs) scattered around the board. Each time you do this and return to the bank you level up, get a nice boost to your personal worth, and open up additional financial bonuses to yourself, making it a good idea to return to the bank as frequently as possible.
The game contains multiple boards, each of which retains the same basic concept but mixes things up in terms of varying routes and victory conditions. Rather than bankrupting every other player, for instance, you may be required to collect a certain amount of money, or raise your personal worth beyond a given threshold. If you do this and return to the bank, victory is yours!
Various spaces around the board will allow you to choose a card, each of which affects play in different, and often unpredictable, ways. Other spaces allow you to either collect commission on other people's fines, or will cause your shops to close up for the night and become rent-free. (Don't land on that space!) For the purposes of this review we will have to gloss over many of the game's options, such as the brilliantly customizable options for negotiation, but suffice it to say that strategy gets deeper the more time you spend with the game and that it's worth taking a few spins around the board with CPU opponents just to learn the nuances of their dealings. Single player mode is also the only way to unlock additional features, so don't skip it.
The gameplay itself is simple: you shake the Wii remote or press 2 to roll the die, and everything else is handled by the control pad. There are select mini-games that use different control schemes, but those are explained before each begins.
The soundtrack, as you might expect, is pulled from the many Mario and Dragon Quest games, and it's very good. The main songs that play in each board can begin to feel tiresome during long play sessions (and, like Monopoly, the play sessions can get very long), but that's a relatively minor complaint.
Graphically the game is a lot of fun, and the ability to play as your Mii is a welcome alternative if you don't particularly like any of the characters available, though with so many to choose from that isn't very likely.
Overall, Fortune Street is a lot of fun. It's not as exciting as Mario Party, but it's infinitely more strategic. There are a few unfortunate gameplay wrinkles, such as having to confirm your move even when you have no other choice, and some unnecessary dialogue you'll need to skip through if you play with the CPU, but really the only hurdle to enjoying this game is its own complexity. If you put forth the effort you'll reap some very large rewards, but gamers who bore easily may never strike the oil just below the surface.
Taken on its own merits, Fortune Street offers some tremendous potential for fun. The experience is hampered somewhat by its complexity, but that's nothing that can’t be overcome with a little bit of practice. Your mileage will depend entirely upon the patience of those you play it with, and not all gamers will stick around long enough to learn the nuances of the game's strategy. Those who do, however, will be glad they did.