In the days of yore, before Pong and the Fairchild Channel F, people looking for competitive experiences in the comfort of their homes amused themselves primarily with tabletop board games. Nowadays, we live in an age of electronic games, but this hasn't decreased the appeal of traditional board games. In fact, the advent of video games has given rise to some wholly original board-game-style experiences in digital form. Square-Enix's Fortune Street series is among these original "video board games." Despite being around for 20 years in its native Japan, Fortune Street on the Wii marks the franchise's Western debut, complete with characters from the Mario and Dragon Quest series--and a glacial pace that muzzles your enjoyment.
The Mario themes might conjure up images of Nintendo's long-running Mario Party series, but make no mistake: Fortune Street is a very different sort of board game experience. It's actually a lot easier to compare Fortune Street to Monopoly. You are placed on one of several Mario- or Dragon Quest-themed board designs, and you take turns rolling a virtual die to move around. Scattered across the boards are empty lots you can purchase when you land on them for the first time. When you purchase a space, a shop is built, and players landing on that space from that point onward must pay money to the owner. As you build more shops, you have the option to improve your property, raising prices and bolstering your net worth. Traveling around the board also nets you "suits" (hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs), which earn you extra money and benefits when a full set is brought back to the Bank space. To win the game, you must be the first to make it back to the Bank space with a certain net worth.
It's a bit more complicated than that, though. The game has two play settings--easy and standard--and the rules vary depending on which mode you pick. Easy mode grants growth, property value, and price bonuses for building shops next to each other on the board. Standard mode divides areas of the playfield into "districts." Building sets of shops within districts grants bonuses similar to building things side-by-side in easy mode, but with another distinct advantage: stock price boosts. Landing on the Bank or other set spaces in standard mode lets you buy stocks in certain districts, and as stock prices rise, so do property values. Stock prices and property values have a direct correlation: as one rises, so does the other, and vice versa. Stocks also pay out small dividends whenever a transaction occurs within a certain district. Playing wise with stocks is a good way to increase your net worth.
It wouldn't be a board game without a bit of chance thrown in, and Fortune Street provides simple, single-player minigames and random bonuses/penalties when you land on certain spaces of the board, keeping you constantly on your toes. There are also ways to mess with your opponents: if you have a lot of cash on hand, you can forcibly buy shops off of them for several times the asking price, or you can decrease the value of their properties by offloading a lot of stocks in a district they've invested heavily in.
Things might sound complicated, but the game provides a solid single-player tutorial for both play modes to help ease you into the rules. In fact, the single-player mode is surprisingly robust, featuring a bevy of boards to play on and Mario and Dragon Quest characters as rivals of varying skill levels. (If you're expecting to play as these characters, however, you'll be disappointed, because the only character you can use is your Mii.) By performing well in the single-player games, you earn stamps that can be used to purchase and customize clothes and animations for your Mii avatar. There are a lot of purchasable items, so if you want to get everything, you'll be playing for a while. Fortunately, single-player game sessions can be saved midgame, and if you don't feel like grinding, you can even set your player character to Out to Lunch mode and have the computer take over in your place.
Out to Lunch mode is likely to become tempting at times, because Fortune Street has a tendency to be a slow-paced game, even with the movement and text speed cranked up to max. Easy mode in particular begins to drag once all the property has been bought up; you find yourself circling the board waiting for someone, anyone, to get enough net worth to finally win. Standard mode can be infuriatingly slow in a different way as you wait for other parties to manage their stock portfolios and other assets. It's not unlikely for a single game session to drag on for a few hours.
It's this slowness and complexity that seriously hamper the appeal of Fortune Street as a multiplayer experience. The game offers far more careful strategy than a typical "party game," but at the expense of pick-up-and-play appeal. There's little in the way of direct player-to-player interaction except when money and property change hands--even the few minigames are strictly single-player. It's not a "grab off the shelf and play for a half hour" sort of multiplayer game: you need a group of people willing to commit a good chunk of time and effort to playing a somewhat complex finance management game. It's not a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and if you're hoping to play with younger companions, you're likely to have some very bored kids on your hands. At least if you can't find flesh-and-blood buddies with whom to run your own local campaigns, you can hop online to try to find some folks for Wi-Fi play.
Fortune Street is a serviceable board-game-style experience, but it comes with plenty of caveats: a slow pace, some initial complexity that's hard to ease new players into, lengthy single-session play times, and a lack of interaction with your opponents. It's certainly fun to snatch property up and reap rewards from unlucky foes, but it requires a great deal of patience and time commitment. If you and some friends are willing to make the investment, you might find rewards on Fortune Street; otherwise, you're better off sticking to something more immediately fulfilling.