The classic board game comes to home consoles with updated modes and a couple 3D boards to make things interesting. But does a game largely won on luck do enough on your TV to warrant putting away the cardboard?
The idea of sitting down in front your high definition television, surrounded by your high fidelity sound system, so you can turn on your new generation video game console and play a board game is pretty absurd. So it's to their credit that Electronic Arts has made a genuinely excellent rendition of one of the most famous board and dice games around. Monopoly Streets doesn't go out of its way to spice things up with unnecessary modes that get away from the spirit of the game, either. Instead, EA relies on the quality foundation of the game that people have loved for decades and dresses it up in a nice, pretty package so that a new generation can experience the bond generations of family's have formed over flipped Monopoly boards.
If you've never played a game of Monopoly it breaks down like this -- Up to four players travel around a square board that's broken up into colored properties, two or three of the same colored properties make a monopoly of varying worth. When you land on an un-owned property you have the option to buy it or put it up for auction. Littered throughout the board are a number of non-colored areas and card-pickups that are self explanatory. Each time an opposing player lands on something you own they have to pay you rent, which you can increase by building houses or hotels on it (which you can only do in an Official game by owning the entire color group). The player able to stave off bankruptcy the longest, while bankrupting everyone else, wins.
Monopoly Streets gives you a number of board styles and game modes to try out online and off. Official Rules is the mode most people will be used to but there are some really fun spin-offs worth trying out. Jackpot, Speed Die, and Bull Market add things like a third die (Speed Die), the ability to build on land without having the whole color group (Speed Die) or the auctioning off of all the property on the board at the start of the game (Bull Market). Different win conditions may also come into play in the alternate modes, like the first player to double up his or her money, or the first player to have two full color groups, wins. Players can customize the rules themselves and bring that game online against others from around the globe in a player match, or save the settings to reuse locally at a later date.
If you're playing offline you can play by yourself and the computer will make up the other three competitors. You can't seem to use a single controller for multiple players during couch play, so make sure to some extras on hand if you want the whole family to play. One downside is that you can't just play with two or three people, either. To start a game it requires four players and the computer will fill in the rest of the spots. In the long run it's a rather minor issue because the AI isn't very intimidating and can be set to easy, medium or hard before you start. The computer does have a few odd quirks like offering you asinine trades and refusing offers that clearly benefit them. Figuring out what works can take a little effort but ultimately they provide the right challenge needed to keep things interesting and fair.
Mr. Pennybag Designs
The multiple boards and player pieces in the game are unlocked with money that each profile earns from matches. After just a few games you can easily purchase every board there is and every piece available. There aren't too many surprises when it comes to the boards. You'll get a classic board, a cheese board, a plaza board and an ice board, all of which feature a standard monopoly board decorated in its respective theme. It's cute, but some seem to be much better done than others. The only real treat is discovering how they've named each piece of land to correspond with that board's style. The other two boards are 3D, one is a take on the classic board and the other, Landmark City, uses countries as the basis for the color groups.
There are some really misguided design choices throughout the title. For instance, why is there only the 2 fully developed 3D Monopoly boards when there have been literally hundreds of different Monopoly boards over the years? Given that there isn't much in the way of the game itself this is one of the biggest attracting factors and two just isn't enough. The boards themselves at least look pretty good, creating small worlds within the square with plenty going on in the background. The star of the show is when you get to build on your property, you'll see laughably low-rent hotels pop-up on the penny-properties and beautiful high-class towers on the likes of Boardwalk. But houses and hotels remain the same on all three properties in a color group, which is a missed opportunity on EA's part. This is especially disappointing on the Landmark City board where you'll see the same log cabin built on Vancouver that you'll get for Montreal. It really takes away from the effect of seeing these specialized hotels after the first time you see one of them. Still, I'd have settled for this if more 3D boards were put into the game, since those provided the best experience.
Character pieces are another big trait of the Monopoly brand, but they also happen to the biggest annoyance in Streets. First off the characters that represent the pieces are ridiculously painful to watch and listen to. A broke-looking female hick pushes the Wheelbarrow and yells inaudible honky screams the whole time. The Shoe is an irritating little girl that never shuts up, but happens to be slightly easier to listen to than the large woman who comes with the Thimble who's never ending gluttonous moans of joy make you reach for the mute button every match. It's not that the idea of personalities with each of the pieces is bad; it's that the ones they gave them are infantile and grating.
This stuff could easily have been avoided if the gameplay wasn't as clunky as it is. A typical move goes like this: A player rolls the dice, watches the animation, watches their character react to their roll, then watches the piece trot the allotted spaces, waits for Mr. Moneybags to arrive, then decides whether to build, mortgage, trade or end their turn. Playing with other humans can be slow and laborious, but some of that is expected. One hopes common courtesy is in play and each player will choose to skip each animation to cut down on wasted time. But too often you find yourself at the mercy of someone who doesn't. To make things worse you have to wait up to a minute while players craft trades to send your way. Without trying to be cynical, the amount of times I've been sent a trade that wasn't fair to the point of being insulting was so often that I lost count. While settings can be changed so player movement along the board is skipped altogether locally there still should have been options to do the same or to cut out the excess animation from the online game.
On The Board Again
One of Monopoly's charms is that there really isn't an extensive strategy needed, if you understand the basics you can play. Players can develop styles of play and deviate based on the way the die are falling that game. And don't be fooled, games can be won or lost from a streak of bad rolling which is good or bad depending on how you view it. What it means, especially while playing games of Monopoly Streets online, is that there's no intimidation factor going into playing a game. Anyone can win and anyone can lose. It sounds insanely simple and some players may turn their nose up on that sort of thing but in the modern day world of gaming it's rare for players to have that comfort where it's more about having fun then being the most skilled.
The biggest hurdle for players will be ignoring characters and poor gameplay pacing, but ultimately it's easy to overlook those things so you can play the famous property buying game with a controller in your hand. It's a letdown that there aren't more boards to play and that an additional 3D board and more character pieces are already on sale in the marketplace and PSN, when really they should have been included from the start. But even still this is a great game for fans of the board game and anyone looking for a game to play with their family. Whether you've played the game of Monopoly before or you're coming to it new, EA's Monopoly Streets gives you an honest, intuitive representation of the board game with enough diversity to keep things fresh for a long time.
Final Score: 75%
75-79% - "Very Good" This game meets a level of playability and fun that is sometimes enough to justify playing it. If it's your type of game you'll forgive its flaws, but otherwise you might have a harder time with it.