Fortune Street (Wii)  

Nintendo may not think Americans are mentally prepared for a wide release of Xenoblade, but Japan’s long-running Itadaki Street series has finally made it over to Western store shelves. Fortune Street combines Monopoly with scenery, music, and characters culled from Dragon Quest and Super Mario Bros. A virtual die is rolled to determine how far each player travels . . . and in true videogame fashion, the six-sided die goes up to eight. Property — such as the Fish Market and the Fruit Stall — is bought, and anyone who lands on that square is forced to make a tasty purchase. Shops can be auctioned, stocks can be sold, and hostile takeovers occur with such frequency that Moody’s could never keep up.

In other words, the game works pretty much how it’s worked since 1991 on ye olde Famicom. If someone were to play the original version back-to-back against the Wii edition, the most significant enhancement he’d notice (aside from audiovisual improvement) is the larger map size.

Itadaki Street (Famicom) Fortune Street (Wii)

The general idea is that players need to wander around the map to collect four suits (spade, club, etc) and return to the Bank for a promotion. It’s an elaborate version of passing “GO” in Monopoly. Alas, Square-Enix occasionally used their large boards towards villainous ends. Consider the volcanic zone: it’s a set of four connected islands… until the volcano erupts! When that happens, the board splits apart and the only way to travel from one island to another is via floating platforms. Conceptually, that sounds AWESOME, but in practice it’s annoying. Skill be damned — so much of Fortune Street comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Those kinds of nonsense layouts may be common in video boardgames, but I’m still going to shake my fist in fury when spurting magma prevents me from getting back to the Bank.

The hardest I ever shook my fist was at the Alefgard map; if the Wiimote didn’t have a strap, I’d have probably flung the thing across the room. During a weekly Fortune Street session, a friend of mine picked this generally sensible map . . . except that it includes an Island of Seclusion from which escape is difficult. So I got stuck on this virtual island and walked in circles for six or seven turns, hoping to land on the magic square that would teleport me back to the mainland, while my chum and the AI opponents got to do things like buy property, trade stocks, earn promotions, and actually progress in the game. Laughter echoed across Skype every time I rolled that miserable six-sided die, especially if I needed a “one” and rolled an “eight” instead.

By the time I escaped, I was lagging too far behind Birdo, Jessica, and Laughing Bastard — all hope was lost. An hour later, my friend’s Comcast died and caused the game to end without a winner, which miraculously preserved my undefeated multiplayer streak. That must have been my karmic reward for not rage-quitting; I hate people who do that!

Speaking of rage-quitting, I once made a Japanese schoolgirl abandon the game in fear of my devilish luck talents. One of the mini-games is called “Round the Blocks”, and it’s basically a three-by-three slot machine. Line up three in a row to earn items . . . or in my case, score THREE three-in-a-rows to earn three “suit yourself” cards. Because of this turn of events, I was looking at a promotion (and the cash that comes with) on the third turn. That’s pretty outrageous, especially on the nutty “Robbin’ Ruins” board.

I never made it to the bank for that promotion. After obtaining my Cards of Power, Fortune Street informed me that “THE GAME ENDED BECAUSE ANOTHER PLAYER LOST THEIR CONNECTION”. Which was okay, because I wasn’t particularly keen on throwing away five consecutive hours of my life just to whoop little Sana’s butt. Multiplayer games can’t be saved, which is pretty silly considering Fortune Street is a turn-based boardgame.

Since I’m starting a multiplayer wishlist, I also wish the game supported voicechat so that I could flirt with Japanese schoolgirls (but not Sana — she’s clearly way too fickle). I always disconnect my Xbox headset when playing something like Hydro Thunder Hurricane, but a slower, turn-based game like Fortune Street gains a lot through live conversation . . . even if the other players are cruelly laughing at my misfortune.

Fortune Street lets players exercise a bit of skill and strategy by purchasing and selling stocks, but most of the game really does come down to luck (for humans — the computer cheats). There are a hundred different cards that impart positive or negative effects, but they’re totally randomized. Here’s one:

Card 84: The winning player must pay you 10% of their ready cash
Normally this is a poor card, because the winning player is usually loaded with stocks and shops, with a bare minimum of actual cash. But if you’ll lucky enough to get this card at the beginning of the game — when everyone has the same amount of money, ALL in ready cash — then you’ll get 10% from EVERYONE, which is a huge boon at that point.

From rolling the dice to picking cards to mini-games, it’s all random. Three to five hours of random. I already mentioned “Round the Blocks”, which is just a randomized slot machine. Another mini-game is called “Memory Block”. Six blocks each contain either a treat or a Bowser face. You don’t want the Bowser face. The thing is, unlike a street performer’s shell game, it’s literally impossible (and I do mean literally) to track the blocks’ movement. You never know what reward you’ll earn, but the Bowser face is always inside an especially tiny block, whereas all the good items are inside normal-sized blocks.

PROTIP: Don’t pick the tiny block.

I enjoy luck-based board games on occasion, but I don’t have to set aside hours and hours of time to play through Monopoly. I don’t have to set aside that much time for Risk or Scrabble, either, and those tax the brain a bit more. The game’s naturally more fun when playing with friends, but new boards are only unlocked through the single-player mode. Considering you have to earn first or second place to unlock the next map, that could require three or four attempts . . . at four hours each. For a game based primarily on luck, that’s too damn long.

Finish enough single-player games and you’ll earn points that let you purchase attire, accessories, and personalized behavior for your Mii. My Mii already ruled so hard that one dude said he wanted a T-shirt with my Mii’s face imprinted on it. That’s a little weird, but the point is that my Mii rules. At one point, I wore pink taffeta fairy wings and performed twirls in the air whenever something good happened. At another point, I donned the Shogun’s ceremonial armor while accompanied by a metal slime. My current outfit is punk attire with a kempo fighting stance; my Mii performs a shoryuken whenever he buys property.

It would have been cool if my Mii could actually carry that clothing and behavior into other games, or even into the Mii Plaza. But he can’t. Since it takes four or five hours to earn enough points to buy a new pair of pants, I eventually resorted to a fiendish trick to score all the cool loot — I started a round of Fortune Street every night and set my character to computer control. Then I woke up each morning to discover that I had won.

Yay?