How does one go about rating the behemoth of board games? Monopoly has been around for over 70 years in numerous incarnations. Though modern times have crept in, with the humorous addition of swipe cards instead paper money and various unusual spin-off editions, the game is still very much a classic. The wealth-centric board game remains brutally long, fun to strategize over, and very challenging. It forces players to simultaneously dabble in a touch of math, real-estate tycoonery, and good money management, but it does so in an unobtrusive way. In bringing Monopoly to the Wii, Electronic Arts surprisingly delivers one of the best videogame versions to date.
As innocent and all-ages friendly as it may appear, Monopoly is really all about being a cutthroat bastard. Much of the focus is on hording wealth and physical property, while developing high-rise hotel mansions that serve as money-sucking traps for opponents to fall into. The ultimate objective, of course, is to financially grind your opponents into dust by forcing them into bankruptcy. At the same time, they’ll be seeking to railroad you into a similar fate of financial ruin. Money exchanges hands; back room deals are cut; traps are set; backs are stabbed – it’s glorious.
If played according to the original rules, a single game can literally take days of continuous play to complete, assuming you’re able to stay awake long enough to keep from mucking things up. Many players who grew up with Monopoly can look back with fondness at toiling at the dice to build their board game empire long past the midnight hour. Such games typically did not end with a definitive winner; they concluded with players gradually slowing down in a bleary haze before collapsing in exhaustion. This is both the beauty of Monopoly and the curse of the game. Though the goals in the game are clearly defined from the onset, the means required to complete a single game are virtually unattainable – unless you have a steady supply of caffeine and the physical fortitude to persevere.
Hardcore Monopoly enthusiasts will be pleased to see EA includes this original play mode in its full soul-crushing glory. Playing against up to three other human opponents (or against the computer, if you prefer), you’ll take turns rolling the dice to move your game piece around the board, which is populated with the classic properties, utilities, and special squares. Landing on an unclaimed property lets you buy it or put it out to bid at auction in hopes of getting a better price. Gaining all the properties of the same color gives you a monopoly and lets you build houses and hotels on it. You’ll have to pay rent every time you land on a property owned by your opponent, and the amount owed multiplies substantially if they’ve developed the sites (this works both ways). If things get dire, you can mortgage your properties for a cash injection, and trading with opponents adds another level of strategy. Adjustable house rules lets you fine-tune the starting amount of cash and a few other figures. Otherwise, this is very much the Monopoly you’ve grown to love (or hate).
The slightly conservative presentation is pleasantly crisp and clean, offering a mixture of top-down 2D and animated 3D visual styles that faithfully recreate the classic board game vibe and will likely invoke nostalgia. Mr. Monopoly (AKA Rich Uncle Pennybags for the old-timers) walks and talks you through the gameplay mechanics and takes an active role with frequent narration scattered throughout the game. He’s an animated and charming fellow, but his canned exclamations get old quickly. Still, it’s a good visual update to the original. As you play the game more and more, you’ll unlock stamps in a little book that can be used to unlock new themed boards that each has a wildly different and playful visual style.
For those who have little patience for the substantial time commitment required to play through the game to its completion, the new Richest mode provides a more simplified way to enjoy the classic game. At the start of each turn, four dice are rolled and all players compete in one of several short mini-games to determine who gets first pick of the dice. After selecting a die, the corresponding number of a player’s tokens will drop randomly on properties around the board.
Mr. Monopoly will then make his rounds, stopping at each token. Landing on an unclaimed property puts it under your control, while landing on an opponent’s property forces you to give up one of your own. Wealth in this mode is determined by the value of the properties under your control. When any player lands on a chance square the person with the lowest total property value can take several properties from other players. This adds and element of danger into the mix and gives everyone a sporting chance. Whoever has accrued the most wealth by the end of the pre-set number of turns in the game is declared the winner. It’s a less complicated and far quicker way to play Monopoly that some will enjoy better, but it’s not quite as fulfilling as the original mode.
The straightforward point-and-click control interface does nothing to revolutionize the gameplay. Though it’s unnecessary, it’s fun to shake the Wii Remote to produce a dice rattling sound before hitting the button to roll. Interestingly, the remote rumbles violently when it’s your turn. This is presumably to wake you up, if you happen to be dozing off during a lengthy late-night session or engaging in other activities while waiting for your pals to finish their turns. Various simple motion controls come into play during the amusing mini-games in the Richest mode. You’ll be shaking, tilting, turning, and doing other Wii Remote motions to compete in the simple exercises.
Monopoly has never been the most exciting game, either in physical or digital form, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming the most played commercial board game ever. It’s a calculated, strategic exercise that requires ample time and patience. The Wii version gracefully combines the classic gameplay with new variations in a format that’s visually pleasing, entertaining to play, and a very strong representation of the Monopoly experience on a gaming console.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
A crisp visual style looks great. The animations and variety of unique boards are a nice update. 3.8 Control
The Wii-specific controlled mini-games are mildly entertaining. Overall, the point-and-click interface works well. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Mr. Monopoly’s voice work gives him a lot of personality, and the music isn’t too shabby either. 4.1
The new play mode is a fun way to experience the game, and the original gameplay translates amazingly well onto the Wii. Monopoly fans will enjoy this version immensely.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.