For the greater part of a century, Monopoly has done just fine for itself as a game of abstractions, skillfully avoiding any questions of how a thimble and a howitzer can lead to rubbing shoulders with John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Even its Atlantic City locales have long eluded easy recognition in its native country, and key names like Pacific Avenue and Ventnor Avenue regularly conjure images of yellow-and-green cards instead of key streets on New Jersey's Absecon Island. Monopoly Streets boldly backs away from this abstract tradition, allowing up to four contemporary players to see their properties develop in real time on a real city block. It's a logical and welcome step for today's consoles and a somewhat successful one, minus a few unfortunate flaws that spring from pacing, characterization, and a lack of choices among city-based boards.
6283666NoneCruise the city in a giant boot and there's no telling where you'll end up.
For the few uninitiated, Monopoly challenges players to build monopolies by acquiring up to three properties of the same color, whether by lucky dice rolls or trades with fellow players. Once you've acquired every property of a certain color, you're free to improve the sites with houses and eventually hotels, forcing players who land on the spots to pay you rent. Eventually, your rent payments climb too high for other players to pay, which forces them into bankruptcy and hopefully leaves you the sole owner of the entire board.
Monopoly Streets takes this winning concept and places the familiar board spots on a gigantic block in Monopoly City, which features three-dimensional structures replacing the simple virtual boards of previous outings. None of the models are particularly memorable and all three consoles are harried by rough graphical edges in a few minor spots, but there are small surprises. For example, you encounter Monopoly's familiar austere railroads brought to life as elevated train stations, Free Parking as a multilevel parking garage (bearing an amusing resemblance to New York's Guggenheim Museum), and the dreary and decaying lots that signify mortgaged properties. Elsewhere, however, the concept fails to follow its own lead. Random non-player characters shamble through the streets, but they never acknowledge you or gawk at your property. New buildings lack any kind of staff, such as doormen at Park Place who could have taken your rent and turned up their noses. Thus, the charm is sporadic at best, and key structures, such as the prosaic income tax building, scream with untapped comedic potential.
Nothing visually defines Monopoly so well as Mr. Moneybags and his merry band of pewter game pieces, and happily, nine pieces make an appearance here. Mr. Moneybags serves as the host, offering wordy and mildly humorous commentary on every move that quickly grows tiring. When starting a game, Moneybags also leads players through the selection of their favorite tokens along with an unalterable accompanying character that complements each piece. (As a console-specific bonus, Xbox 360 players can play as their system avatars and fill cities with their friends. The same option is available on the Wii using Miis, but only after you unlock it, which requires very little effort.) The top hat, for instance, belongs to a kid magician who follows it as it tumbles down the sidewalk on each turn. The battleship belongs to an admiral who may as well have just stepped out of a Gilbert and Sullivan production. Sadly, this potentially strong idea is hit or miss at best, thanks to cloying voice emotes and time-consuming animations, and two characters in particular can quickly ruin your enjoyment. For one, there's the farmer, a ditzy female bumpkin in cutoff shorts who pushes the wheelbarrow token around the block to a stream of nonstop yuk-yuks and yee-haws. Elsewhere, the little girl associated with the thimble gratingly screeches and spins with glee during her entire turn. It's enough to make you turn off the voice-overs before your first match is complete. The music is only slightly better and ends up sounding like the soundtrack to a floor-wax commercial jammed on infinite loop.
Mr. Moneybags doesn't care if the racer has places to go.
The turns themselves can drag on for ages if you leave the game to its own devices. A typical turn runs like so: You roll the dice (which takes two clicks) to the sound of your character's whoops or hollers. Once your character has exhausted his or her excitement and stopped dancing around, he or she then mounts or follows the giant pewter token one step at a time to the appropriate spot on the board. They look at the plot being considered in awe. If it's for sale, Mr. Moneybags slowly waddles up and eggs the character on to buy or auction the plot. By now, you've had your turn for more than a minute, to the likely impatience of your fellow players, and you haven't even bought the land yet. And your fellow players' turns can be equally as long--or longer--given the tendency of online players to abuse the build button. This is unforgivably damaging in a game that's infamous for its epic hours-long play sessions. So sure is the game that your attention will wander during all of this that all three consoles' controllers vibrate when it's finally your turn again. Thankfully, you can skip most animations and speed up gameplay considerably by turning off most animations on the options menu at the expense of losing the game's unique flavor.
Of course, the concept's main attraction is the opportunity to see your properties develop. Upon purchase, each property features a quaintly decorated garden until you can afford to buy houses and hotels, and these, in turn, are built according to the worth of the property. For instance, the ultracheap Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue plots end up with tacky motels dominated by gargantuan flamingos, whereas the breathtakingly expensive Park Place and Boardwalk hotels become towering skyscrapers with gold trim. If this approach has a flaw, it's that there's no variation for each set of plots. Connecticut, Vermont, and Oriental Avenue, for example, all feature the same kitschy crown-topped brownstones when three humorously different eyesores would have been much more appealing. For added visual entertainment, you can watch your towering "corporate headquarters" rise or fall in the middle of town according to your net worth at the end of each round.