Review: Monopoly Streets (Xbox 360)

Board games made into video games are a weird breed.  Often we play video games alone, even when we play with other people (that is to say we are alone in the room).  Meanwhile, board games are typically social experiences, played with family and friends on a rainy day or as just a good old-fashioned time waster.  As a result, most board games don’t transition well to the video game format; they are just lacking what makes their physical world counterparts so much fun,  other people.

Now, losing all your money to grandma after five hours of playing can be a bit frustrating, but everyone enjoys a good game of Monopoly.  There’s strategy, consistent rewards for playing well and just enough luck involved to make anyone feel like they may still have a chance.  All the qualities of a good game; combined with the social element of playing with others makes it great…  At least once everyone stops fighting over who gets to be the dog and the battleship (or my personal favorite, playing as Creed from The Office board game).  Sure the game takes a while and when you spend most of it poor and property-less it can seem to drag on, but when you are on top it’s sort of like being Charlie Sheen in Wallstreet, or just being Charlie Sheen ever.  So how does Monopoly Streets compare?

Truthfully, not well.  The game is full of faults and just plain annoying elements that manage to often ruin one of the greatest board games ever made.  Single player, the mode you are most likely to play since finding four friends who own the game and are all able to be online is unlikely, is a wreck.  You can play two versions of the board at the start, classic and city.  City is not the same as the Monopoly City board game, in fact the two have nothing in common and it is odd and potentially underhanded they refer to it as Monopoly City on the packaging.  The City board is really just a visual upgrade of the classic board, with elaborate houses, hotels, etc.  Your friend’s avatars walk the sidewalk, which is a nice touch, and it actually has just the right look for the pretend Monopoly city.  Beyond the visuals though, the game offers no difference than the classic board.

The classic board looks horrible.  The whole thing just feels like an afterthought; a last minute realization that they had to at least include the classic game board in a Monopoly title.  I know that a video game version of a board game isn’t likely to look all that great, but this just feels really lackluster. I felt like the developers wanted to encourage you to play the city map, so like George Lucas with the original version of Star Wars on DVD, intentionally made it bad so you wouldn’t want to watch it. If that was their intent then it worked as I spent most of my time playing city.

Monopoly Streets’ has other issues as well.  This is the kind of game Avatars were made for, but unfortunately their implementation is just awful.   A visual representation of yourself in a video game is perfect for a board game, but the animations are so bad that they border on pathetic.  Often my character would go cross-eyed and do some weird nervous type of dance that resembled my two-year-old nephew when he really has to pee. When your avatar would interact with some of the pewter game pieces (you still pick one of these even if you use your avatar) they rarely “fit together” nicely; such as the hat which did not look like it belonged on my avatar’s head.  This wouldn’t matter though if the in-game characters weren’t painstakingly annoying.  Almost every game I played, one of the AI characters was the wheelbarrow, which is accompanied by a “hick” woman who constantly made cliché hick sounds (see: throat laugh).  In general, all the characters ranged from annoying to downright irritating and they were unavoidable.  You can skip the players as they walk around the map (jumping straight to the space they rolled), but you can’t skip the constant stupid animations and mumbling noises they all make before throwing the dice.  The Monopoly Guy himself was also horribly animated and worst of all, never shut the hell up, even with tutorial mode off.

These are all aesthetic issues though, and don’t effect the actual game.  One point where Monopoly Streets deserves some credit is their inclusion of several different types of ways to play and the ability to tweak it some more as well. Everyone who plays Monopoly has their own little house rules for the game, and in this regard playing by the official rules can sometimes “feel wrong.”  The varied options were welcomed.  That is about where the praise ends though. There is no clear way to keep track of who owns what, something that could have been as simple as a pop-up menu that displayed everyone’s properties.  Game events often fly by as well, from the quick, automatic exchange of money that can easily be missed to trades that take place between two characters that aren’t you.  When this happens you simply see a quick message saying two players are considering a trade, not what for, and when it is accepted it quickly displays what happened. Easy to miss.  Additionally the characters are dumb and would constantly trade another player a property that would complete a monopoly for less than three hundred bucks.

Enemy AI was a mess as well.  The difficulty you set it at seems to have less to do with the decisions and ability to play the game, and more to do with their luck.  In more than one game with three medium AI players, I counted a total of ten doubles in two turns. Either the game is giving them an edge to make them ‘harder’ to beat, or the statistics for the dice are way off.  Playing against easy AI was less ridiculous, but also kind of boring since they were too easy.  I mean sure, underneath it all, it is still Monopoly and somewhat enjoyable, but the issues add up.

By the time bankruptcy is official, Monopoly Streets is starting to wear thin.  Some decent visuals and the mostly fine-tuned, classic gameplay just don’t make up for the poor animations, irritating in-game characters and flawed mechanics.  While the game would be more salvageable with three other human players, I would still recommend against it, especially for the price tag.  Go buy the real deal and actually sit in the same room with your friends for a bit.  You’ll have a much better time than you’ll ever get from this lackluster title.

Final Rating: 5/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Approximate Time to Completion: N/A
Gamer Score Earned: 370/1000
Price Bought at: $20
Current Price: $27.95 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: If you are really curious, under $10.

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