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Mario meets Monopoly in ‘Fortune Street’

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Fortune Street (Square Enix)

Between initial sales problems with the 3DS to a general lack of compelling software for the Wii (other than the recently released Skyward Sword), it's been a pretty lousy year for Nintendo.

But one other new release -- a unique take on a traditional board game, with a cover that sports a familiar red-clad plumber -- could help the company end 2011 on a high note.

It's called "Fortune Street," a brand-new game from publisher Square-Enix that blends Monopoly-like gameplay with characters from the successful Mario and Dragon Quest series.

To say the least, it's an odd pairing. A best-selling franchise with a 25-year pedigree, Dragon Quest is responsible for spawning countless international hits, but has never really caught the imagination of U.S. and European gamers. Its most recognizable character, the droplet-shaped and grinning "Slime," lines up with Mario on Fortune Street's cover. (And perhaps the fact that a slime is Dragon Quest's most recognizable character is related to its lack of Western sales.)

It's not the first time Mario has ventured into the world of board games, either. Leaving aside the range of (largely ill-advised) actual Mario board games released over the years, the Mario Party series of straightforward, family-friendly minigame-fests has been running since the days of the Nintendo 64, and owes much to the roll-your-dice, move-your-mice format of just about every childhood board game ever. But Fortune Street is a different beast altogether.

In gameplay terms, it's a lot like Monopoly, with all the positive and negative associations that has. It's a long game, one that sees players acquiring properties as they move around the board, then monetizing their investments by charging other players rent as they land on them. Fortune Street stacks up extra complexity, however, by layering on the unpredictable rises and falls of a virtual stock market and a system of suit-based bonuses for extra cash.

If you're going to add complexity (and, often, hours of play time) to an already long game, doing it on a video game console is a pretty good way to go. The Wii takes care of the rules, handles the set-up and tear-down, and you can save mid-game with the tap of a button. You can even step away and let a computer player handle your turns for a while. As a board game, it's a technological masterpiece.

As a video game, on the other hand, it's leaving its reviewers (and some consumers, judging by feedback so far) a little nonplussed. Next to other Wii games, it's slow, cumbersome, lacking in thrills, requires some time to learn, and has an odd disconnect between jaunty presentation and decidedly grown-up gameplay. Scores, then, have been moderate, and gamers seeking quick-fix thrills are probably best advised to look elsewhere.

What about the rest of us? With a slate of extra mechanics that'll take some time to learn -- and even longer to master -- Mario Monopoly this ain't.

(This is, in case you were wondering.)

But if you go in with the right expectations -- an easy-paced, thoughtful, classic-styled family game with a Nintendo veneer -- perhaps Fortune Street could be the game that clears the dust off your neglected Wii setup. If nothing else, it'd be a great way to spend a relaxed holiday evening.

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