The timing could be better. Nintendo has chosen to release a game about building a lucrative property empire – the first localised entry in a Japanese series dating back to the Famicom – at a time when the world is in the throes of economic meltdown. As familiar Mushroom Kingdom and Dragon Quest characters buy stocks, invest in store expansions and watch the value of their portfolio steadily increase, you begin to wonder when the Occupy movement will emerge to spoil the Mario party.
Boom Street shares some DNA with the plumber’s board game sideline, but has more in common with Monopoly: dice are rolled, properties purchased, investments made and chance cards collected. Minigames are infrequent and hinge on luck rather than skill, from betting on Slime races to matching cubes for cash boosts.
Two variations are included. Easy Rules strips back complexities for a more accessible game of financial one-upmanship, while the standard regulations see the board split into districts, introducing stock options that allow you to rake in money for areas you might not own. At times your objective will be to thrive – reaching a predetermined net worth comprising ready cash, stocks and property value – or simply survive, as you shift stock and auction shops to avoid bankruptcy.
Square Enix does its best to keep lone players entertained, attempting to give each rival a personality by enabling them to comment on events during their turn. The snippets of dialogue repeat less often than you’d imagine and are wittily scripted; Slimes have a range of goo-related puns, while Platypunk’s ‘voice’ is that of a Brooklyn mafioso, making constant references to The Family. Even given the quality of the localisation, most players will be pleased to be given the choice of speeding up the text or turning it off entirely, thus accelerating the flow of play.
In truth, the characters and themed settings, which are little more than sparsely animated backdrops over which the boards hover, are the least interesting aspect of the game – helpful for sales, perhaps, but a distraction from the strategic systems at Boom Street’s core. As with all board games, there’s a significant element of luck involved, and a fortuitous early run of rolls can make a huge difference to the length of a single game. Such unpredictability can feel like cheating when it benefits AI opponents, which is why it’s best enjoyed with at least one other human player.
A handful of minor niggles, like the inability to pause outside the start of your own turn, and the rather cautious approach of CPU competitors, detract little from an uncommonly smart and genuinely tactical game. It might have fared even better without its primary-coloured fripperies but Boom Street remains good enough to turn a blind eye to its rather untimely celebration of capitalism.