For as long as there’s been consoles, there’s been Monopoly. While the decades-old board game precedes video games so far as multiplayer enjoyment goes, the number of consoles and even handhelds Monopoly has been iterated for far outweigh those it hasn’t. One of its most recent retreads, Monopoly Plus — launched in 2014 for both the PS4 & Xbox One — makes its way, as a lot of current-gen titles seem to be doing (for better or worse), onto Nintendo Switch. Don’t be fooled by the distinctly custom-sounding title; Monopoly for Nintendo Switch is a port of the board game’s last console entrant with a few added incentives to play into one of the console’s USP that is its Tabletop Mode functionality.
On paper, the idea of a virtual Monopoly incorporating the traditional and thus original aesthetic of being played on a table, though sounds like an ironic closing of the cycle, does in fact bear some novel value to what is essentially a repeat tread of three years ago. There are a few instances of this said novel value to be found as much shared with the Switch rendition. Whether it is indeed having a game played out in an overhead view — thus simulating the idea of staring down at a flat, physical version of the board — with the screen flipping upside down when moving to your opponent’s turn, or one of a handful of cosmetic niceties that admittedly aren’t inherently new, the argument can certainly be had that Monopoly for Nintendo Switch does try at least to brighten up the monotony. Even if much of the game’s design, in terms of interface, does come off a little too “clean” and mobile-like.
Of course, for anyone coming to a video game rendition of Monopoly, the idea of a never-ending session of real estate, money management and general capitalism (because Monopoly is notorious for lasting a long time…until someone either declares bankruptcy or just gives up/loses interest) does draw out significant doubt as to the value of a session without strict time limits. Fortunately, though nothing is inherently new from the original build of three years previous, the game comes with a flexible array of rule changes and variants that do at least mitigate some of that potential frustration. Usually in the form of set objectives, individual games can be adapted to meet a specific end goal or target in mind: buying a certain amount of property, collecting three groups of the same color, collecting enough money etc.
The ability to alter the end goal is accompanied also by what are called action cards that, drawn at random prior to every game, offer players three unique, one-use only perks that, used strategically, can help swing a game in their favor. And while the game’s three theme-based boards do help aloft some of the classic board’s static simplicity — authentically recreated it might be — you can’t argue that this most recent rendition of Monopoly is not without its charms and added sense of strategy to help detract from the possible lull. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t smile on more than the one occasion at seeing the game’s physics in action — dice knocking over player-pieces or rattling so far across the board, even if they clip into the stack of Chance or Community Chest cards.
Though charming as it might be to get drawn into the little animations that play out on-screen on the three themed boards especially — people whizzing on and off screen to applaud over-time you buy an estate or add further property — it’s similarly easy to lose sight of your main objective and risk falling into a precarious situation with little-to-no money to cover, say, landing on an opponent-owned property or forking over hundreds of currency to cover an unforeseen tax. Fortunately the game makes a stride to alleviate some of the confusion and difficulty it might portray at managing so much, by allowing players to get an overview of their properties both before and after they roll for their turn — menu options such as a general list as well as the ability to trade with your opponent, all accessible via the press of one of the face buttons.
In that sense, Monopoly for Nintendo Switch at the very least succeeds in drawing out the game’s more immediate attraction (managing one’s money in the short-term while at the same time thinking ahead for what might put you in a more profitable position in the long-run) even if that attraction does inevitably simmer and fade into necessity as each play session rolls on. But coupled with the array of rules and options players can customize and tweak, you can’t fault this rendition as being one that doesn’t try to accommodate and at least freshen up the traditionalist vibe. There are a few odd decisions now and again, notably the fact that you can’t simply ignore an unowned estate you land on, meaning you either have to buy it or go to auction. But even then, with the way players can easily bid for even the most expensive areas at a mere $1 if you refuse, feels like a massive oversight on the developer’s part and one that comes across incredibly disadvantageous on the side of the player whose turn it is.
Other visible if not damaging aspects to the game come not just in the fact the Joy-Con’s rumble feature (to simulate dice being thrown) only seems to crop up and function now and again, but the overall frame-rate when playing in either the themed boards or, sadly, in online mode, can regularly drop below 30FPS. A disappointing if not baffling fact when you consider the stripped-down classic board performs at a near-enough 60FPS rate by contrast. But perhaps the biggest problem with this game is so obviously the loading times which can vary anywhere from a few seconds to (in this experience) around ten-to-fifteen minutes just to boot up the start menu.
While Monopoly for Nintendo Switch doesn’t feel like a big enhancement of the three-year-old iteration that came before, the flexibility of options it retains does incentivize those initially put off by the game’s infamously, never-ending demeanor. Unfortunately the questionable frame-rate levels, wonky online experience, not to mention the plague of lengthy load times one can suffer through at unknown times, ultimately stop the game far short of being considered an essential Switch library addition. Charming and surprisingly effective moreso with its strategic elements it might be, the issues present will require anyone going into this to be just that bit more wary.