Developer: Sculptured Software
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Released: May 1991
US Cartridge ID: NES-6B-USA
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
Following “Black Tuesday,” the infamous stock market crash on Wall Street of 1929 that sent the world economy into a desperate tailspin, a board game rising from the wake of the previous crash in 1893 discovered a newfound resurgence at the hands of an unemployed laborer, Charles Darrow. Looking to make ends meet, he reinvigorated Lizzie Magie’s game, The Landlord’s Game, originally designed to illustrate the evils of monopolistic empires. Darrow, at the time a resident of Atlantic City, NJ, took the somewhat pedantic and droll concept and added his own sense of local pride and flair to the concept, bringing color-coded neighborhoods, new types of property spaces, and “wildcard” spots to the board, in addition to the many iconic drawings that still adorn Monopoly boards sold today. Despite not being the sole creator of the game, Darrow soon obtained the rights to manufacture and sell the game; within a year, he had sold the rights to Parker Brothers, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Six years after the first licensed Monopoly video game had been published to British computers, Parker Brothers released a rendition developed by Sculptured Software in 1991 for the NES. More so than any version before it, the NES’ Monopoly brought the quinquagenarian game to life more vividly than any prior attempt had dared. It’s inclusion of animated player pieces, digitized sound effects, eight-player competition (replaceable with computer AI driven opponents if seven friends weren’t able – or willing – to participate), and customizable game scenarios all served to provide a platform for one of the best board game adaptations ever produced on a home gaming console. Like the original, winning depends of the players’ ability to wheel, deal, and dominate with the intention of being the last one standing.
Taking place on a digital version of the traditional Monopoly board known and loved by generations of Americans, all twenty-eight properties are present and accounted for, interspersed between penalty spaces, random outcome spaces, and the mainstay corner anchors. Though the NES version does not allow for all “house rule” style games (blessings through a financial windfall upon landing on Free Parking is not a possibility), players can modify settings to allow for a game to begin with already distributed properties, starting cash totals different from the traditional $1,500, or a time-limit for those with pressing business to attend to. There are also eight pre-configured games that may be played, each establishing motivating conditions under which players much compete, including games beginning with a severe drought of player funds; an even distribution of sets of properties, encouraging trade between players; or a shortage of buildings held by the bank, demanding creative dealings for the further improvement of properties.
Monopoly is one of only eight domestically released games to provide for eight-player match-ups, and capably does so with a single controller passed between turns. If eight players are not available, the present players have the option of filling the remaining spots with a variety of computer characters sporting individualized play styles, each having a significant bearing on the challenge they present in-game. Arthur, for instance, is a shrewd and calculating opponent, having learned his lessons in rising from the streets to make his first million, whereas Maude, socialite debutante extraordinaire, has a habit of frivolously squandering her money, a habit encouraged by the depths of her father’s pockets.
After deciding who will begin, play proceeds in much the same way as the tradition board version of the game does. Each player rolls the dice (a hand will shake so long as the A button is depressed, and the dice will fly as soon as it is released), and shifts their player piece the indicated number of spaces. Landing on an unowned property, the player is offered an opportunity to purchase the deed to it. If they decide against it (or lack the necessary funds), the property goes up for auction, where it becomes available for grabs by all present players. Once settled, the next player takes their turn. As the board is carved up by budding entrepreneurs, opponents may trade with one another to form their own monopolies, required to build houses and hotels: since these upgrades cause the cost of rent to skyrocket on improved spaces, the production of the small green and red buildings is vital in asserting meaningful economic authority on the board. For every lap completed around the board, players are granted “Go” money ($200), though in these laps they risk being sent to jail, landing on “Chance” and “Community Chest” spaces (which can help or cripple a player, depending on how the card reads), or be bankrupted by prosperous tycoons.
Though the base game is accurately reflected in this digital version, the real strengths of the NES Monopoly lie in the panache with which the proceedings are conveyed. Each of the classic player tokens are brought to life with personable animations: the cavalryman holds on to the reins as his horse rears back, the thimble hops under the steam of a hidden bunny, etc. Each of the Community Chest and Chance cards feature an animated version of their classic card illustrations often featuring Uncle Pennybags depicted in a typically compromising yet humorous fashion (embarrassedly accepting flowers for winning a beauty contest, for example). Passing Go gives an early example of the phrase “make it rain,” showering the player piece with bills after they’ve rounded the corner, and rent collection is done via a maddeningly ravenous cash register. The audio is just as enthusiastic in its presentation, with an extravagant use of ROM space dedicated to, by NES standards, crystal-clear digital audio samples – notable highlights include a loud train whistle signaling the arrival at a railroad space, the auctioneer’s impassioned cry of “SOLD!” at an auction’s conclusion, and the jailer’s warning, “Don’t be coming back now!” when an imprisoned player is released from the pen. The music complements the action perfectly, remaining unobtrusive while permanently embedding its infectious tunes in the memory of the player and the public at large (having been used in CT radio commercials in addition to providing the basis for fans’ creative outpourings in the form of remixes, some of which can be found on YouTube).
A captivating digital reinterpretation of the bonafide classic real-estate trading game, Monopoly for the NES speaks as a testament to the staying power of the creative forces borne of economic hardship, the understanding of fun by the developers at Sculptured Software, and the keen perception and foresight of the powers at Parker Brothers. Light years beyond more recent efforts by Electronic Arts, Monopoly for Nintendo’s 8-bit wonder is not only an exemplar of how to succeed in fashioning a traditional board game as a video game, but also a game that sits smugly at the table reserved for the best multiplayer games on the 1980s’ most venerable console.
Parker Brothers, 5/1988
Parker Brothers, 10/1991