Monopoly Review

Walk into almost any store and you’re bound to find Monopoly, the property trading game that has endured for generations. Ubisoft saw it fit to bring the brand to the Nintendo Switch, not only providing a digital version of the classic game but also added animated “Living Boards” and alternative win conditions. While Monopoly for Nintendo Switch is a serviceable adaptation, it doesn’t necessarily enhance the original tabletop experience. In fact, it feels like a clunky step down.

If you’ve ever played Monopoly, you’ll be familiar with the classic ruleset: roll dice to move around a square board, purchase colored sets of real estate with the intent of building houses and hotels, collect rent money from players who land on your property, then watch your friends go bankrupt… This game is crueler than I remembered.

The Switch version captures the essence of this ruthless capitalistic warfare, but the social element is lost depending on whom you play with. You can always go against the computer, but it’s as dull as you’d expect. There’s a hollowness when playing against silent bots, and even worse, they don’t play that well. The AI, even on harder difficulties, is easily fooled into accepting unfair trades and seems content with auctioning off property instead of buying it. They also take unnecessarily slow turns, which makes me wish you could skip them entirely and instead get a summary of their actions.

Thankfully, there is both local and online multiplayer. Local is the ideal way to play, representing the closest you’ll get to gathering around a table, without the hassle of manually setting up the board. Conveniently, up to six players can share the same controller and pass it during turns. Or if you prefer, players can hold their own, be it a Joy-Con, set of Joy-Cons, or a Pro Controller. Alternatively, if you’re sitting around the Switch tablet to play, you can activate a top-down view that actually rotates the in-game perspective based on which side a player is on. If you’re looking for base Monopoly with friends, this is certainly a fine option.

Online is a tougher sell. First of all, good luck finding six people to play this when you want. I’ve had matchmaking take upwards to ten minutes before giving up and just starting with whoever was there. Even once you’re in the game, the big issue with Monopoly is that games tend to take forever. Offline, you can save and quit games to play later – a great use of technology. However, you’re stuck in an online match until someone wins or everyone decides to self-bankrupt to get out of there. Since there’s no in-game chat whatsoever, online players just seem like smarter AI opponents. My connection was smooth, but the game still moved pretty slowly due to a combination turn lag and people taking their sweet time. Be prepared for the long haul, in which people incessantly demand trades and ponder endlessly about which houses to build. And just hope that nobody disconnects, especially if you’ve been going at it for a while.

Speaking of slowness, I also faced ridiculously long loading times and had to restart my console due to some bugs. While a patch has fixed it, I found it important to share my experience getting this game on launch week. Some sluggish turns may also be attributed to the confusing interface. The process of building houses on your property is unintuitive and involves opening a separate top-down map and manually locating your properties, then pressing one of the shoulder buttons – which are otherwise unused. Don’t even get me started on mortgaging property.

The game does have some charm. For one, when you roll the dice (either by pressing a button or shaking the controller), they may actually knock over your pieces – a cute immersion. Also, in lieu of a standard board, you can play on one of three “Living Boards” themed after a city, an amusement park, and a haunted house. The unique looping animations on the board’s center are fun to watch, though they’re all completely cosmetic. It’s essentially like playing a moving version of one of those special editions of Monopoly based on your favorite licensed characters. It’s a missed opportunity, considering that as a video game, this could have incorporated any kind of interactive element between the player and board, like a rollercoaster that took you to another space for instance. As a game specifically touted for Nintendo Switch, I would have loved to at least see a Living Board for Mario, Zelda, or Pokemon, who all have real-life Monopoly themed games. At least there’s an alternative classic (i.e. flat with no animations) board with Mario’s good friends… the Rabbids…

The other, more substantial additions here are the Goal and Action Cards. Goal Cards are alternative win conditions that change overall strategies and play-styles. For instance, one Goal Card awards victory to the very first player to build a hotel and another challenges participants to a race to earn 2,000 Monopoly bucks. These win conditions save a lot of time compared to a full game and have actually inspired me to try playing the original with different rules. There are also Action Cards, welcome additions that offer players benefits. For example, the Limousine Ride card lets you travel to any other space while Anonymous Donation nets you a free 500 Monopoly bucks. Each player starts with three random cards, and unfortunately, you can’t earn any more. Again, it feels like a wasted opportunity to add something dynamic to the base concept. Note that you don’t have to play with any of these rules on. You have freedom over multiple custom rulesets and mode options.

The game runs smoothly in classic mode. However, the Living Boards stutter at a reduced frame rate. The lag is surprising; these aren’t exactly detailed models. Otherwise, the music, albeit themed, is quite bland and hardly noticeable. Though it’s hard to ignore the annoying announcer who consistently makes unfunny quips and commentary.

Monopoly for Nintendo Switch isn’t a bad option if you’re looking for a digital version of the board game. As a plain adaptation, it does its job well, with the added bonus of portability without risk of losing parts. Unfortunately, the Living Boards and Action Cards don’t add anything truly significant. Plus, when playing with AI or even online without chat, it feels like a shallow experience compared to the inherent joy of gathering around the table and laughing as your friends go bankrupt. And it’s hard to talk about a game so rooted in capitalism without mentioning that this game isn’t cheap. At its fairly high price point, the game’s few additions hardly justify the cost. You may as well buy a game that isn’t a mere digital replication of a tabletop experience, or just pick up a nice physical collector’s edition of Monopoly.

I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!