Have you played EA‘s ‘Monopoly Here and Now’ and thought, that’s not the Monopoly I remember? Well, EA have now released the original Monopoly for iPhone and iPod touch, so you can relive your childhood days as ruler of the London property market on the go.
If you’re not familiar with Monopoly by now, you must have been living under a rock or had no childhood what so ever, but just in case you need a recap here’s the basic premise. Essentially, Monopoly is a property board game where you have to buy properties in sets of three and build houses and hotels on successfully completed sets to collect rent from other players. Players can only buy a property they’ve landed on if it’s not currently owned or when the property is put up for auction by another player. When an opposing player lands on a property you currently own they must pay you rent based on the market value of the property and whether you have any houses or hotels built on the site. A relatively simple premise which has been the basis of many a family night in playing board games for decades.
EA have brought Monopoly to virtually every platform available. PC, consoles, handhelds and PDAs, they’ve all had a version of Monopoly in one form or another, some better than others. On the iPhone and iPod touch, EA have decided to use the power of the device to embellish the game with 3D graphics and scenery as seen in Monopoly Here & Now, which has the effect of making a simple board game become pretty resource intensive. If you’re like me and have lots of email accounts, push notification clients and like to play background music, you might find the game crying out for more memory or running rather sluggishly on an iPhone 3G or original.
Monopoly on the iPhone plays as you would expect Monopoly to play for the most part. The controls are easy to use and pretty intuitive if a little sluggish at times. The dice can be rolled by a quick shake of your device, which is something of a novelty but became pretty tedious after a couple of rounds. Thankfully EA have had the thought to put in a switch to deactivate shake rolling and have you roll the dice with a simple tap, which for a long game like Monopoly is much preferable. The ‘house rules’ can also be adjusted including earning 400 for landing on GO and winning all the collected cash from the Chance and Community Chest penalties when you land on Free Parking.
Property buying, building houses, mortgaging a property and checking ownership is all done through a zoomed in view of the board in sections which are moved between by swiping left and right. It’s an effective and simple to use interface but at times it can be a little slow to move through all the properties and options due to all the animations that can’t be skipped. The same can be said for the general play of the game, like rolling dice, collecting rent and landing on Chance and Community Chest, all the controls are simple to use but the animations for each action are often a second or so and can’t be skipped. This has the effect of slowing down the game, making it longer to play than absolutely necessary on a portable device that you often just want to pick up and play for a few minutes at a time.
Of course Monopoly isn’t really a single player game and so there are four player slots available that can either be taken up by humans or the AI. I say AI, there isn’t much in the way of ‘intelligence’ programmed into the computer controlled characters as they often make very stupid trade and property decisions that a human simply wouldn’t make. In truth, they make up the numbers and I haven’t found a problem besting them even with three of them to beat.They also have three difficulty options that simply effects the amount of times you land on their properties and they land on yours, introducing bias to the game play which can be quite irritating. It gets a little more interesting when you get your friends to play along with you, either by passing the device between you or over WiFi on the same network or Bluetooth. It can certainly make long car journeys a little more interesting, just make sure you’ve got a charger with you or you might find your iPhone out of juice before you know it.
Visually the game is pretty impressive with fully rendered 3D environments, such as the inside of a spaceship or a 60s style living room. The original board, playing pieces and dice are all rendered in 3D also, complete with two decks of cards, one for Chance and one for Community Chest. The dice have pretty realistic physics, bouncing around all over the place, and the animations for the movements of the playing pieces are pretty smooth. It’s quite fun to watch the Racing Car hurtle round the board complete with tire squeals.
The game includes a plethora of sound effects for pretty much every animation. Even the dice have a satisfying scattering sound when you roll them. On the in-game music front you’ve got several options to choose from. The game includes three music ‘Playlists’, Swing, Smooth and lounge as well as All, or you can choose User Music and as the name might suggest you can use the music from the iPod app to create a playlist to play in the game. If you find the in-game music is distracting you from your property conquest you can of course turn it off. For those of you who like to play at night or in a public place, Monopoly is a game that doesn’t really require sound effects, afterall you don’t get them in real life unless someone is being a little obnoxious.
So what’s the game like overall? Well it’s a pretty polished version of the classic game, and while it does take a while to play a game, the ability to save your progress and pick it up again means you can play in smaller chunks. The game is certainly not perfect however, with a few annoyances which might be a deal breaker for a few of you. The AI is simply woeful, but to be honest I haven’t played a portable port of the game which hasn’t included awful AI, so maybe I’m just used to it by now. The animations, although pretty and well realised, aren’t skippable and it makes the game pace slower than I would like. There is an accelerate button that can be used to speed through the movement of the playing pieces after a dice roll but it doesn’t speed up anything else. If you’re on an iPhone 3G the game is likely to demand that you ‘restart your device by holding down the power and home buttons until the Apple logo appears’, but thankfully you can just dismiss this error message and play on, even if the game behaves a little sluggish when you receive and email or text message. Another really annoying and rather cheeky thing that EA have put into Monopoly is a series of adverts for other EA games. When you win a game it pops up a message asking whether you’d like to see other EA games, an advert in a $5/£3 game! You can just dismiss it but it smacks of money grabbing on EAs behalf, something that really irritates me.
I guess the most important decision is whether the game is worth the rather expensive $4.99/£2.99, which is the same price as the Monopoly Here and Now game. The answer is, it’s probably the best Monopoly port on the iPhone and if you’re a fan of Monopoly there’s something in there to love. Whether everyone will think it’s worth the dosh, I’m not sure. It’s slow pace might really put people off but it’s visual style and 3D rendered graphics are still pretty impressive. In the end I think if you’re a fan of Monopoly, get it, you might be annoyed by somethings but it’s certainly fun to play with mates on a long journey or you’ve got some time to kill whilst watching TV or some other activity that doesn’t require your full attention. My verdict? Good, but could be better, EA really needs to address the AI issues, but it’s still fun to play. I don’t know why you would ever buy the Here and Now edition over the classic Monopoly, but then again I’m a bit biased living in London.
Monopoly is available now in the App Store for $4.99/£2.99 (App Store Link).