Billion Road’s dice-rolling, board-trekking play offers a relaxing reprieve from tense action games. It’s not for everyone, but if you if your aching for a Fortune/Itadaki Street-style game with a bit more quirk, you’ll want to take a chance on this one.
Nine years ago, Nintendo took a gamble and released Fortune Street for the Nintendo Wii. Although it was part of a prominent franchise in Japan, this was the first time an entry had been brought stateside. I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It brought the accessibility and riotous reversals of fortunes of board games but removed the obligation of setting-up plastic pieces as well as any prerequisite for human competitors. Having characters and boards culled from the Mario and Dragon Quest franchises, it also extended a bit of nostalgic charm.
However, most critics weren’t as kind. The absence of any sequels in the West (save for a mobile adaption entitled Fortune Street Smart which removed the allure of licensed characters) signaled the game’s commercial performance. When I finally unhooked my Wii, retiring the system and games to cardboard boxes, saying goodbye to Fortune Street (and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars) was slightly melancholic.
STG to RPG Game Durations
Nearly a decade later, the appearance of Billion Road on the Nintendo Switch helps to finally put the past behind. Like Fortune Street, it’s a refreshingly user-friendly trek around a game board. But approachability is often linked to simplicity. Pleasing, this game has variety, ensuring that rematches aren’t indistinguishable. Save for a weakness for randomness to shake up the standings and inject tension into the proceedings, players who appreciate laid-back recreation might enjoy their trek across Billion Road.
Before beginning a match, players will adjust several match settings and create their in-game avatar. Billion accommodates up to four characters, with competitions permitting any kind of split between local and CPU-driven rivals. Sadly, there’s no ability to play online, which might have been a rewarding activity for geographically separated friends. This absence is probably rooted in the length of games. Matches can be as short as three in-game years or nearly as long as a century. In execution, that means games will last between one and thirty+ hours. Courteously, there’s a save option for those who want a marathon ramble across the game’s boards.
One thing I appreciate is that your AI driven foes aren’t generic drones. Billion offers a few personalities like ‘Spoiled Kid’ and “DJ Gadget”. Although they won’t trash talk, they do play with different levels of brainpower. And there’s a bit of longevity in two unlockable opponents.
Arashiyama, Here I Come!
Before making your way across the board, Billion Road frames the rivalry in a television-style broadcast complete with cartoonish emcees. Although the hosts don’t add too much to the competition (a bit of Buzz-like personality might have been a welcome), some will appreciate that the presenters infrequently break up the flow of the main game. That said, do provide a bit of sporadic quirk, such as when the host throws a mini-me dart at a map of Japan to select the next location-based goal.
Yes, one of Billion Road’s attractions is the context, where you’ll be moving across a network of areas that represent the country’s prefectures and major cities. Turns are based around month increments, inviting each player to roll a die and move across the game’s enormous network of paths, which are much larger than any actual table-top game. Fortunately, Billion makes navigating around the country as effortless as a Shinkansen ride. Not only is there an arrow pointing you in the right direction, but an on-screen overlay shows the number of spaces you are from your destination. Each space on map routes has a colored color-coded function. Blue squares payout dividends according to a spinning wheel, while red ones reduce your income. Yellow spots provide perks like the ability to roll two or even three dice during your turn or randomly teleport around the country. Finally, there are rainbow-colored squares, where Billion allows you to invest in location specific properties.
For many, it will be exceedingly difficult to not purchase a ramen shop or pachinko parlor, especially knowing you’ll earn ample dividends at the end of Q1. Periodically, holiday events occur with Christmas or Valentine Day events sporadically tempering with the player standings. While the game goal of making money through investments across the country is unabashedly capitalistic, there’s the comical pushed for financial equity. Sure, pooling everyone’s money before splitting it up and doling it back out is a pure provocateur move, and Billion Road might be the better for it. Sure, some of the events that invert the standings might be a bit infuriating, especially in single-player games. But they help to keep things lively and ensure no one dominates the game for too long
Caring Creatures and Malicious Monsters
Billion Road’s other distinction from Fortune Street is found in in Monster system. While on route to your next destination goal, you’ll be accompanied by up to three different Worker Monsters. Conveying the whimsical style and adorability of Yuru-chara, designs like dice with dachshund bodies and fanged shrine maidens bring fortune through different abilities. Some with pilfer properties from other players, while other will increase your windfalls on payout spaces. When Nemesis Monsters which look like kaiju emerge and are poised to wrathfully wipe out everyone’s investments, you’ll might be goaded into using your monster posse to eliminate them. Of course, they’re quite tough, and it’s here that Billion wants rivals to temporarily put aside differences to fight a common foe.
Randomly, players might be assigned with a Follower Monster, who will vexingly linger like an attention-starved acquittance. While they might bring good fortune, more often they produce mishap. Once I almost lost a game because I could lose Teamrex. He’s a baseball-loving dinosaur with a managerial complex. Habitually, we would fire and hire monsters, running up a 100-million-yen charge in the process. Luckily, I waited until I sank to financial rock bottom and used an item to turn my debt into profit.
Save for the rare framerate sputter, Billion Road largely run fluidity in the Switch’s handheld mode. Smart font sizing ensures everything is easy to read, except for the infrequent instance of unlocalized text. Like many Switch titles, the game overlooks the platform’s touchscreen capability, forcing input with physical controls, but is hardly an impediment. Smartly, the game provides control over in-game messaging, allowing participants to turn-off the frequent animations that reveal the positions over new Worker Monsters and adjust the speed of CPU-driven opponent turns.
Currently, the Switch’s collection of board game-like recreations consists of adaptions of Hasbro’s standards or slightly more complicated card games like Catan, Mystic Vale, and Talisman. As such, Billion Road neatly fills a niche gap in the library. Those seeking a whimsical expedition across Japan, where caricatured landmarks and kaiju-like creatures emerge from Mount Fuji might want to follow Billion’s money lined footpaths. You might occasionally lose your virtual stash but investing in the game guarantees mild gratification.