Saturday, April 1, 2017

Wall Street Kid HD

The original Wall Street Kid, released in 1990 on the NES, has become an interesting cultural item in the US. It is not a fondly remembered game in comparison to other famous NES titles like Tetris or Super Mario Bros., but it is still talked about if only to mention the odd notion of basing an entire game around the idea of playing the stock market. Despite this odd premise, which has roots in the Japanese series The Money Game, the second of which Wall Street Kid is the localization of, the game seems to have garnered enough interest to create a brand-new entry nearly 30 years later. This new installment, Wall Street Kid HD, continues its focus on the concept of the stock market, but puts a new twist on the Tycoon genre by adding open world elements.

As with the original Wall Street Kid, the player is to inherit $600 Billion from the wealthy Benedict family. Before they can receive the inheritance, however, they must prove themselves by taking a $500,000 loan and grow it into $1,000,000 using only the stock market. Along the way, they will also need to have enough money before certain dates to purchase key items including a boat, a house and a castle. At the same time, the player must pay attention to both their significant other and their physical health, improved by activities such as exercising and swimming.

The first twist Wall Street Kid HD places on the formula is the existence of not one, but two stock markets to invest in. One is influenced by the actions made within the game itself while the other is tied to the habits of everyone else playing Wall Street Kid HD, provided they have an internet connection. This twist provides the player with an incredible wealth of options for investment, which both provides more variety and presents a potential issue with the player-controlled stock. Due to the volatile nature of the secondary stock option, some players may be more hesitant to invest, especially with the possibility of players crashing the stock market either intentionally through a coordinated effort or unintentionally by independently making the same decisions. This concern, however, only really comes into play with the addition of open world elements to the Tycoon genre, though I’ll go into more detail later.

The more stable game-controlled stock, which
the player can actively manipulate.

The more unstable online-controlled stock.

Another twist on the Wall Street Kid formula is the need to control not one, but three stock portfolios, as there are two additional characters added to the game, each with their own storyline. Each character has their own reason for investing in the stock market and making it big and are surprisingly well fleshed out. However, instead of choosing one character’s story to play through, the player has to balance all three of them at the same time, forcing them to pay close attention to the timing of stock in their individual portfolios. Thankfully, it is possible to have them all invest in the same stock at the same time for a more reliable result, though the player should keep in mind that they all have different amounts of seed money at the beginning and all have different monetary goals even though the major dates are all the same.

In an odd twist for the Tycoon genre, the game also features open world elements that are accessed through the game’s mission system. If the stock market isn’t moving fast enough for you, you can partake in different missions which become available over time. These missions include, but are limited to, destruction of a competitor’s property or assassination of CEOs. Should you accept a mission using one of the three characters, you’ll be tasked with driving around the world to make the appropriate preparations for each mission before formally taking it on. Occasionally, the player will be tasked with having different combinations of each playable character work together, which can be mutually beneficial to each storyline, as well as reveal more about each character through the way they interact with each other. While this system is a very interesting leap forward for the genre, it does come with the drawback that missions still use time on the clock, time which also needs to be used buying and selling valuable stock. In other words, this mechanic can offer a potentially bigger payout through direct manipulation, but runs the risk of taking away valuable time to complete other tasks the player must balance.

In addition to stock market manipulation, the player must also make sure that each character has a healthy personal and social life. These include tasks such as working out and swimming or showering your significant other with gifts and attention. Like the missions, these segments are also completely playable, but the timer for these tasks operates a little differently. Rather than actively eat away at your time like the missions, the tasks take off a set amount of time like in the original Wall Street Kid, so no matter how long you take to play through each of these segments, it will still use up the same amount of time. This is certainly an odd choice, one that is only somewhat mitigated by the ability to toggle the playability of tasks.

The new Tennis activity.

As an upside, the game features phenomenal graphics which are leaps and bounds ahead of the NES version. Likewise, the sound design and voice acting are top notch, as is the original score by Celldweller, which uses elements from the original Wall Street Kid soundtrack while updating it for the modern day. The controls are also very functional during missions, although the driving can be a bit sensitive at times. This may be due in part to the sudden transition to 3D and HD after such a long period of time, but the grand level of polish this game has can only hide so much.

Overall, Wall Street Kid HD is a huge step forward for the series and shows a willingness to take risks with the Tycoon genre. A refined stock market system as well as a larger wealth of content make it surprisingly fun to play for hours on end, though as time goes on its blemishes begin to show. This includes the balance of time between playing the stock market or going on missions, which could have been improved upon to remove the rather large gamble enforced with the latter. Considering the length of an average playthrough with all of the interactive elements, it may be difficult to justify repeat runs with the campaign. Then again, some may be turned off by the feeling that they essentially reversed the formula of Grand Theft Auto V.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

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