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Wall Street Kid (NES) artwork

Wall Street Kid (NES) review


"The polished interface makes it easy to keep your attention where it should be: on deadlines. Those deadlines do a remarkably good job of building tension because you know that if you make too many mistakes, you’ll lose everything. Stocks go up in value or drop sharply, so complacency works against you. There’s a certain element of surprise, as well. You might get a hot stock tip and dump everything to invest in a new stock, only to see the next day that the stock you previously owned enjoyed a tremendous increase just after you ditched it. When you’re trying to drive up the value of your portfolio in time to buy a new car (or else face a ‘Game Over’ screen), losses and missed opportunities really hit home."



The stock market is a bit of a game but the stakes are high. You start with some real money, you invest some real money and when you’re done, you could come away with more than you ever would have otherwise. There’s always the chance that you’ll make a mistake and it’ll cost you dearly, but what if you don’t? What if you come away a millionaire? The possibilities are intoxicating. I sometimes wish that I weren’t perpetually wrestling with poverty. Maybe I’d give the stock market a real shot. My chances at success have to be pretty good. After all, I’ve played through Wall Street Kid.

In the early 90s, when I was 12 or 13 or so, I had a birthday. That in and of itself wasn’t remarkable, nor was the fact that I found myself with around $65 to spend. Both events happened annually in those days, back before my mom thought it was cute to celebrate my birthday by giving me $1 for each year I’ve been on this earth and back before most of my relatives with money to spare stopped sending birthday checks. What was remarkable was that I had a thick, post-holiday season Sears catalog at my disposal. One page in particular caught my eye. It listed a bunch of NES games--by then all 2 or 3 years old--and they were cheap. Sure, there were the $30 games, but there were $10 titles too. So I had a choice. I could either pick up Ultima: Quest of the Avatar for my full $65 (tempting, given how long I had been pining for that particular title), or I could make my money stretch further and come away with a bunch of cheaper stuff. It was a bit like betting on which stock will pay the most dividends.

My friend by circumstance and proximity, Nathan, decided to help with the process. We pored over the list of titles, then pored over them again. Some games I could immediately dismiss because I’d read about them in Nintendo Power and they were obviously rubbish. Then there were others I’d barely even heard of. Eventually, I called Sears customer service to see what was still in stock and a few of my favorite candidates (including Destiny of an Emperor for only $30!) fell off the list. In the end, I took a lot of risks with what was left. One of those risks that I wound up taking, at Nathan’s urging, was Wall Street Kid.

From the title, I pictured some game where a cheery little mascot runs around collecting goodies and jumping through colorful stages. It sounded neat. I had no idea what Wall Street really was at the time, but eventually the game arrived and I learned.

Wall Street Kid is not the sort of game that is likely to captivate your typical 13-year-old gamer. Or at least, it wasn’t at the time. There’s no mascot. You don’t run and jump through colorful stages or shoot Martians with a death ray or save the princess from slobbering monsters. You navigate a bunch of menus and you play an artificial version of the stock market. Nathan knew that, I think, and must have felt like being a rapscallion. He liked to be a rapscallion sometimes. The joke was on him, though, because I wound up loving the game.

The idea in Wall Street Kid is that you’ve just come into a lot of money. There’s a catch, though: you can’t just spend it however you like. Your deceased benefactor stipulated in his will that you had to invest in the stock market and uphold the family name. That means finding a wife, buying a mansion and eventually purchasing a castle in Europe. Your new wealth is your new job, but it’s only yours to keep if you don’t suck at investment. Sofel, the game’s developers (and also the group behind the short-lived Casino Kid series), made sure either by design or by accident that anyone who starts playing the game is likely to suck at first.

Fortunately, there is an advisor on hand to change that. There are several of them, actually. You can pay for tips on hot stocks, or on stocks that might prove to be duds, and that valuable intel could allow you to clean up if you play your cards right. There’s also the executor of the estate, who is bald and wears a tacky suit. He’ll let you know about deadlines that are coming and he’ll chastise you at the “Game Over” screen if you screw up big time.

By certain dates, you have to do the things stipulated in your uncle’s will. Otherwise, you’ll lose the game. A password save system allows you to turn back the clock to the start of a given week if you screw things up, but the worst mistakes require more than a week’s time to reverse and the passwords you have to write are so ridiculously long and complex that you’d be excused for ignoring them entirely. Wall Street Kid is the most fun when you play through from start to finish in one sitting and the stakes are at their highest, anyway.

Though the game is primarily a stock market simulator, complete with bogus names based on the companies that were big at the time (some of the puns are really quite clever, and your advisor makes related jokes that I found endlessly amusing when I was younger), there also are social aspects. You have to keep up your health by doing things like exercising at the gym or taking a picnic with your sweetie. Such diversions take up time, though, and you only have a 9-to-5 schedule available. Time management is necessary as you balance keeping your woman happy, your abs ripped and your financial investments secure. That’s before you factor in days where you’re not even allowed to buy or sell stock because you’re busy buying a poodle at a pet shop.

Like I said, it’s not the sort of stuff that would typically have captured a 13-year-old gamer’s interest in the very early 90s, yet somehow it captured my attention anyway. I blame that on competent design. The interface is perfect simplicity: you have a desktop and you can interact with various objects--a newspaper, a picture frame, a clock, a computer--to perform the various activities that are required and to get clues about what to do next. Meters track your performance , but they’re not presented conventionally. You know that your interactions with your girlfriend or wife are going well when the flowers in the vase aren’t wilted, for instance.

The polished interface makes it easy to keep your attention where it should be: on deadlines. Those deadlines do a remarkably good job of building tension because you know that if you make too many mistakes, you’ll lose everything. Stocks go up in value or drop sharply, so complacency works against you. There’s a certain element of surprise, as well. You might get a hot stock tip and dump everything to invest in a new stock, only to see the next day that the stock you previously owned enjoyed a tremendous increase just after you ditched it. When you’re trying to drive up the value of your portfolio in time to buy a new car (or else face a ‘Game Over’ screen), losses and missed opportunities really hit home.

Wall Street Kid would have been a dull experience if it didn’t capture the risk-versus-reward nature of its subject matter, but thankfully that ball was never dropped. Even with the NES hardware’s limitations, the developers at Sofel were able to create a compelling simulation title that reproduces--as much as you could expect from an 8-bit game--the thrill that wealthy folks get from gambling on real-world stocks. The password save system is a disaster if you plan to actually use it (so don’t) and you’ll probably wish that the game lasted longer once you get really good at it and can dependably clear it in a few hours, but otherwise there’s really no reason not to recommend an investment on Wall Street Kid.

Rating: 8/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 09, 2011)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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SamildanachEmrys posted May 09, 2011:

Interesting, well written review. It made me want to play the game, and that's no mean feat with an 8-bit stock market simulator.

Nicely done.
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honestgamer posted May 09, 2011:

Hey, thanks for reading and commenting! I didn't wake up planning to write this one, but I got a comment in my inbox for my video that I posted about this some time ago and suddenly I had all these things I wanted to say about the game. It's been ages since I posted a retro review here, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm glad that you found it an interesting read. Writing about a stock market game is tough so I tried to do little things throughout the review to liven things up and I spent more time working in the personal angle than I usually would as part of that effort.
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CoarseDragon posted May 09, 2011:

Nice write-up.

I went for playing Ultima 4 but now that I know this is an interesting game I'll try it out if I ever get the chance.
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SamildanachEmrys posted May 09, 2011:

I did enjoy the personal angle. I don't think it always fits, but it worked well in this case. If it had been a nuts-and-bolts review about how the game works it might have been very dry. Good call.

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