Wall Street Kid – Retrospective Monday

Wall Street Kid Opening

Title: Wall Street Kid
Year: 1990
Platform: NES
Publisher: SOFEL
Developer: SOFEL

Mike went to a pretty wild flea market over the weekend, returning two NES carts richer: Monster Party, 8-bit horror classic and one of my favorite platformers, and, uh, Wall Street Kid…? 

That’s a name I hadn’t heard in almost a decade.

Wall Street Kid is a game I had when I was very young, one of those used three bucks NES cartridges kids buy because the picture looks mildly entertaining (or just because we couldn’t believe there was a game about being a “wall street kid”). It was a game my brother and I would play very rarely, and only for ten minutes at a time, one of the games that seems like it might be funny to play for a bit, then quickly becomes too tedious to be novel.

Casino Kid (NES)

Casino Kid (NES)

It’s one of the few old games I never returned to as I got older, looked at it with new perspective. Would it charming, humorous, or just awful? Would it be worthy of my kind of “weird NES game” seal of approval? 

The game was developed by SOFEL, a Japanese communications company that dabbled in Famicom and apparently Game Boy games before fading into obscurity. Their first title, Casino Kid (or $1,000,000 Kid: Maboroshi no Teiou Hen), which is based on an unpopular manga, was released in 1989, with a sequel, Casino Kid II, released in 1993. The sequel was a very late NES game, but rumor has it the game was supposed to be released in 1990 and titled The Prince of Othello…!

The games were obviously shoddy casino simulators, but had cool “JRPG walking around” segments, which I’m a sucker for. Mediocre sprites, but still cool. The garish checkered floor is to die for.

The US Wall Street Kid was released in Japan as The Money Game II: Kabutochou no Kiseki, and it was a sequel to SOFEL’s earlier game, The Money Game. The game’s scant Wikipedia article has this to say:

Wall Street Kid Car

“The player controls a Japanese salaryman who must make at least one billion yen through the stock market to impress his female significant other. Since the days of the week are done in Japanese, players must know the days of the week in written Japanese. Weekends are spent using cash to buy treats for the house and for the spouse. At the beginning of the game, the wife is angry at the player because he refuses to make more money for his family.”

House and spouse.

– – –

The box art for Wall Street Kid, or rather, Wall $treet Kid, alludes to Archie comics, which is important for understanding the game’s all-American, big man on campus attitude, but more on that later. The Wall Street Kid, the player’s avatar (a very loose description), is seen on the cover holding a dollar bill sign sack and a briefcase that reads “TOP SECRET.” He has well-groomed blond hair, and is grinning like an idiot. Beneath him, a sea of dollar bills and money bags a la Scrooge McDuck. 

nes_wallstreetkid_front

There are also character portraits of two of the game’s “characters” (another very loose description), and boy do they look evil. In a comic book action bubble, it reads: “USE IT…or LOSE IT!” One can only assume they’re referring to the money, though it’s probably more apt if they’re referring to Wall Street Kid’s girlfriend, Prisila, who uses Wall Street Kid throughout the entire game for his money.

One of the major points in the game is dating and eventually marrying Prisila, blonde bombshell trophy wife, and keeping her happy at all times. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Wall Street Kid’s title screen sort of reminds me of Monster Party’s. As this churning 8-bit tune plays, one that reeks of finances, a long line of stereotypical character portraits flash by on the bottom of the screen, giving players a taste of what they’re in for. Each “featured” character’s bio has a ton of alliteration, like “Pamela the Patient Pet Dealer” or “Julie the Jolly Jeweler,” who has one of the more distinct foreheads in the game.

Most of these characters are easily identifiable by American media tropes, like how Art, the artsy artist, looks like Vincent Price, Dion, the dashing designer, looks like a mid-century gay stereotype, and Doc, the bogus boatsalesman, resembles Alan Hale Jr. The game is all about using and abusing as much American media as possible. Hey man, use it or lose it.

Players play as Wall Street Kid, distant relative of one Uncle Benedict. The game opens with Benedict’s lawyer Larry informing the Kid that he’s the only surviving heir, and is eligible to inherit over “$600 billion in assets.”

Wall Street Kid Larry

Sounds alright to me, but there’s a catch. The Kid’s gotta prove himself by taking the $500,000 that Larry gives him and turning a profit in the stock market. Larry explicitly explains that the Kid must use the profits to “uphold the Benedict standard of living” and tells the Kid to “pamper [his] sweetheart and move in to a decent $1 million house.” (emphasis added by editor!)

Larry then gives the Kid one month to purchase the house before mentioning that Benedict’s grandfather used to own a castle in “Europe” years ago, but that it had to be sold. The Kid is tasked with buying the castle once it goes up for sale, which, according to “gossip,” will happen shortly. 

Before Larry leaves the Kid to his crummy office, he says this: “Oh, by the way. Have a great April Fool’s Day. But remember, everything I just told you is no April Fool’s Joke. Good luck!” Alright.

– – –

Wall Street Kid.113

The concept of Wall Street Kid is simple. Buy stocks when they’re cheap, and sell them when their price is up. Your goal is to buy a house that costs exactly “1 million dollars,” buy a yacht after you marry Prisila, and eventually, win a bidding war for your family’s castle. 

The “plot” is absurd, and I like that, and it only increases in absurdity as the game goes. The game starts on April 1st, and goes up through August, so players really have to be on top of the stock buying/selling, or they’ll run out of time.

The game sort of recalls Acquire, one of my favorite boardgames, that is also all about buying and selling stocks, “high adventure in high finance.” The stock market might seem like a boring subject for a game, but there’s a lot of potential for something exhilarating. Just look at The Wolf of Wall Street.

Every day in Wall Street Kid is essentially the same. The Kid’s morning starts by reading the vague ripoff Wall Street Journal, which gives the Kid an arbitrary, repetitive news story, an update on local events, and the paper’s Hot Stocks. Most of the game consists of reading the paper, seeing which stocks are up, and buying them. 

Wall Street Kid.030

All of the stocks are parodies, or, not even really parodies, more like lazy allusions to real company names. There’s YBM (IBM), Yapple Computers (Apple), Strayhound (Greyhound Bus), and my favorite, Carnivore Cruise Lines (Carnival). The list is pretty long, which I guess keeps the game fresh after hours of stock buying.

The paper’s news stories are usually arbitrary, and have no bearing on the game, like “Space Expedition Set For Early Next Year – Life Support Station To Be Built On Plutosos,” but sometimes the stories relate to what’s actually going on in the game, sort of. 

Ones like “Poisonous Insects Raiding Picnic Grounds” mean that the Kid can’t use the related function that day, which is pointless because he can always just take Prisila shopping instead of on a picnic, etcetera. Besides, how many – poisonous insects – are there in New York state?

Some of my favorite stories are “Up And Coming Video Software Company Hits It Big With A High Stakes Game – Soon To Be No. 1,” LOL, “The Art World Goes Into Shock As A Warhalsky Print Goes Up For Sale For $400 million,” which is ridiculous considering the priciest Warhol pieces hover around $100 million, and this game takes place in the 1980s (!), and the one where they say the pool the Kid always swims in has hazardous water in it. Lol indeed. 

Wall Street Kid.078

The Kid constantly needs to spend time taking care of his decaying body by regularly going swimming, working out at the gym, or going hiking. If players neglect the Kid’s body, Prisila calls (on the Kid’s completely garish purple telephone) saying how “you look awful.” The Kid has to maintain that Benedict lifestyle, remember, so if he doesn’t exercise, players will get a game over.

Game overs are brutal in this game, more so than in most NES titles. If at any moment the Kid can’t afford one of the main objects he needs to buy (like the million dollar house), players get a game over. If Prisila is unhappy, whether because the Kid hasn’t taken her out shopping recently, refused to buy her a new dress, or has been neglecting his health, she’ll leave and that’s also a game over. This can happen at any time, and when it’s over, it’s over.

There is a password system, which is also brutal, but without active planning from the beginning, it’s almost impossible to get to the end. Most players will probably never get past the first hurdle, the million dollar house. 

Wall Street Kid Game Over

That being said, the game is monotonously easy. Buy the stocks the paper tells the Kid to buy, sell them when they’re high to buy more stocks, spam hiking to exercise and make the days go by faster, occasionally take Prisila out, over and over again. There’s a magic clock that makes the current day end, which players will unknowingly click on the first time they play, and it doesn’t give players an option to cancel once they click it. 

Ralph, the real estate agent, calls on the Kid’s first day, looking like he just came out of American Psycho with his Valentino suit and Oliver Peoples glasses. Ralph is one of the many “antagonists” the Kid faces on his high finance adventure. He offers to sell the Kid a one million dollar house, but warns the Kid not to fuck up. He’s definitely an asshole, and within only a few lines of 8-bit dialogue, is pretty intimidating, if not just deafeningly annoying.

Whenever anyone calls the Kid in his tiny, closed off from the rest of existence office, there’s a grating typewriter noise as the text appears, even though it’s a phone call, not a fax or anything. Most of the sound design in this game is awful, grating, and seems to be mocking the player judiciously. 

Wall Street Kid Ralph

The majority of the game takes place in the Kid’s uglily decorated office, with point and click items on his desk. It’s like playing Shadowgate (1989), but with only one screen and no puzzles. There’s some fake flowers that allows the Kid to interact with Prisila and something I used to think was a weird phone but now I have no idea what it is that is for exercising. Players can reread the newspaper, and use the Apple Macintosh computer to deal with the stocks. 

The Kid can leave his office briefly to speak with Stanley, who will “explain the stock market for $500,” Connie, who claims to know which stocks to buy, and the ruthless Ruth, the banker, who will give loans. The Kid leads a torturous, fragmented existence, a mere abstraction of reality that revolves around being a soulless yuppie…it’s essentially, inadvertently American Psycho the game, just with less blood and postmodernism. The game and novel came out around the same time, too, and obviously come from the same place – the US’s obsession with materialism and hyper capitalism, keeping up appearances.

So the game goes on like this indefinitely, at a gratingly slow pace. Sometimes the text doesn’t appear, a glitch, and it’s always jarring when one of the NPCs brings up the castle, which seems to fantastic for the mundanity of the Kid’s life. 

Wall Street Kid.067

Prisila occasionally asks the Kid to take her to buy something, a new dress, a sound system, an expensive painting, and unfortunately, these short segments are the highlights of the game. Players get to make a choice on which item to buy, a really expensive item or a slightly less expensive one, and in my experience, she’s appreciative of both, which was surprising and maybe life affirming.

What’s weird is that sometimes she’ll call and bring up that she wants to buy something, but the segment never happens. For instance, she asked about buying a painting, but never took me to see what two paintings I could buy, which would have been the most memorable part of the game for me. Being desperate for this interaction really puts the game into perspective.

Eventually, once you have enough cash, Prisila marries the Kid, and then obviously he has to buy a yacht for their honeymoon. The honeymoon lasts a week in game time, but the game makes the player sit and wait for the entire week to go by, not even bothering to change the image once. The game revels in how annoying it is.

Wall Street Kid.092

The final battle, the castle auction, really ups the absurdity to new levels. Austin, “the astute auctioneer,” who sort of looks like Art, continues to raise the price of the stupid castle even though no one else is bidding. The price just gets more and more exorbitant, and maybe players are supposed to use their imagination, I don’t know, but if I ever got this far and ran out of money, I’d probably throw the NES out of the window.

So the Kid buys the castle, but has to “pay off the balance within 4 weeks.” There’s a trick to this part, where the player can just take out a bank loan, pay off the balance, and then the game’s over, avoiding paying back the loan. None of these NPCs deserve my money, anyway.

The game ends with Larry telling the Kid that he’s “proven [his] ability to successfully run a marriage, money, and a social environment.” What he means is that the Kid bought stocks the newspaper told him to buy, swam every day in a pool of poisonous water, and kept his trophy wife pleased by taking her to the mall for large increments of time.

Wall Street Kid auction     Wall Street Kid.117

There’s an image of the castle, and it’s actually one of the most beautiful NES graphics I’ve ever seen, which only makes the rest of the game seem uglier and more mundane. 

Wall Street Kid Ending2

Then players get to hear one last line from each NPC, and boy are there some real gems here, the highlights being Austin saying “Attend more auctions! I’ll bid you welcome,” hur hur hur, and Dion wanted to design the Kid some underwear. I don’t know why anyone would still be playing this game.

There are credits, too, which proves that the game was not created by a series algorithms. Wall Street Kid is vaguely charming, definitely weird, but never fun. Acquire is an exciting stock market game because the rules are always changing, the game’s environment never stable and sporadic. Playing Wall Street Kid never requires strategy, and I’m sure a graphing calculator could beat it in seconds. 

It should have been more like a single player M.U.L.E. (1983), or an 8-bit version of The Sims, and just a little more effort and variety could have made it an objectively “good game.” 

Returning to Casino Kid, which has about as much plot or even less than Wall Street Kid, the JRPG world map “walking around” segments add so much character and color to the completely mundane game. Wall Street Kid would have benefitted greatly from allowing players to walk around the office, or the Kid’s home, or the auction house. Just a glimpse of the outside world would alleviate some of the claustrophobia the game has.

Wall Street Kid Married

I’m interesting in learning more about the US localization of the game. Wall Street Kid goes to such lengths to be this fragmented, all-American, classic Archie-looking, yuppie morality, US media vision of the late 1980s in New York City, which is vastly different than its Japanese counterpart. The Kid is something of a comic book hero, an idealized American man, pristine, with top secrets and a winner’s smile.

The game’s not humorous enough to be called a parody, and some of the game’s depictions of American high life feel sincere and genuine. Obviously, there are all the puns and uses of alliteration to keep it lighthearted, but this game is in no way a parody of capitalism or materialism. There’s nothing ironic about keeping Prisila happy by paying for her dumb parties, about inheriting “$600 billion.” Link has to fight slobbering monsters twice his size for a rupee, Mario, do death defying acrobatics for one coin. 

The Kid is just some personality-less prep school drone surrounded by yuppie scumbags, allowing himself to be sucked into some American Psycho Twilight Zone episode about corporate nightmares and the problems with materialism. And in the end, through the player’s “hard” work, he becomes a billionaire. 

Wall Street Kid is an involuntary allegory for the inescapable trappings of capitalism and the ephemerality of life. It’s not quite a stock market simulator, nor is it ever edutainment. It’s an exercise in monotony and ill-conceived wealth, both financial and of the soul, which is ironic because the developer’s name is SOFEL, soulful

Wall Street Kid Ending1

But man this game is hilarious…!

– nilson thomas carroll (nilson carroll) q; /

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