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Populous DS DS Review - -

Gameplay 6.0
Graphics 5.0
Sound 6.0
Value 6.0
Distributor: AFA
Ho Wong


Populous DS

Recently, there have been a spate of remakes of rather old games released on the Nintendo DS. Many have been faithful and have conveyed the essence of the original but have added the intuitive controls of the DS: just look at Broken Sword, with its beautiful animated graphics plus the intimateness of the touchscreen. 

- A classic game with new DS intuitive controls
- Plays as 5 different gods

Populous tries to emulate this success, bringing one of the original god games from the earlier years of the PC to the handheld. It is intriguing why Genki have converted Populous, the original, when several better sequels would have equally fit on the small DS cart - Powermonger and Populous II, just to name a couple. (Populous DS was created by Genki, a Japanese developer, best known for its Japanese racing games on a string of different consoles).

Populous puts you into the mind of a god as you try to overcome a demon opponent through the command of your worshipers - think of it as a basic RTS, where you try to balance 3 factors - you need to build houses for your worshipers, you need enough houses to build up your psyche energy and you need to perform miracles on your people or your opponent. 

As you progress through each of the battles, more gods are unlocked with different strenghts and weaknesses and you battle against more fearsome demons on different terrained maps. On the top screen is an isometic closeoup display of the world - closeup being the operative word, as you can only see a few squares. On the bottom screen, you have a 2D map representation of the top screen, the aim is to provide you with a clearer view of what is happening. Your actions can be found on a toolbar on this screen.

Among the basic actions that are available are that you can flatten land, to allow your worshipers to build houses, get them to attack nearby opponent worshipers and join together to form a more powerful worshiper, just to name a few. Also located here are your miracles where you can wreak havoc on your opponent's worshipers.  It is satisfying, with a small touch of the stylus, to unleash a huge meteorite and sending it crashing down devastating one of the your opponent's castles. 

Victory is gained by your worshipers defeating the opponent's worshipers. If the timer runs out, Armageddon starts meaning an all out brawl (with no input from either god or demon) where the only factor is sheer force of numbers.

With DS games, you can usually expect a small hit in graphics, but you can see what can be done with limited resources by glancing at GTA:
Chinatown Wars. This gives an indication as to how much style can be crammed into a small package. Unfortunately, Populous graphics are sparse using very small sprites and basic animations, keeping with the retro feel. Fights looks more like comical slapfights and the amount of squinting needed is too much for a game like this. I guess one can assume there's a problem when the cutscenes provide the most memorable graphics.

The background music fits the retro feel, sounding old and digitized. At other times, it is non-existent (the sound of the wind, anyone?). Sound effects are basic, representing different events like when a disaster hits or is evoked, fights happening between worshipers, when a new disaster is accessible due to enough psyche being reached. Sound isn't that important for a game like this as it's all about the gameplay, and that's where Populous falls down in a little heap.

Unfortunately, Populous is slow and repetitive. This can be demonstrated by clicking on Gather which should force your worshipers to gather at a moveable symbol. After 10 seconds, one starts wondering "Where are my people?" and by scrolling around the map, you'll stumble on the answer - it takes like 5 seconds to move from one square to the next. The DS screen is too small, I believe, for the maps being used and its frustrating that you can only see a small section of the world at one time, making basic management rather difficult.

Although the controls feel intuitive, the game does show its age (the game originated in 1989). It is repetitive as each of the levels (no matter the terrain, the god you are playing as or agasint) can be broken down into a few different actions (repeated over and over). There is very little to keep you going after a few levels. The gods, the units and the terrain are very similar and the interest level wanes after just a few. A multiplayer option and a 'find the warrior' minigame option don't add enough to salvage this.

All in all, I had trouble enduring a few levels in a row, due to how slow it was to get your worshipers to do anything. Interest is difficult to sustain as you progress, you realise the graphics and maps are very similar and there isn't much of a overarching story. Perhaps it was the original game that Populous DS was based on, but it is very difficult to recommend this when there are many more fun, innovative games on this platform to spend your valuable time and money. Populous fans may want to find another platform to relive their memories.


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