Review: Populous DS

Nathan Meunier | 7 Jan 2009 21:00
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Since it was so long ago, my recollections of playing Populous as a youth are hazy at best. The redesigned DS interface initially appeared deceptively complex, at least until I realized everything really boils down to just a handful of basic actions. Touching the stylus to the isometric battlefield and then dragging it upwards or downwards raises and lowers the terrain respectively. This smoothly implemented mechanic works well, and you can execute it at a rapid pace. Most of the time leading up to the eventual clash of the titans is spent creating plateaus to encourage the growth of your mortal population. During occasional lulls in the action, you can tap buildings to jettison its occupants and send them out to do your bidding. However, this must be done sparingly, since your peasants only generate psyche energy when they're resting at home, and they'll eventually die if left to wander for too long. You'll have to take care to strike a successful balance between outward expansion and holding tight to bolster your might. Also, any opportunity to launch one of your devastating elemental attacks at an opponent and its minions is worth taking - for the destructive benefits as well as the entertainment value of watching their cities crushed.

Frantically working the terrain over the course of multiple battles can be hard on the wrists and the nerves. Aside from the combatants, the special powers and the landscape, the battles are largely the exact same routine from one level to the next. Though entertaining, the gameplay is highly repetitive to say the least. Fortunately, the visual style shifts frequently between levels, ranging from standard fare like grassy terrain and magma flowing rock outcroppings to more wacky locales like a haunted forest and even a Nintendo-themed world. Aside from a few short, well-produced cutscenes, the game has a very retro visual style. Whether that's a good or bad thing largely depends on a) whether or not you enjoyed the first Populous and b) how high your expectations are for DS titles.

Moving mountains is fun and all, but over time you begin to feel like less of a god and more like a master landscaper riding a one trick pony. The solo experience of Populous DS is enjoyable in brief bursts, and dueling against friends in the multiplayer mode extends playability, but those who don't have a particular fondness for Populous are going to find it difficult to stick with the DS remake for very long.

Bottom line: After two decades, Populous is still a heck of a lot of fun.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed the original game many years ago, it's absolutely worth picking up this solid DS remake. Otherwise, consider a rental.

Nathan Meunier is a freelance writer. He can shoot fireballs from his eyes on command.

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