Populous DS DS
Published by: Rising Star Games
Developed by: Electronic Arts
One of my favourite games on the Atari ST was the original Populous. The game was quite unlike anything I'd played before. It was the first game that put you in the role of playing as a god (at least I'm pretty sure it was the first) and when it was released, around twenty years ago, it was a revelation. There have been a couple of sequels in the series including Populous: The Beginning which moved the series into the world of 3D but Populous DS is essentially a remake of the original game with a few additions.
In Populous you are a god and the basic idea is to recruit enough worshippers to enable you to defeat the demons and destroy their worshippers that plague your world. You have to build up a basic community of worshippers whilst taking care to prevent your demon enemy from doing the same. You'll get to mess around with the landscape (levelled landscape allows your followers to build houses and castles), order your worshippers about and perform miracles. It's all pretty straightforward but everything is closely related. To perform miracles you'll need Psyche Energy but you can only obtain it from houses that have worshippers inside them so you need to leave them in their homes from time to time. The more Psyche Energy you have, the more powerful miracles you can perform.
There are five different gods you can play as in the game with each one being aligned with a different element. The demons also have five different elemental alignments. Initially, in the Challenge mode, you only have access to the god of Earth, who is unlocked on completing the tutorial. Access to other gods is granted as you clear various stages in the Challenge mode. The different alignments are Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Harvest. Each different element offers its own set of miracles and warrior abilities. The Wind god for instance allows the Wind Gust, Tornado and Typhoon miracles and the Wind Warrior can drag enemy worshippers from their homes and throw them about until they eventually die. As you might expect there's a rock-paper-scissors type relationship between the different elemental types with Earth being strong against Wind, Wind against Water, Water against Fire, Fire against Harvest, Harvest against Earth.
Populous DS offers a Challenge, Versus and Free Play mode. The Challenge mode is essentially the heart of the game as you'll play through the eight different levels which each consist of five stages. Free Play allows you to set up a custom game selecting any gods or environments that you've unlocked in the Challenge mode. You can also choose to play a Warrior Hunt game where the objective is to locate specified targets on the map. The Versus mode supports 2-4 players (each must have a copy of the game) to play a multiplayer battle locally.
It's curious and slightly disappointing that Populous DS has been released as a full price title (currently £29.99). However if it had been priced at £19.99 it's a game that could have attracted people who never played the original game. In fact I would say it's not a bad game for those who have never experienced a god game or strategy title. The game keeps things fairly simple throughout and at no point does it become overwhelming which is a lot more than can be said for many games of this type. Being a full price game however means that less will be inclined to take a chance on the game and only the most nostalgic of gamers will consider a purchase which is a shame because Populous DS is a good game.
The game does look a little better than in did back on the Atari ST back in 1989, although the look of the game has remained faithful to the original, and it makes good use of the dual screens on the DS. You'll input all of your commands on the lower screen, using the stylus, and if feels perfectly natural with its intuitive interface. Special mention must be given to the touch screen controls as they are accurate and as responsive as any game I've played on the DS to date. The top screen is where you'll see the action, which is admittedly rather basic, played out. There are a good mix of different environments/map types to play on (around ten in all) including grass plains, snowfields, fairytale, outer space and even an 8-bit plain which features a variety of different Nintendo systems.
Populous DS certainly won't cause deaf gamers any problems. The dialogue in the game is exclusively in text and you'll always be fully aware of what's going on. The tutorial is text only and whilst it can feel a little laborious and longwinded at times it is useful and covers the various aspects of the game in a way that should leave you with very few questions. Should you have any questions after completing the tutorial, the game manual will probably answer them as it covers all the elements of the game fairly well and even throws in a few tips for good measure.
Populous DS is an enjoyable game and it feels right at home on the DS. However, twenty years after its original release, it's no surprise that Populous comes across as an extremely lightweight strategy title. This doesn't prevent it from being enjoyable however and it's a game that will definitely appeal to those who loved the original game all those years ago. The additions to the game are minor things and certainly don't take away from the nostalgic feel of the game which is important because as a full priced title it's probably only going to attract those who have fond memories of the original game which is a shame as it's an accessible introduction to a genre for those who haven't dabbled in it before.