Inside Pulse 12

Review: Populous DS (Nintendo DS)

Populous DS
Developer: EA Japan
Publisher: XSEED Games
Genre: Strategy
Release Date: 11/11/2008

As long as I have reviewed games, I have yet to encounter one that engendered the responses that Populous DS garnered as I played it around my friends. To the man, each had heard great things about the Populous franchise and was interested in a new edition coming to the DS. Thing is, excepting one hardcore PC gamer, none had actually, you know, played a Populous game. That includes me, as well. I was and am aware that it was an early, if not launch, title for my beloved SNES, but I have no intimate knowledge of the series. That being said, I think we have a winner here. Of what? Read on, children, read on.

Populous DS is, at its heart, a game of comparative religion and the powers of belief. At the start of each game, the player selects a God to play as, each an elemental of earth, wind, water, fire, or plants. Yeah, I think that plants are a little lame, too, but what can you do? The player’s God of choice squares off against a Demon or God, who similarly wields the strength an element lends, in an attempt to monopolize a tract of land.

By raising and lowering the land to create flat plots, the player’s God of choice creates a homeland for his or her subjects to inhabit. The subjects create a wellspring of Psyche, which the God can use to perform miracles. Most miracles are of the Sodom type and not the Lazarus sort. By crushing the followers of the nemesis and helping the followers of the player’s appointed God, the stage is set for the Battle of Armageddon. Strange by any standard, when the Battle of Armageddon is initiated, the player loses control, active and passive, and watches the followers that were so eagerly garnered go to war with those of the nemesis, winner takes all.

Each of Populous DS‘s tile sets and the maps assembled from them have a unique challenge. The landscape determines how difficult landscaping is and each has vassals of differing temper and faith. This, when taken in concert with the various deities and the varying miracles they wield, makes for a near infinite number of scenarios, a number the developers came frighteningly close to achieving.

The most notable aspect of the DS edition of Populous is the wholehearted embrace of the stylus and touchscreen. I can scarcely think of another game that so eagerly uses the touchscreen for every single control aspect. It is a nice touch, so to speak, and really makes the gameplay pop, lending a tactility generally lacking in all games, but severely so in strategy and war games. Kudos to EA Japan for this excellent use of Nintendo‘s technology.

Pretty by DS standards, Populous DS boasts a cute, but deadly, graphical style, one that is easy on the eyes. The top screen graphics, showing the results of the dirty deeds being committed on the touch screen, is clean and attractive. When miracles are enacted, nice looking CG cutscenes are shown on the top screen and communicate quite clearly the devastation laid to waste upon the infidels. A Gallery mode makes all of the designers’ hard work easy to access and admire.

I do not usually appraise the sound quality of DS games, but Populous DS has a solid enough soundtrack that it is worth turning the sound above zero. I doubt I will ever turn the game on just to listen to it, an honor I have only ever bestowed on Final Fantasy III (or is it 6?).

With multiplayer done wirelessly, I sadly had no opportunity to attempt it, but I can see the attraction of a 4 player game of Populous DS. From the fit and finish of the rest of the game, I would venture a guess that multi is a pretty solid experience, but that is a shot in the proverbial dark.

My reason for even wanting to play this game was the sterling reputation of its forbearers, so its appeal must surely lie there. As a veteran of the Ogre Battle series, the gameplay of this title, while more abstract, compares very nicely. While hardcore RTS and Civilization fans may find fault with the perceived lack of depth, I find Populous DS to strike just the right chord in the sim to action ratio. Is Populous DS for everyone? No, but I am betting it will garner a fairly robust following.

The Scores
Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
For a largely unheralded sequel to a seemingly dead franchise, Populous DS is a shockingly relevant game. Full of good execution of good ideas, Populous DS has returned the God Game genre to its roots and still kept it relevant. Populous DS is a worthy entry in the series and an infinitely replayable addition to anyone’s DS library.