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Reviewed: Populous
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: February 5th, 2009
Page: 2

Way back in 1989 - before a sizable portion of today's gaming population, and especially Nintendo DS owners, were even born - a little programming studio called Bullfrog, led by a man named Peter Molyneux, created what would later be called the first "god game." The setup was simple: a deity watches over the land, trying to alter the terrain to allow his followers to grow, make it harder for his opponent's to grow, and eventually wipe the enemy forces off of the map.

Although quickly overshadowed by the RTS genre in general and specific other franchises (Warcraft, Command & Conquer) in particular, the series offered a unique perspective into the "god game" genre - play is not accomplished by specifically ordering units where to go, but by shaping and altering the terrain in order to give them options and then allowing the "follower" AI to do the rest. Gods in the game accomplish this by performing miracles; raising/lowering landscape, causing floods, meteors, earthquakes, volcanoes; and eventually ordering an all-out "final battle" in which each side rushes to kill the other, with the victors claiming the land.

In the original Populous, there was only one set of powers; each "civilization" added more options, but the final set was all that was available. For this new imagining, XSeed have added in four more power sets, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. Earth gods specialize in earth-shaking catastrophes; Wind gods in storms; Water gods in rain and tidal waves; Fire gods in fires, from small grass fires to volcanic eruptions; and Harvest gods to the reclamation of barren, blocked land and eventually to disease and sickness visited upon the enemy. Each has a specific power given to their chosen avater ("Warrior") as well; Earth god warriors leave rocks where enemies are defeated, Water gods convert enemies into followers, and so on. The powers are intended to work in a long, "paper-rock-scissors" type of cycle, so a Harvest god will have an easier time canceling out the powers of an Earth god, while being devastatated by an enemy wielding Fire.

Graphically, XSeed have pushed to about the limits of what the DS can handle, but in a lovely way. Each god's warrior has a unique look, small "animations" for each miracle exist now, and the visual representations of each level range from the "classic" Populous feel to some truly stunning and interesting ones, like a fairytale level, magma level, and a level in which the "houses" are actually older Nintendo consoles of various generations.

The lower screen, with the touchpad, offers a schematic view of the world; the upper screen, the real visual representation, with followers and buildings in glorious (although sometimes silly) detail for the land's theme. It's on the lower screen that all functions are accomplished - sliders and minimap to change view position, touch and pull to alter the landscape, and quick buttons to change the basic orders and "miracle" functions. The upside of all of this is that it works very, very well. The downside? Despite trying their best, the designers were still forced to leave a number of shortcuts for normal buttons, and it's often quicker (and more reliable) to use them than to try to get the stylus to work correctly. Picking your place isn't a problem, correctly getting the input to distinguish between "raise a hill here" and "slide the map left" can be. This becomes even more useful once the shortcuts like "automatically level land and upgrade hut to castle" are discovered, significantly lowering the amount of time needed to work on a given portion of the landscape.

Overall, Populous is still an incredibly fun game today. The extra landscapes and powers help keep the DS offering fresh, and the placement on a portable console makes it easier to take in small doses if you're not the kind of person who can do "hours at a time" gameplay in the god-game/RTS genre. Our recommendation: pick it up.

Added:  Friday, February 06, 2009
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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