Be a vengeful god in this earth-shaking, world-ending strategy game.
Living as lowly mortals in the universe of Populous doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. They wander around, build a few huts, get in a slap-fight with the other side’s worshippers, and wait patiently for the Apocalypse. But since you play as the deity who’s calling the shots, looking at the big picture and raining fire down on the nonbelievers—well, that’s not bad at all.
[image1]The worshippers in the real-time strategy game Populous DS are not under your direct control, but you do have the ability to shape the world around them. Your most commonly used divine ability is to raise and lower the landscape, which must be flat on all sides for the little people to grow and prosper. You do this by flicking up and down with the stylus or hitting the A and B buttons, and since you’ll have to do this many thousands of times, you likely find the buttons to be an effective, rapid-fire way to level the plains.
Once your people are settled, they’ll begin to pray to you and give you spiritual powers, which allow you to send miracles like rain or flowers that let them grow faster. Eventually, you’ll be able to make your enemies suffer with powerful floods, typhoons, meteors, and volcanoes. Managing your spiritual powers is the main challenge of the game, as you’ll constantly struggle to keep your people prosperous while striking at the enemy.
[image2]While the concept is interesting, the visuals in Populous are not as appealing and seem dated. Each miracle you perform brings up a brief CG movie showing your god performing the chosen magical act, but the designs for the deity are bland and not particularly impressive. The stages do have a great deal of variety, from magma-flooded pits to floating Zen gardens, but the tiny people who populate them are very poorly animated.
Even when you call in your greatest miracle, Armageddon, to bring battles to a rapid conclusion and send your followers to the center of the map for a fight to the death, the graphics and animation are terribly lacking. What’s meant to be dramatic, with lightning striking all around and your followers melding into each other like they’re in a Highlander sequel, instead appears very simplistic.
[image3]While a majority of the game is visually uninspiring, the lower screen’s 3D topographical map is the exception. It’s quite good at combining all the landscape information you need in a slick-looking VR-styled way. With one glance you can easily tell which hills need to be flattened and which oceans need to be raised. Since you’re constantly fine-tuning the map while the clock runs out, this makes the most important component of the gameplay a breeze to manage.
The fifty challenge levels in Populous DS tend to emphasize different aspects of the gameplay, but by the end you’ll probably tire of the repetitive landscaping, which you must do every round. A few bonus modes can help extend the life of this title, like a Where’s Waldo?-style "Warrior Hunter" minigame and a gallery that lets you keep track of the unique warriors you’ve created via miracles.
Populous DS can be addicting once you get past the quirks that are unique to this series. This god-sim is an incredible challenge, and it’s a refreshing shift from more modern, conventional RTS games. The little worshippers in Populous may not look like much, but they’ll fight to the end of the earth for you, and it’s hard not to feel for their meager existence.