The original Populous game was released in 1989.
I’m going to admit, when this momentous occasion in videogame history occurred, I was three-years-old. Despite my toddler-aged honest attempts at the cognitive precision required to master a strategy game, I didn’t find it as engrossing as many others did. Happily, I was vastly outnumbered. The entire genre of ‘God Sim’ was created on that day twenty-years ago, forging the future of computerised strategy. Populous was at once a revolution and a revelation, and deserved every bit of acclaim it received.
Populous is of course the brainchild of one Peter Molyneux. Known today as one of the lead visionary game developers (and biggest boasts) in the world. In the early to mid ‘90s, his Bullfrog studios could do no wrong. So, after two decades, how does Molyneux’s peasant-bothering classic stand up? To be particularly vague - pretty well.
In Populous DS, you are a God. Being a God, you have some fairly impressive powers, which come in handy for inspiring your people and terrorising your enemies. Your basic power allows you to raise and lower the lay of the land to your will (indeed, with your stylus). Flat land allows your followers to build houses, worship you and build your spirit level. As this level builds, increasingly devastating “natural disasters” become available to you, for use on those pesky heathens next-door. While being able to raise a mountain or gouge out an ocean are your basic tools in Populous, they are also your most useful power. Enemy approaching? Sink a channel into the earth then grin triumphantly as you rain meteors down upon them. Sound simple? It is, but it’s equally satisfying. Add in additional elemental demons and gods and you have a well appointed arsenal with which to rule from above.
Populous for the DS is great fun to pickup and play, for a limited time. Unfortunately, the depth of the strategy pales in comparison to modern RTS titles, and the graphics (while nicely updated) feel particularly dated. Gamers more familiar with modern RTS games will baulk at the idea of passively herding followers around meeting points, making the game feel slightly out of control and slow paced. There is plenty of variety in the environments you can play in (including a nifty Nintendo themed one) and some slick CGI-cutscenes for good measure. The DS touch pad has been integrated well, making deforming the terrain and signalling Armageddon an easy and intuitive process.
Gameplay is extended by well put together tutorial phases and up to four-player multiplayer. Real value has been added with the inclusion of multiplayer, finding like minded friends to reminisce with is a real joy. Not to mention cackling like a madman when the clock runs out, ‘Ode to Joy’ pipes up and the end of the world is brought upon your foes. Fans of the original looking for some nostalgia will find pleasure in this portable version of a classic, more casual gamers who missed it the first time will also get value out of the well thought out and entertaining gameplay. People looking for serious strategy fodder may do well to avoid Populous DS.