hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Five design decisions that put the suck into Populous DS

11:45 AM on 11.20.2008 // Niero Desu

Populous DS had promise.  The Molyneux classic primarily involved pointing and clicking, so this game should have translated beautifully with stylus controls on the DS platform. Instead, playing this game is like trying to rescue a french fry that's fallen into the deep netherworld between the seats of your automobile. It is known that it is physically possible to salvage, but the process requires both hands, a fair amount of focus, struggle, and not a hell of a lot of visibility to aide you in the rescue.  It's also not worth the trouble because you know it's not going to be covered in filth when it resurfaces. Let me save you the trouble.

I was compelled to vent my disappointment with the title as I am a huge fan of the classic and really had hoped that the mobile update would rock my retro socks off, wet my grandmother's panties, etc.  Instead, I spent the entire time squinting and cursing at what little I could see of the screen. What's more upsetting is that there is a good game in there but various design decisions hold it back from being enjoyable. I'd like to offer up five observations for debate that might have saved this game in the hopes that future Populous ports don't go the same route. Beginning with:

1.  The amount of fluff on the screen is redunkulous

Populous DS falls into the category of hand-me-down development (Bullfrog was bought out by EA in 1995, Xseed made this one) where a new design team had to make modifications to the original concept.  The big challenge was how to deal with a game that's essentially turned at a 45 degree angle with context menus hugging the four poles. Obviously, that adds clutter. Their solution? Display the game TWICE.

On the top screen you have a rasterized view of the landscape which, on occasion, lets you see your God yelling when you summon a miracle. On the bottom you see the same exact view of the game in a more clear iconic form.  In other words, there is rarely any reason to look at the top screen.  It's fluff.  You can paste a photo of Chad Concelmo over the top display for a more enjoyable experience.

2. Only half of the bottom screen is useful 

As it wasn't bad enough that the top screen was worthless, half the bottom screen is full of cluttered UI design which includes buttons, borders, a mini-map of the entire world, and the page-of-a-book design cliche that Populous became famous for.  The travesty here is that the design team attempted on retaining as much of the original design of the game as possible at the expense of the visual quality of the game.  This butts heads directly with their desire to have everything controlled by touch, as it now left only a portion of the screen to manipulate and monitor.  Less than 4 houses fit on the screen at once and the peasants are tiny.  Skirmishes on the micro map can barely be seen.

Why they couldn't add a button or hotkey that allowed me to switch between grid mode and reality mode on the same screen and use BOTH screens to show more of the map is absolutely beyond my comprehension.A braver design decision would only have offered that framed view by holding down the R button (instead of making it interchangeable with L) and letting us see more of the map at once.

Instead, I can't see shit.

3. The Gods are more than angry, they're obnoxious

The updated Gods concept in this game is actually cool, but falls apart in execution. You have five elementals of varying strength and weakness, all of which have been rendered in updated beautiful 3D and make cameos in the worthless top screen when you summon them.  While that may sound like a good idea, imagine how much fun it is to watch that animation and its accompanying SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAACH!!!! every time you want to set down marsh, make an earthquake, or throw down a meteor.  You'll want to do that at least 20 times per round, so this gets old fast.  It reminds me of the early Final Fantasy games where you're forced to watch the Summon run its course.  Anyone paying attention in game design class should know better.

What's worse is that these design decisions don't gel with the rest of the game. Case and point: the classic book design and it's accompanying animatronic-jawed opening screen is followed by updated God graphics it leaves the vintage parts of the presentation looking dated or lazy.  I feel like they should have gone one way or the other and been more successful instead of trying to cram it all in there.

The game isn't ugly.  It just looks like 3 different games.

4. New usability that was almost cool

A neat feature in the DS version is the ability to automatically flatten the area around your houses in one tap by holding the L button, which allows you to spend more time expanding your empire and making life miserable for the other God.  Unfortunately it doesn't take into account the median level of the rest of your developed lands so if one town idiot decides to build in high elevation and you use this feature, it will just raise the rest of the land by his example and break everything else you have going nearby.  So you end up using this feature less. Clicking and dragging on the mini map is a terrific way to quickly move around the map but since the graphics have been so compacted it's hard to tell what you're looking at and moves too fast, so you end up navigating with the D-pad instead more than often.  Could have been cool but other factors hold it back. 

5. There is no buildup to the climax in Armageddon

This is more of a pet peeve than anything, but it was the last nail in the coffin for me.  When you summon Armageddon you may as well go get a sandwich because for some reason they freeze all of your controls so you can't scroll around to watch your people walk from far and wide in masses to the final confrontation.  They also hide the power meters so you have absolutely no clue whats going on.  Instead, you can watch a little peephole of the final confrontation happen a few minutes after the dots on your micromap make it to the main area. 

I'm not sure who this game is for.  Fans of the original will also be disappointed that the fighting sound (which used to sound kooky and metallic) has been replaced by a beat-em-up sound.  Where's my fan service? The original parts of the game are all there in painful execution, so it isn't for the old timers unless you have excellent eyesight and don't mind playing this game like you're perpetually smelling your DS.  There is a really interesting 4-way multiplayer feature and other bells and whistles that may take your mind off of how bad the game is presented.  The core mechanics are all there though.  It's a shame. I really wanted to love it, but playing it is such a chore.

In other news, IGN actually gave this game a seven. Maybe I'm just picky? Surely there must be a Dtoider that enjoyed it.  If you're more forgiving and can make a case why this game is just fine the way it is, please sound off in the comments below.

Photo Gallery: (6 images)
Click to zoom - browse by swipe, or use arrow keys

Niero Desu, Blogsmith
 Follow Blog + disclosure destructoid Tips
Top 10 things you didn't know about me: (1) I'm a volunteer English teacher on weekends, (2) my first real job was drawing comics for a major newspaper, (3) my favorite console is the Super Ninte... more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our moderators, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

KingSigy avatarKingSigy
Rad Party God avatarRad Party God
Crypt of the NecroDancer and Valkyria Chronicles are on sale through Steam, BUY THEM, GO GO GO!
Manchild avatarManchild
Missing you guys. Super busy. Mario Maker is the shit.
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
The new Bloggers Wanted prompt will post on Monday!
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
For Occams: [img][/img]
Avoclefo avatarAvoclefo
I routinely listen to the Dustforce soundtrack every week. Incredible sounds. [youtube][/youtube]
CoilWhine avatarCoilWhine
Steam rejected the DP refund. Meh, It's been a long time between when I bought and played it, don't care anymore, heh. Decided to play more MGS4 on PS3 and start replaying Rayman Origins on PC. Fun games that actually work.
TheAngriestCarp avatarTheAngriestCarp
Being an asshole, watching this Star Citizen debacle unfold and seeing Cloud Imperium's meltdown about the whole ordeal is incredibly entertaining. Even if the allegations ARE false, CI's official statement comes off as wonderfully bitter and petty.
Dr Mel avatarDr Mel
Alright. Playing off of the Avatar question, why did you choose your username?
CoilWhine avatarCoilWhine
I tried playing Deadly Premonition on Steam from my backlog today and it's a GODAWFUL pc port. I bought it forever ago but I requested a refund. If anything I don't want it in my library....
Dr Mel avatarDr Mel
If you ever dipped a cookie in your coffee, I promise you're doing it right.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
Why did you pick your avatar? What about you does it represent?
Jiraya avatarJiraya
Wanna eat some meat ? [youtube][/youtube]
KyWii avatarKyWii
Why is it that Sundays always feel so lazy? I always tell myself I'm going to get things done and then...well....
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
So, I plan on using my GameStop Power-Up Rewards points (yes) to buy all the eventual P4DAN DLC. Even though the practices are very suspect. I am so not made of stone. Moreso blubber and Dr. Pepper.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Having a puppy and trying to play legend of grimrock 2 somewhere the puppy normally doesn't get to hang out is a futile effort.
gajknight avatargajknight
Shafts of light emanated from Robo Panda Z's eyes, illuminating the intricately engraved obelisks looming impossibly above him. A whispered voice spoke from the obelisk. Do you pay too much for your Internet? Comcast. Like you have a choice.
Robo Panda Z avatarRobo Panda Z
I miss Kill la Kill - I think mostly because it was so damn entertaining to have a bunch of people drawling, "Nuuuuuuuuudiiiiiiiist Beeeeeeeeeeeaaaach" at each other.
TheAngriestCarp avatarTheAngriestCarp
I took a homeopathic shower this morning. I used extra water.
Shinta avatarShinta
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -