Review by KillAllPopStars
"Playing God Was Never So much Fun!!"
I got Populous when it was first released, and I was hooked from the second I started playing it. Over the years, I had abandoned this game(as well as most of my other SNES games) in pursuit of bigger and better gaming venues. On a whim, I recently decided to play all of my old NES and SNES games over again. Most of them seemed to have lost something over the years. I just didn't get the same feeling that I did when I first played them, but there were a few exceptions to this general rule. Populous is definitely one of those exceptions. Although the graphics seem somewhat dated and the sound was even deplorable back in 1991, the originality of the concept, the complete freedom and uniqueness of the gameplay, and the virtually countless number of different scenarios kept me at this game for weeks on end.
Basically, the goal of this game is complete world domination. Populous is composed of twenty groups of twenty different scenarios. In each scenario, you can choose to be either the blue people, who are good, are the red people, who are evil. For each scenario a small group of your people and a small group of the enemy's people are placed at random spots on a map, and the two of you must compete for dominance of the map. Each map represents a different world, with vastly differing terrain, weather, and other area specific obstacles. In order to dominate, you must play God to your people. You are responsible for every aspect of their growth and well-being. You can manipulate the terrain, initiate migration, raise an army, declare war, and manipulate various elements of weather and terrain, which include flooding, creating Earthquakes and mountains, and making quicksand pits, among other fun things. All of these tools are at your disposal, and you WILL have to use all of them at one point or another to completely wipe your opponent off of the face of the world, thus claiming it for either good or evil, depending on who you choose to support. The catch is that the enemy has the same abilities that you do. You start the game at an advantage, but the enemy soon has abilities equal to yours. By the end of each twenty round set, you are at a severe disadvantage, which makes the game quite difficult.
Throughout the game you gain abilities by building up your people, and the multitude of abilities and options available throughout the game insure that it never gets boring. At first the game seems frustratingly complex, but after playing a few maps, controlling your people and their environment becomes second nature. Populous is structured very much like a PC strategy game. You use the D-pad to move around a cursor and scroll the map, and you click on specific icons that are lined up on the edges of the map to issue various commands and change modes. This is a concept rarely seen in console games and never seen in older ones, but it suits this game very well. The controls are a bit stiff and jerky, but not enough to detract from the game all that much. The amount of customization options are astounding. You can create virtually any scenario you can possibly conceive in the custom mode, and even in conquest play, the variety of variables that you can control are quite nice.
Even when this game was first released, the graphics weren't anything spectacular. They were about average fare for an early SNES game. your maps appear as square grids, with somewhat generic terrain devices. Your people are little more than moving, animated icons. In fact most of the graphics in this game are very iconic in the sense that they all appear as standard representations of a specific type or group rather than individual images. If you have never played the game, this might sound strange, but when you see it, You will immediately know what I mean. This blatant use of templates makes the game seem more dated than it should, but also somehow suits the game on a stylistic level. One of the more fun aspects of Populous is the various different map types, which range from whimsical and fun to historical eras, and the look of your people changes to match the look of the map. For instance, in Feudal Japan your people look like tiny samurais, and in Candyland, they are gingerbread people. Some of the maps are highly creative, and they provide good contrast to break the graphical monotony of the earlier stages.
The soundtrack to this game is absolutely horrid!! There is no musical score, only a constantly beating heart that speeds up and slows down depending on the status of your people. After a few minutes, this gets incredibly annoying, and within an hour it is downright nerve-wracking. There is one sound effect for each ability you use and whatever ill fate befalls one of you or your enemy's people, and it is the same no matter who uses it. In the later stages this becomes quite confusing. This gets old really quickly. Since Populous is an incredibly long game, it is one best played with the sound off.
Replay Value 9/10
As I mentioned, Populous is a very long game, but somehow it doesn't seem that way. With twenty different sets of scenarios, no matter how many times the game is beaten, it doesn't seem stale or repetitive. The sheer variety of levels, variables, modifiers, and unique strategies needed to get through each set of maps makes this game a fun, interesting, and unique experience every time. The custom mode option allows for even greater replay value. There is no end to the ways that you can customize your own scenario to play through.
Content/ Extras 9/10
The custom mode in Populous is great and is something much more unique and interactive than anything seen in console video games until almost a decade after the release of this game. The custom mode allows you to play through each of the 989 preset scenarios individually, or you can customize your own map, creating a totally unique scenario. Unfortunately there is no way to save your scenarios, and the custom feature is rather difficult to use and, in some respects, is very limited. All in all though, it is a great bonus feature that vastly enhances an already great game.
Overall Rating 8/10
Despite its shortcomings, Populous is an incredibly addicting and strikingly original game. This is one of the first well done strategy games for the SNES. For fans of the genre, this game is a must have, but it is also a good game for anyone who is looking for a unique challenge. Populous is definitely worth checking out.
Buy! This is one of the most surprisingly addictive and startlingly different games of the early '90s. I guarantee that this game will be a standout in any SNES collection.
Populous allows you to play God in an epic struggle between good and evil, features world conquest and complex strategic thinking, and stands tall one of the most unique gaming experiences I've ever seen. With all of this wrapped up in a single game, how can you go wrong?
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/24/05
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