It's been a very long time since I played Populous. In fact, the only version I ever got to play was the SNES port (the game first released on the PC, Atari ST-1 and Amiga) back in the day. But, I did play that port quite a bit in my youth, so seeing the game hit the DS is very exciting to me. Populous DS very much feels like the game of old, but in truth is nothing like the SNES title in both presentation and gameplay.
The first thing I was shown in the demo was the Warrior Hunt mini-game. I have no idea why this was implemented into the title because, well, it's pretty boring and easy. All you do is scroll a large map, hunt down a certain kind of dude and tap on them. The faster you find all of the appropriate dudes, the better you do. It's kind of like Where's Waldo, but instead of finding him, you want to put down the book, look at the person who just handed it to you and ask them why they hate you.
Okay, so now that I've gotten the angry bits out of the way, on to the good stuff: the actual game that is Populous DS.
The game proper is very much what you'd expect it to be (especially so if you've been following our coverage). You start a small civilization and grow it, forming the land to better sustain life, all while paying homage to the God (of which there are 5) your people worship (which is you, in case you're a tad bit confused). Through the use of these Gods, you can level your enemies and make sure your civilization is at the top of the food chain.
My biggest concern going into the game was how the stylus would control everything that's going on. Now, don't get me wrong, the stylus has proven itself time and time again, but I had been so used to playing the game with a d-pad and buttons that the idea of this new, intuitive control scheme automatically frightened me. Maybe I'm just too cynical for my own good, but I was expecting the game to be very clumsy in the controls department. Thankfully, I was wrong.
Using the stylus to do everything from level terrain to navigating menus was precise and quick. If anything, the stylus-driven control scheme really added a lot to the mix, cutting down on the time it takes to navigate menus. Also, dragging the stylus across the bottom screen allowed me to scroll around the map, which could give me a look at distinct areas of the game world very quickly and very effectively. Stylus for the win, indeed!
Visually, the game looks great. Utilizing the grid to form terrain looks slick and simple. The animations that are cued from the Gods' attacks look good, but I did have one issue. The sprites used for your workers and warriors don't look that great. They're not so much sprites as they are a bunch of muddled pixels. It doesn't really get in the way of the game, though, as it's easy to identify who is who.
I would've liked to have more time with Populous DS, but that's pretty much the same for everything at E3. You can bet that I walked away with the feeling that not only was this a more streamlined version of the classic game, but also just plain better. With more Gods to choose from and the great interface the stylus brings to the table, Populous DS is a game you're not going to want to miss.