|System: DSi||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: ODENIS Studio||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: ODENIS Studio||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release:Dec. 7, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Maria Montoro
DSiWare has proved to be a great way to put out smaller games without affecting anyone's pockets too much. What's more, it allows us to take those games wherever we go. Pop Island and DSiWare have turned out to be a perfect match, and I'm excited to take this game with me from now on. After all, how many handheld games do you know that can be played with up to eight players? And how many of them are actually fun and easy to play? That's the biggest thing Pop Island has going for it.
Pop Island is a "capture the flag" game that stays away from the ever-so-typical warfare atmosphere and introduces a nice array of furry characters and diverse environments that'll keep your hands glued to the DSi for a while. The best way to put it is "capture the flag on wheels." The gameplay concept is indeed simple, but the way it's executed makes it quite addictive.
Things start easy by offering you one play mode (Joyful), one planet (Earth), and one character (Craig the wheel-powered Lion). Then, you can pick one of four difficulty levels, each of them offering different team formations that'll make the playfield more or less crowded. While driving around the planet, you'll have to pick up unclaimed flags and take them to your team's home area. This will be the biggest way to score points and also the ultimate goal. However, it's also very important that you chase flag-carrying enemies and attack them before they drive their flag home. This frenzied battle is complete with power-ups and all. There are eight different kinds that you can snatch from the power-up stations as you drive by. Some power-ups help protect you from incoming enemies, while others are the perfect projectiles to strike that pompous adversary that's carrying one of the flags.
A map on the lower screen shows you the layout of the stage, the power-up stations, and it also represents the other characters as red or blue dots, so you know what's coming and going and where you're at. In addition, it shows the standing flags and if they're taken or still available. This makes things very easy, though you still have to pay attention to the top screen, as any distraction could result in losing your flag.
As you rack up the points and complete the competitions, new playable characters and planets will be unlocked. The variety of terrains and vehicles further enhances the gameplay; that's when strategy comes into play. Saturn, for example, is a hybrid map full of water and jagged terrain, while Venus is full of bumps and obstacles that make it quite a rough ride. Depending upon the land of choice, one should try to pick the most appropriate characters, as they all have different characteristics that'll make your journey more efficient.
One should probably pick Mika the penguin or Arne the goldfish to make their way around icy planets, as you can go straight to the water and advance at lightning speed. You can even hide underwater and surprise your opponents. On the other hand, Scott the bird seems like the perfect fit for Venus, as he sports a sweet motorcycle, ideal for rough terrains. N'Gai the eagle is also a nice choice when you prefer to take flight and avoid obstacles altogether. Of course, no one is invincible in any of the eight planets, but some will make more sense than others, so pick wisely!
Unfortunately, no matter which character you choose, you might get some serious hand cramps after playing Pop Island for a while. Ouch! The controls are mapped to the D-pad for movement and the buttons for jumping, throwing projectiles, using power-ups, etc. Luckily, you can also use the stylus to point your character in the desired direction and the D-pad for actions. This is slightly more comfortable than the first control style, though it all comes down to personal preference. Mario Kart already proved that racing games on the DS can take their toll after some play time, and this is a similar situation.