Review: Pop Island: Paperfield (DSiWare)

More capture the flag on wheels

When odenis studio released its first Pop Island title onto DSiWare last year, it brought a simple, yet wildly playable capture the flag experience complete with one of the most ambitious visual presentations yet seen on the service. Now it's returned with what you might call a semi-sequel, and once again the game has single or multiplayer "capture the flag on wheels" gameplay in spades, this time with a few new tracks and vehicles to further enhance what was already extremely playable.

Not much has changed from the original Pop Island, so those already familiar with the gameplay from it will feel right at home here. You can choose to play the game as either a single-player experience, where you'll join other AI-controlled team members in a race to capture and return more flags to your base than the opposing team. There are two timed periods per contest, and you'll even get a little break during halftime to get yourself ready for the stretch run, and the team with the most flags captured and taken back to home base wins. As you complete the competitions, you'll earn points in Solo Mode that will unlock new vehicles and maps, and since most of the vehicles and maps are locked at the beginning of the game, this will require some solid playing time in order to unlock everything, something that might rub players wanting to jump right into the thick of things the wrong way.

While locating the flags on your map screen is the first item of business, the main gameplay twist will be tossing your firecrackers at opposing team members in order to knock them off-course and force them to drop their flag. It's at that time that you'll be able to grab it yourself and start heading back to your base. You can even choose to go out in search of opposing team members or head on over to their base where you can take them out as they attempt to return the flags, or form your own escort service and try to safely guide a fellow team member with his flag back to your base taking out opposing team members trying to steal his flag away. Part of the fun of the game is finding the best strategy for getting the most flags, and if you tire of the regular D-Pad controls, you can even use the game's touchscreen functions for something a little different.

In order to get the most out of this game, you really need to round up some other DSi owners in order to get some multiplayer action going. You can have up to 8 players going at it at once and this makes for some extremely frantic action. The game will even allow you to use the download play function of the DS system to share the game with other players in order to get everyone involved. And as much fun as tackling the single-player game can be in unlocking new tracks and vehicles, you won't really get the full experience of the game until you get some other players involved.

The control is simple and extremely responsive throughout the game, and you'll find the different control feels of the various vehicles a lot of fun to experiment with. Some vehicles work better on land whereas others move faster in the water. You'll even be able to take to the skies and be able to smoothly and quickly move around the entire playing field. It's this addictive mix that will keep you coming back to try out new tracks and vehicles in order to find the ones that best suit your playing style. About the only thing missing is some new attacks or control variances, but even that's easy to overlook given how much fun the game still is.

As incredible as the visual display was in the original Pop Island release, it seems to have only gotten more refined with age. The game still flows smoothly at a constant 60 frames per second and you won't likely find a more quirky or vibrant set of terrain anywhere on the service. Even the blocky vehicles that crowd the tracks seem to perfectly complement the areas they inhabit and move with the same fluidity as the scenery itself. For all of the playability the game packs, it's still the graphical presentation that steals the show.

From the moment you begin the game the developers are already informing you how important a role the audio of the game plays in the overall experience. Once you fire up the game and begin playing, you'll quickly see why that is. To say that the majority of the musical tracks are offbeat might be an understatement, but you can't help marvel at how well they carry the playable mood of the game along throughout the competitions. Even the character sound effects, as silly as they tend to be, do a fantastic job of keeping you in tune with the overly silly theme the game makes use of. It might not be quite as flashy as the visual display, but it's darn close.

Conclusion

Pop Island: Paperfield might not be the full-blown sequel some players were expecting, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Not only do you get a host of new tracks and vehicles, but the same frantic capture the flag style gameplay returns in all of its glory. It also doesn't hurt that the game will only cost you a measly 200 Nintendo Points to boot. If you enjoyed the original Pop Island, you're likely to find this new release the perfect continuation of it (not to mention be able to unlock additional tracks and vehicles by owning the original release) and if you somehow passed the first time around, this is the perfect chance for you to see what all the fuss is about.

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