In 1989, a small studio called Bullfrog released a seminal game that created an entire genre. It was a strategy game with a small difference: the player was quite simply a god. The original Amiga release sold well enough to get the attention of Electronic Arts, who funded it, and brought the game to every known platform.
No – I’m not talking about Lemmings, I’m talking about Populous. In some ways Populous was more important to kids in the 90s than Lemmings. Lemmings was the game you played as a kid and secretly as a teenager. Populous was the game you played as a tween to show your gamer-friends how grown up and sophisticated you were.
There were two really interesting things about Populous. The first was how it came to be: its designers were inspired to think differently about video games after playing a board game. The second really interesting thing about Populous is that after designing over 500 levels, the team realized that they had no actual ending. All you got was a screen calling you “Master of the Game” and showing you credits.
They had so much fun creating levels that the need for an endgame simply slipped their mind. There are also stories that Bullfrog developed the game by playing with LEGO – to get a sense of manipulating the environment. Of course, they later acknowledged that the LEGO thing was exaggerated somewhat for PR purposes. But, the fact remains that Bullfrog developed a game that spawned an entire genre – that was almost as quickly nearly forgotten.
Then, the other day I’m poking around the VR section of the PlayStation store and I come across a game being marketed at AU$4.55 – O! My Genesis VR. Aside from a quick demo video, a little text and a few screenshots, there isn’t really much in the way of marketing.
Normally, we put “VR” in brackets when we title VR reviews because we want you to easily see that we’re talking about a VR title. But this time the game’s developers beat us to the punch. Frankly, while it’s a unique title, it’s also quite awful. (Editor’s note: Sadly, that remains a trend…) So, for the rest of the review, I’m going to call the game Genesis. I figured this has to be an indie, and I immediately clicked add to cart…
I’m so very pleased I did. Someone has taken Populous and reimagined it for the modern world. They’ve taken the core concept of “playing as a god”, mixed it with a Lemmings design sensibility, and thrown it into a VR engine. The result is simply magnificent. The game’s execution is genuinely top-shelf. The tutorial is a master class in how to pace a teaching level. The art is cute and fun without being saccharine. The music jaunty without being twee.
Each level is designed as a distinct planet, with a distinct alien race who needs your benevolent guidance, your protection, and your providence. You have to guide your little charges to resources, as well as protect them from their enemies and other natural hazards. (Editor’s note: No innocent aliens were crushed by god-James.) Eventually, once you’ve reached a certain level of civilization the game introduces an apocalypse where everything goes wrong at once. Additional powers are unlocked by getting little dudes to worship at shrines.
Using two Move controllers to represent the player’s two hands, one gets a sense of multi-tasking. For instance, you might be protecting your little guys from a dinosaur badly in need of lunch while catching a meteor with your other hand. It’s an oddly rewarding experience. From the perspective of your Minion-esque acolytes, you are an omnipotent god, guiding and protecting their civilization.
This is my second Twitch stream ever – please leave some constructive feedback. I’m a very old man after all. (Editor’s Note: We can confirm this statement is accurate. James is old as balls.)
Within about an hour, however, one completes the first two planets (I say two – the first is a 4 minute tutorial) to be presented with an invitation to buy additional planets. Right now, there are two more planets in the PlayStation Store – each priced at AU$4.55, which frankly seems about the limit.
And here is where the game runs into trouble. I don’t know if it’s a Sony thing, but one can’t buy the additional planets from within the game. Maybe my smartphone spoiled me – but I like being able to buy my DLC within the game itself. While being annoyed, I started to think about the original 500 levels of Populous.
Now that DLC is a real thing (with a real path to cash), will I ever be master of the game again? Or will level designers keep pumping out new levels forever? Could Genesis be the first god game that doesn’t end? And, isn’t that a terrible thought?
Unfortunately, no – Genesis will not last forever. Thanks to commercial concerns, it simply won’t get that opportunity. Bullfrog’s Populous made history by inventing a gaming genre. XPEC Entertainment, however has made history through financial scandal – and now it looks like it might collapse. It’s a long and ugly story involving allegations of embezzlement, public corruption and of all things, honey cake – and we will cover it in a future editorial.
The upshot is that unless another studio buys the rights to the game and starts building new worlds for Genesis, I don’t think we’re likely to see fresh DLC. But all that aside, we’re here to review a game on its own merits.
Genesis is fun little game that you will play a couple of times. So, yes, you should definitely commit the $13.65 to buy the game and its two DLC planets. As an omnipotent deity, I command it. (Editor’s Note: James cannot actually command you. We checked. It’s all good!) I also command you to be realistic – for roughly half the cost of a movie ticket you’re going to get a fun game that shows off what VR can be.
O! My Genesis VR was developed by XPEC Entertainment
Point of Sale: PS4
O! My Genesis VR is available from the PlayStation Store for AU$4.55 for the base game, with two DLC packs for $4.55 each.
James has awarded O! My Genesis VR the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.
A review copy of O! My Genesis VR was purchased by James Newburrie for review.
James Newburrie is old enough to remember when playing video games involved hassling his parents for change and a lift to the arcade. He has owned consoles from every generation (when they were new), and his pile of shame (see: Backlog) is taller than him, and may possibly have grown sentient. He still isn’t sure about the analogue control stick. These days, he is only really interested in VR games as they are the only reliable escape from his dull, comfortably middle-class corporate life. James blogs at difficultnerd.com