Another DSiware title, although this time not one by Nintendo. NintendoLife had given a glowing review to the DSiware game Pop Island: Paperfield, and as usual I couldn't start with the sequel and so tried out its predecessor first. That game, called Pop Island, is very similar. The modes and features are the same in both, but the original is $5 and has eight levels and 12 characters, while the sequel is more like an expansion pack and is $2 and includes three levels and eight characters, with an additional three more levels and four characters unlocking if you have the first game.

The game is a "capture the flags" type of game, and the main thing that attracted me to it was the fact it has single-cart multiplayer, meaning you can buy one copy of the game and play it with up to seven other people via the DS family's Download Play feature (which is compatible with DSi and DSi XL, as well as their predecessors (DS, DS Lite) and all their currently existing 3DS successors (3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS, New 3DS, and New 3DS XL). The single-cart multiplayer mode worked pretty well for me, although there was occasional lag and lost connections.

As with Splatoon the game is more fun with friends, although the single player mode (which is the same as multiplayer but with CPU-controlled characters) generally works pretty well. The main mode (called "Joyful") has flags spawning at various points around the map and each side has a base to try to bring the flags back to. The unlockable second mode (called "Playful") has one flag per side. The single player mode seemed pretty well balanced so that the computer-controlled players are generally pretty well matched and your own efforts determine if your team loses or wins. The four difficulty modes are also well balanced: the first two difficulty modes feature equal numbers of characters on both sides, but the higher two difficulties give more characters to the opposing side. Although there are items scattered around the field to supplement your basic "firecracker" attack, they all seem similarly useful, and so the game doesn't feel too luck based. The highest difficulty level ("Crazy") gets to be pretty chaotic with all the characters running around the map and attacks flying everywhere, but it's still manageable and not frustrating (cf Mario Kart Wii which just made you want to throw your controller at the screen).

You accumulate points after each game you play based on how well you did and what the difficulty level you selected was, and new characters and stages unlock at a regular rate. The characters and maps have a good amount of variety, and, again, seem fairly balanced. The swimming characters are, as you'd expect, faster in the water, and can also dive and hide their position on the map. The land characters are faster on roads, and the flying characters have the most mobility but are slower than the other characters.

Screenshots really don't do the game justice. The presentation is cute and colorful, and although the art is intentionally boxy, it still has a lot of personality (the penguin on the surfboard was a particular favorite of mine, although the canary with sunglasses riding a motorcycle was a close second). The sound and audio are also good and the in-game text is quirky and funny, and the game's essential map interface, shown in the bottom screen, is also clear and well done.

All in all this was an enjoyable game in both the solo and multiplayer modes, and the single-card download play option in particular makes the game fill a unique niche. The gameplay is easy to pick up and play, but also not super deep, so I wouldn't say this is one of my favorite DSiware titles. Still, the game is a technical achievement and makes the most of the hardware, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for people looking for a party-type multiplayer game for the DS family of consoles.

Joyful and Playful Pop Island links:
- The developer's site is fairly barebones, but they also have a YouTube channel
- Review at NintendoLife
- Review at IGN
- Review at wiiloveit.com
- Entry at Wikipedia

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