Populous. There, the word's been said. It's obligatory to mention Populous in connection with any game that has a 3D isometric view and little people running about in it, even if the game in question is as different from Populous as chalk is from a certain comestible.
Mega Lo Mania has those things but thats where the similarity ends.
The aim is to conquer a number of islands and become the Ultimate Ruler of Everything. These islands are spread over ten epochs, ranging from caveman level to the far future. You begin each epoch with 100 people under your command, and play against up to three other demigods.
Each epoch has three or four islands, and each island is split into a number of sectors. Initially you have control over one of these sectors, and your goal is to win control of as many of the sectors as possible, to eventually wipe out all the other players' men and win the island.
Naturally you need weapons, but before you can build them they have to be researched. At the beginning of the game you can only research and build primitive items such as catapults, but after researching certain weapons you move up a technology level. Tech levels are represented as a year - like 1850 - so in effect your technology is moved forward a number of years. This means the sophistication of the weapons you can produce increases, so for example you may be able to make swords and bows-and-arrows. Not all the weapons you make are offensive - defensive ones are necessary to protect your towers from enemy raids.
Everything you build needs certain elements as components. Each sector has one or more natural elements which are automatically collected by your men, but for the more advanced weapons many more are needed. In this case you need to construct a mine to provide supplies of these elements - and of course mines are only available at higher tech levels. As the tech level increases still further, you can build factories and laboratories to produce even more sophisticated weapons.
When you feel you have enough might to take on the enemy, you can send out an army to attack another player's sector. If the attack is successful you gain that sector and can build a tower there if you like. Alliances can be formed temporarily between two or even three players, but in the end there can be only one winner.
Your men may be assigned to various jobs - so that some are mining elements, some researching inventions, some off fighting and some simply doing nothing but reproducing. The more men you devote to a job, the quicker you can get it done. Any who are still breathing at the end of an island are usefully put into storage ready for the end of the game, modestly known as The Mother of Battles - but that's another story.
Mega Lo Mania has one outstanding attribute: sound. There isn't another game to touch it for samples; visually every action you perform is accompanied by some kind of humorous sampled voice. So for instance if you use up all the elements in one sector a trouble-at-t'mill voice tells you, "we're out of minerals," completing and invention in the factory brings forth a woman's voice in broad Cockney telling you that "The production run is completed;" and even when you pause a secretarial woman echos “Putting you on hold”. If these annoy you, (a) why? and (b) you can switch to music or sound effects, the both of which are way above the average warbly blips that pass for sound in other games.
Fortunately the graphics haven't been neglected either. Although your men are very small, you can see the changes in them as they progress, and each weapon they use has a different graphic. The towers and other buildings are impressive and the whole shebang is nicely detailed and shaded.
• Scarlet leads the red people and she's no cowering wallflower - more like an ardent feminist. Ask her for an alliance and she usually refuses with a haughty "Hah! No." She's tough and invasive, so you'd better watch out.
• Oberon, yellow king, is a bit of a weed and has a very camp voice. He often timidly asks you, "Do you want to come on my team?" in such a pathetic way you want to stomp all over his people. Well, I did anyway.
• Green leader Caesar has a definite Italian accent. Beg an alliance and it's either "Si si, why not, eh?" or "No, I donna think it woulda work." He's a bit of a side-switcher though, so watch your back (and your tower).
• Madcap is - er, mad. He leads the blue people and usually refuses an alliance with a "No way, buster!" Still, you'd probably feel the same way with that, um, thing stuck in your eye. He's quiet but explodes when he fights.
VERDICT: MLM probably sounds impossibly complicated and about as exciting as watching the Open University, but this is far from the truth. There is a lot to become familiarised with initially but soon everything falls into place and controlling the game is as easy as clicking an icon. Sensible Software have managed to pace the perfectly, so that you really have to work hard on some of the islands to get a sight of the more spectacular effects lurking there.
The game is also dangerously addictive and frustrating - frustrating because the password system only takes you to the of an epoch, so if you complete two out of three islands and switch off, even with a password you still have to work through the first two the next time around.
Don't be fooled by appearances: underneath Mega Lo Mania's innocent exterior there's one hell of a game waiting to take you by the throat. And once it does so, you won’t want it to let go.