It’s good to be evil now and again, in gaming anyway, and this is just the direction the quirky Overlord series pushes would-be despicable tyrants. With its blend of humour, fantasy themes and a smidgen of simple tactics, the original Overlord was well received by many, and has now made its way to the Wii.
As the eponymous Overlord, your goal in the series is simple – become the most powerful, and downright evil ruler in the world, stepping on the peons who are unlucky enough to live in your kingdom, and showing any other nasties the door. There’s only room for one big bad guy in this fairytale world!
In this Wii outing of Overlord however, there’s a little twist – you’re not the Overlord, at least, not yet. The game opens with a story about a kingdom in decline. The king is a hopeless loser, unable to protect his people, and his older offspring are more concerned with their own interests. His daughter is obsessed with the Dwarves, and his eldest son is a wannabe Elf. This leaves you, the youngest son who, Harry Potter-style, is hated and bullied by his older siblings and lives in his broom cupboard bedroom.
This state of affairs is about to change however, as the young protagonist soon discovers a secret chamber in the castle, and receives the armour of the Overlord, as well as the allegiance of the game’s real stars – the Gremlin-style minions.
These minions, also stars of the original game series, form the main focus of the gameplay, and in order to become the new Overlord and stamp your brand of authority on the kingdom, you’ll have to make full use of their varied and indispensable talents.
There are four types of minion – Brown, Red, Green and Blue, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and uses. Browns are the strongest overall, and are the best at fighting and can take the most damage, while the Reds are physically weak but can hurl fireballs and can absorb fire to clear any flaming obstacles. Greens hit hard and can tackle poisonous areas and Blues are able to heal fellow minions and can swim through water.
As you progress through the game and its missions, you’ll need to make full use of the skills of your followers, sending them forth to battle foes, carry objects, break down barriers and more. This is all depicted in third person, with the nunchuck stick used to control the Overlord’s movement. Pressing Z or shaking the nunchuck will also make him attack.
The Wiimote is used to interact with the world and to command your minions. By pointing and clicking on a foe, for example, you can order your followers to attack, by holding down the button you’ll order more and more to attack, ganging up on foes for more hurt. Pulling the trigger and holding it lets you ‘sweep’ your minions around. This makes them interact/attack anything you brush over, and is very useful for collecting items, treasure or fighting groups of smaller enemies. You’ll also need to command your minions to pick up and carry large objects and to move blockages and other obstacles.
The Wiimote’s dpad is used to select specific groups of minions (sorted by colour), and can select all minions at once. It’s also used to trigger the Overlord’s currently selected magic ability.
By pressing ‘-‘ you can also place markers which will instruct the currently selected minion group to hold position. This is useful for providing cover to other minions (for example, getting Reds to hurl fireballs at range), or for splitting groups up for tactical attacks. You also use the Wiimote to make use of specific devices and magical portals, such as the various gates that spawn new minions and sacrificial alters you’ll use to send your followers to their doom in order to grab more life force or mana.
Of course, if you’ve played the original Overlord on PC, Xbox 360 or PS3, then all of this will be familiar. The Wii’s motion controls do suit this game’s main mechanic well though, perhaps more so than the other platforms’ more traditional controllers.
It’s also used for more than point and click, and as you’re an evil overlord, your skills wouldn’t be complete without being able to throttle and sacrifice your loyal minions. By holding both the A button and the B trigger on the Wiimote and shaking it, you can grab a minion by the neck, then, after aiming, you can shake the Wiimote, which causes the Overlord to shake the currently held minion. As you rattle him around, explosive power builds up, and once let go, he’ll run towards your target before exploding. This is used for many tasks, such as destroying barriers or attacking foes. Different minions have different effects, so experimenting with them is key.
At first, as you’re an up-and-coming Overlord, you’re only able to control a small number of minions (five), but as you progress, you’ll be able to command more and more at once. These minions start off fairly weak, but by using the forge in your castle, you can create armour for them (as well as armour and weapons for yourself), making them stronger and more durable. This is great, but I found it far more enjoyable watching as my minions ran around trashing the place, grabbing all sorts of random objects to use as makeshift weapons and armour. At one point I had minions wearing cabbages, bonnets, buckets, skulls and even pumpkins, all of which they went and grabbed on their own. They’re not greedy though, and will loyally grab gold and life essence (used to create new minions) and deliver it to you with chants like “For the Overlord!” and “For my masteeerrr!”. Great stuff.
Now, being a Wii title, visually I didn’t expect miracles from the game, and while on the whole Overlord: Dark Legend does look okay (and is some instances, great), some characters and locations do look woefully poor, even for the Wii’s hardware. This irks me as I know the Wii can do so much better, if only the devs would put in some more effort; games like Zelda, Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime: Corruption can attest to this.
However, graphics, as the man said, do not a good game make, and this is a fact that I thoroughly agree with, and as long as a game has the gameplay to hold it up, then even poor visuals won’t get in the way. Luckily, Overlord does have plenty of playability, and the core game is entertaining enough. Sending forth your minions to do your bidding is always entertaining, and making use of their varied skills lends a degree of tactics and puzzle solving to the mix.
This mostly enjoyable gameplay is, sadly, marred by a few more substantial gripes than poor visuals, though. The audio quality is one such issue. The voice acting and effects are actually quite good, with some of the voice work having a very Fable-esque humour to it. Unfortunately, the mixing of the audio is where the problem lies, with many of the cut scenes and other in-game dialogue being recorded as varying volume levels, some of which a bat would struggle to hear unless you crank up the volume, only to then blow the speakers when the normal volume returns.
Again, this doesn’t adversely affect the actual game play, but the controls, on the other hand, do. For the most part, the Wii’s controllers handle things perfectly well. Commanding minions with the Wiimote is easy, and accurate enough, but when you then try to utilise advanced techniques like markers and try to split your followers up, things get more than a little clunky. It becomes very difficult to manage, and when in combat and more hectic situations, is almost impossible to do smoothly, and you’ll easily lose track of which minions you’re trying to control, and instances of multiple markers on the filed are common as you frantically try to bring some order to things. Rather than make the game challenging in a good way, this simply makes you feel out of control at times, and damages an otherwise great control system.
Thankfully, your minions can handle themselves well enough, and will attack nearby enemies on their own volition, so battles don’t really become too irritating. And, if all else fails, you can always wade in with your trusty axe. Although this never actually seems to do anything worth noting, with no feedback or visible signs of damage, but as long as enemy health bars drop, that’s all that matters.
Missions in the game are fairly basic, and aren’t really that in depth either, but they still raise a smile or two, especially twists on fairy tales such as Red Riding Hood and fights against evil gingerbread men. The world in which the game takes place is varied and full of humour, and there’s plenty of collectables hidden around, such as spell artefacts that grant new abilities, items that boost your number of minions and more.
As far as challenge goes, Dark Legend isn’t in the same league as its next gen peers. Thanks to some streamlining, such as a global pool of essence points for all minions (rather than separate reserves for each colour) and generous placing of minion gates, the game is fairly easy, especially for Overlord veterans. True, some of these streamlining changes do make the game more enjoyable and accessible, but I can’t help but feel some will be left wanting.
I’m sure that fans of the original series will enjoy this Wii spin-off, and it delivers much of the same comedic adventuring as its cousins, with a hint of Wii-style motion control thrown in. Even if you’ve never played the series before then, what the hell; it’s an actual, real game for the Wii for a change, rather than yet another lifestyle title or dull as dishwater mini-game release, so that’s something. I’d pick this over Family Picnic Creator II or Dr Somebody’s Shoe Lace Tying Simulator any day.
It’s only a shame that the presentation is lacking, and the controls are occasionally clumsy, but underneath the flaws, Overlord: Dark Legend is a decent game that should raise a chuckle now and again.