Overlord: Minions Nintendo DS review

Codemasters' Overlord franchise arrives on the Nintendo DS. And the minions seem really quite pleased...

Overlord: Minions is being released at around the same time as Overlord II for the Xbox 360 and PS3.  It’s not a sequel or prequel, it’s more of a companion.  It features the return of Gnarl, the minion assistant who dished out advice in the original Overlord game, as you set about trying to undo the evil in the world (and replace it with your own brand of evil.) You do this in a variety of areas that are best described as variations on the dungeon theme. The world is presented as a top-down, 3D world, reminiscent of Zelda or GTA:Chinatown Wars. But, let’s not think that this is a shining endorsement of Overlord: Minions.

In Overlord: Minions, you play the Overlord. Unlike the 360/PS3 game, your character doesn’t appear onscreen, wandering behind your minions unleashing dark justice. In the DS version, you’re offscreen, controlling the characters with a deft swipe of your stylus.

In Minions, you’ve got four… minions… to control – Giblet (a melee character), Blaze (ranged attacks), Stench (Stealth and melee) and Zap (Magic) – as you attempt to destroy anyone who gets in your way, solve puzzles and get momentarily frustrated. You can’t just run in and attack everything in sight; sometimes different combinations of minion have to work together. For example, Stench is the only character who can walk through gas, whilst Blaze can set it alight with his fireballs and light torches that (for some reason) open doors.

Sometimes it’s necessary to split up your minions to complete a puzzle. It can be hazardous if a bad guy is in the area and ends up attacking your team whilst you’re away doing something else! Having said that, there are a few respawn points in each location, so you’re not too far from a getting your minions back. The level restarts if all your minions die. This lack of sense of loss means that you don’t feel you have to be overly protective of your minions. Even reading the end of level stats screen, there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly negative about having numerous respawns; there’s no grading system for your progress.

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After you’ve defeated each puzzle and beaten the bad guys, you get to take on the main bad guy for the round. This usually involves throwing something at him so he does something, then you attack him and he gets injured. Repeat this process until he’s defeated. Unless you’re inept, it should not take more than a few minutes.

It’s a puzzle game, you see, with elements of combat thrown in. The combat is very much like the puzzle solving. You swipe the enemy, or puzzle, with your stylus and something happens. To beat the enemy, you simply have to swipe faster than the enemy attacks. Since the enemies all seem to have taken sleeping tablets, it’s not hard.

With the puzzles, you might have to turn a handle, flick a switch, push a block. It’s definitely not Professor Layton… it’s more like Vikings, a puzzle game from yesteryear. With a little thought, you can pretty much overcome any of the puzzles within a few minutes. Some of them require some back tracking and that can be a bit frustrating, but none of the puzzles will have you worrying at night. In fact, most of them can be solved in no more than a few minutes. From this, you’d assume the game isn’t particularly taxing. 

Oh, hold on, there is one taxing thing… the stylus. It’s a wonderful idea: you swipe something to interact with it and you point in the direction you want your minions to walk, except it’s not so reponsive when things get frantic. From time to time, I’d want to throw something (tap it/swipe it) and, what happens? Nothing. Nothing at all. Sometimes. And then you get frustrated for all the wrong reasons. It’s an issue with the end of level bosses, where you’re required to throw something at a particular moment.

There’s a Mincyclopedia feature in which you can find all the information you need to play the game, with more being revealed as you go along. It covers the story, minions, combat, enemies, devices and your statistics. It’s quite interesting to read early on when you’re learning stuff about the game. However, you’ll probably stop referring to it after the first half hour.

Graphically, the game is okay. There’s not much variety in the bad guys, with each type of bad guy being cloned from the same model. The same can be said of the scenery; it’s all very much of a muchness when you drift from room to room. The cut scenes are displayed on the top screen. These are pretty much just drawings that are animated in places by having characters slide in and out or change facial expression. It’s not bad, to be honest, and if Professor Layton can get away with it… so can this.

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As for the sound – argh! Each level has its own theme, which plays constantly, and it’s a loop! Seriously, I know that the cartridges don’t have tons of space, but still! I spent most of my time with the volume off. Thankfully, there’s no dialogue so you  won’t be missing anything.

Overlord: Minions is really quite fun to play just because it’s not as challenging as some puzzle games on the DS. It’s the type of game you can pick up and put down. The game was obviously created with the stylus in mind (you can’t use buttons as far as I could tell), and it’s good to see that it is broadly well implemented. There are niggles with the speed of stylus response, but it’s not a killer to what is, ultimately, an interesting idea, let down by frustrating and lacklustre presentation.

What really lets it down, however, is it’s not particularly puzzling. The world’s are large, but they’re linear. Whilst I wouldn’t have expected the whole Overlord experience in a cartridge, after playing games such as GTA: Chinatown Wars, which had a massive, open world, this seems really quite cramped. The strategy elements of the game are lacking, the combat comes down to being faster than the (not particularly bright) AI, and there’s just a general mundanity to it all.

Overlord: Minions is out now.


2 out of 5