It’s always fun to be the bad guy, and it’s even more fun to be the bad guy who gets to boss a bunch of minions around. That’s the experience the Pikmin-esque Overlord series provides, and Overlord: Dark Legend (a different game than Overlord II, though the release dates were the same) brings that pure joy of dictatorship to the Wii. The basic setup translates incredibly well to Nintendo’s current console, and the storytelling and graphics certainly have their moments, but some technical shortcomings and a lack of challenge keep this action/adventure/strategy game from being all it could have been.
Dark Legend is a prequel to the original game, and the basic idea is that you’re a young overlord-in-training who has to defend his family’s land. To ease you in, the game offers some of the best tutorial work in recent memory. The story presents the core abilities and techniques quickly enough that you learn the basics in a hurry, but slowly enough that you never feel overwhelmed. It’s not a separate tutorial, but rather the earliest section of the game.
It’s good the educational stages are handled well, because there’s a lot to learn. In addition to the basics of moving around and swinging your weapon (which works pretty much the way it does in a Zelda game), you have to master the art of guiding the little monsters under your command. You can move them as a group, as individuals, or in smaller clusters of like-colored underlings (you slowly unlock new colors until there are four). By taking advantage of their unique abilities, for example by setting up some red monsters at a safe distance to throw fireballs at an enemy, you can make the game a lot easier on yourself. When you come across an impassable barrier, you can grab a minion by the neck, shake him, and send him toward whatever’s blocking you. He’ll explode, clearing your way.
The developers did a great job of incorporating motion control without making any of these maneuvers difficult to pull off. For example, to order a minion into place, all you need to do is select his color with the D-pad, point at where you want him to go, and click. It’s hard to imagine a more natural way to play.
Working through the early challenges, one thing that’s instantly clear is that the series’ gleefully wicked sense of humor is intact, even if some of the more inappropriate material has been toned down. Many of the missions are based on fairy tales (Li’l Red Riding Hood and the Gingerbread Man have roles), and your medieval misbehavior ranges from vandalism (you start by smashing up items in your siblings’ rooms, and proceed to break virtually everything else you encounter) to violence (you and your minions spend most of your time killing your enemies and pillaging their lands, and PETA will be thrilled to know you can slaughter farm animals for the energy you need to call more minions). Your underlings do all sorts of crazy things to amuse themselves and please you, from wearing the clothes of defeated enemies to making servile comments (“For you!”) whenever they bring you back items. The writing and voice acting are well-done and funny, creating an atmosphere of dark-yet-giddy comedy. Dark Legend gets the tone just right, and kudos to everyone involved, especially writer Rhianna Pratchett, for that.
Unfortunately, as the game wears on, it starts to feel like, after perfecting the template and tone, the development team ran out of time, money, and/or steam. Some of the environments are beautiful, especially for the Wii, with lots of detail and carefully considered color palettes; others lack visual punch and are prone to graphical hiccups like pop-in. Also, with so many abilities available, we’d anticipated that Dark Legend would be the perfect game for either some mind-bending puzzles or some tough strategy battles (or both). There’s not a whole lot of either.
Apparently shooting for a casual audience, Dark Legend’s makers kept the challenge to a minimum. It takes about a full work day to finish the game, but it usually feels more like you’re watching the tale unfold than like you’re trying to accomplish a goal against significant odds. Some people will like being able to watch a game play out almost as if it’s a movie, others will like being free from frustration, and still others might be thrilled to find a title they can actually beat, but anyone looking for even a moderate challenge should look elsewhere. To us, it felt like an opportunity wasted. We understand that a game needs to be casual-accessible if it’s going to sell any copies on the Wii, but there’s no reason to dumb something down quite this far.
An adjustable difficulty setting, with the current game labeled “easy,” would have worked wonders. It would have been simple enough to tweak some of the powers your character earns along the way. In addition to unlocking new kinds of minions, you level up minion groups, increase the number of total minions you’re allowed to have, and learn magic spells. As it is, a minion’s death is a non-event, because it requires no effort to replace him (you just need to find a spawner and fork over some life energy, of which there’s plenty). Making fresh underlings a scarce commodity on higher difficulty levels would have been a great way to make the game a tad tougher without losing the casual crowd.
All in all, Dark Legend gets a lot right, and as the Wii missed out on the well-reviewed original Overlord, gamers who own Wiis but no other gaming platforms should definitely give it a shot. The clever plot, the funny dialogue, and the ease of control all make for an experience worth having, and how does one say no to Pikmin with a touch of evil? On the other hand, Overlord newcomers who do have access to the original (360, PS3, PC) might want to start there, and those who already enjoyed that game might find themselves a little disappointed with Dark Legend.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
They’re often great, especially by Wii standards, but at other times they’re mediocre or uneven. 4.9 Control
This is the best way to play Overlord. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice-acting and sound effects are well-done, with lots of personality. 3.2
Way too easy; it often feels more like a movie than a video game.
3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.