In Overlord it’s good to be bad… really, really bad.
Game developers recent rush to appease the casual gaming audience has delivered a glut of safe, family-friendly titles. Whether we’re training pixilated puppies, collecting colorful piñatas, or mingling with Miis, we seem to be spending more and more of our game time with too-cute characters. Thankfully, Overlord has arrived to put the gloom back in gaming with a deliciously dark concept that should have gamers gleefully embracing their inner evil. Sure, plenty of games offer players a good or bad moral path, but Overlord ups the anti-hero ante by only allowing gamers to be evil or exceptionally evil.
Playing as the titular medieval menace, you’ll kill, steal and corrupt on a quest to regain power and restore a crumbling castle that was destroyed by the same “heroes” that defeated your predecessor. You won’t have to get your battle armor too dirty though, as Overlord equips you with minions to do your badass bidding. These gremlin-like creatures are a cross between The Darkness’ darklings and Pikmin…well, possessed pillaging, plundering Pikmin, anyway. These devilish evil-doers steal the show, dominating much of the gameplay and offering plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
Despite its dark demeanor, Overlord doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s brimming with fairytale-skewering humor and satiric style delivered primarily through these menacing minions. Within minutes of popping Overlord into your 360, you’ll be commanding a small army of the ugly antagonists to slaughter a herd of sheep-adorable, bouncing sheep that are grazing in a picturesque pasture while happy-place melodies play in the background. This sort of sick style oozes from every corner of Overlord’s twisted fairytale world. Whether your minions are murdering hobbit-like enemies in their sleep or relieving themselves on a villager’s dining table after consuming copious amounts of stolen ale, you’ll find yourself endlessly entertained by the mischief-loving minions and Overlord’s overall tongue-in-cheek approach.
Throughout your death-dealing quest you’ll collect four types of minions-fighters, assassins, archers, and healers. In addition to their title’s self-described trait, specific minions can also do things like heal, swim, perform magic, and equip weapons (or don a pumpkin head if the mood strikes them.) They’ll also deliver life, mana, and treasure to your feet while loyally exclaiming “For you, Overlord.” They’ll break down doors, travel to otherwise unreachable locations, and navigate through a variety of environmental puzzles. If all that wasn’t enough, you can sacrifice a few to a fiery pit and regain some of your own life or mana. Controlling your creature cohorts is surprisingly simple; they’ll occasionally get snagged on something or leave a goodie behind, and breaking them up to handle their specialized tasks can get a bit hectic, but considering the large army you’ll amass by game’s end, the control and execution is pretty intuitive. Despite having an army willing to die for your power-hungry cause, Overlord still packs your avatar with some punch as well; he’s swift with a battle axe, and can set things ablaze with upgradeable fiery projectile magic. While you’ll no doubt rely on your little hell-raisers to carry out most dirty deeds, it’s fun finding that strategic sweet spot between utilizing them and your own sinister skills to get the job done.
From its refreshingly twisted take to its solid character control, Overlord mostly succeeds. And the audio, visuals, and surprisingly fun multiplayer modes (they easily could’ve gotten away with making this a single player-only title) also impress. Overlord, however, doesn’t completely escape our critical wrath as it does burden with its share of shortcomings. The absence of a standard fully-controllable camera is missed; apparently this sacrifice was necessary to allow for the navigation of both your character and the minions, but anyone who’s struggled with camera issues on the single-sticked PSP will feel an unwelcome sense of déjà vu. You’ll likely overcome this early on though, and should soon be swinging the camera and controlling four types of minions with the best of the dark lords.
What you won’t overcome is the lack of an in-game map. Fun will often be replaced by frustration as warlord wannabes wander aimlessly through the countryside, their minions in tow. A map seems like a no-brainer for this game type (and no, the pretty paper one packaged with the game just doesn’t cut it), but it’s sadly missing from this otherwise solid title.
Still, passing the same pumpkin patch multiple times before finding your way isn’t enough to kill Overlord’s joy. Its fresh take on the fantasy genre, excellent minion mechanics and morbid humor make for a gaming experience you won’t soon forget. And if one of the game’s flaws starts to get you down, just send a pack of brown minions-those are the really antsy ones-scurrying through a sunflower patch, and smile as they turn nature’s beauty into a whirl of yellow confetti.