Catching Up With 2009: Overlord Minions

There were two reasons I was really excited to get my hands on Overlord Minions for the DS.

The first was that the Overlord series is one that I find interesting. I don’t know if it is the charm of the minions or the sheer thrill of getting to play the bad guy for once, but the series has a special place in my heart. The second is that a DS release seemed like a great idea. Touch screen controls involving the minions could seemingly only lead to good things for player.

However, that alone wasn’t enough to get me to play Overlord Minions before the many other games on my list.

The biggest reason is that I am a huge fan of the stylus based gameplay that it promised. I’m a sucker for an overhead map, movement with the stylus, and as little button input as possible. Why, might you ask? Take a look at the best examples of this kind of game. First up, you’ve got the two Zelda games, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Both are awesome games, with the latter easily making my top ten games of 2009. Another example, and one you’re not as likely to have heard about, is Dragon Ball Origins. Now sadly, we don’t have a review for that one, but I have played it. As far as I’m concerned, it is the best use of the Dragon Ball license you can possibly find. The gameplay is fun, the story is remarkably faithful to the manga, and it was a great title between Zelda games. Basically, as far as games I’ve played go, this style of gameplay has been nothing but hits.

Basically, what was going through my mind when I booted up the game was that I was in for a great experience in the Overlord universe. I couldn’t wait.

Was my anticipation rewarded, or did this game turn out to be just another bad handheld hack job of a good license.

Let’s Catch Up!

What’s The Game?

This week the game is Overlord Minions, a action adventure game for the Nintendo DS.

Who Made It?

Climax Studios, who also made the ATV Offroad series and the Silent Hill games for the PSP, helmed this game. The publisher would be Codemasters, perhaps best known for the Operation Flashpoint and Overlord games.

When Did It Come Out?

Overlord Minions was released on June 23rd, 2009.

Where’s The Review?

Matt Yeager wrote the review back in July.

Why Didn’t I Play it in 2009?

As I mentioned before, I wasn’t completely sold on the game when it came out. Sure it interested me, but I had other games to buy and a limited amount of cash to buy them. Since I hadn’t actually had a chance to play through any of the other games in the franchise, it almost felt like I shouldn’t start with this one. This is the same reason I haven’t played Daxter on the PSP yet. I just haven’t gotten around to finishing the PS2 games in that series.

Anyways, I ended up receiving this game as a gift, towards the end of summer in 2009. It was a nice surprise, but by then, I was so wrapped up in Dissidia that I couldn’t be bothered to play anything else. Subsequently, the game sat on my shelf for several months.

When I decided to start this column, Overlord Minions was one of the first games I thought of. Finally I could find an excuse to play through the game and not feel that I was depriving myself of something that needed my immediate attention. (Games to review and the like.)

That is why I am so glad I started this thing.

So What Did You Think?

There is one phrase that I can use to describe the game that should tell you both what I thought of it and how good (or bad) it ended up being.

It had such potential.

The idea of the game is that a new evil power has started rising in the land. As the evil Overlord, you can’t abide while someone else starts messing with your claim, so it becomes time to send in the most elite force in your entire minion army.

Meet the minions. We have Giblet, Zap, Stench, and Torch. Giblet is the strongman of the group. He hasn’t got any brains to speak of, but he does the most damage and can move heavy objects around with ease. Zap is the support of the group. He is the only guy who can travel through water as well as the healer. Combat-wise, he’s easily the weakest, but he makes up for that by being the only minion who can damage ghosts thanks to his magic punch. Stench is the rogue of the group. He can hit multiple enemies at once, become invisible, pass through toxic fumes, and even emit a combustible gas when he eats certain plants. Torch, in case you haven’t guessed by his name, is the fire guy. This makes him the only long ranged attacker, as well as a great pairing for Stench. He can ignite said combustible gas. He can also withstand intense heats to the point where even lava has no effect on him.

Given that each minion has so many special skills, you can easily surmise that there are some puzzles that require you to switch between the imps in order to solve them. That is basically how the game works right there. You need to get from the start to the finish, and there are plenty of environmental puzzles and enemies in your way. Some of the puzzles are really well thought out. One section has you controlling Giblet, Zap, and Stench through a dungeon. Meanwhile, Torch has been separated and is stuck on a mine cart away from the troops. Using Torch, you can clear pathways by hitting out of the way switches and exploding charges. As the others, you need to move forward while finding switches that move Torch to new locations as well. In another section, all four of the minions are separated, and the goal becomes to perform actions with each minion in order to bring them together. The key you find with Stench is useless to him, but if you throw it down to Giblet, he can then in turn pass it off to Zap to open a door. Torch is in an area where all he can do is ignite black powder that leads to an empty space on the ground. Using one of the other minions, you throw explosive barrels down strategically in order to cause a chain reaction that opens up new paths for Torch. It ends up being rather cool.

Sadly, the combat just can’t compete with the puzzles. Using the stylus, you need only to draw through an enemy in order to have your minions attack it. This basically leads every fight into you slashing the touch screen in the same spot repeatedly until the enemy dies. The only time you need to worry about dodging or timing attacks is during boss fights. Those are only enjoyable thanks to the fact that there is a puzzle element to each of them as well.

What kills the game though, is the controls. I mentioned Zelda and Dragon Ball Origins before. Those games are known well for getting the control scheme down right. This game fails to live up to their example. Moving feels lose. The minions will even float along on the ground for a bit after you’ve lifted the stylus. This can cause you to slide off a floor switch you needed to stay on or put you right into sniper fire. Since you control all four minions at once, things get kind of hectic. In just about every level, I had one or more characters get caught on the background. Not noticing, I led the others away, which disconnected said minion from my group. This meant I had to turn around and get him back. When I got there, he was still running in place on the side of a fence. It just makes the game less fun.

The throwing mechanic, which Matt touched on in his review, is a wash as well. I didn’t have any problems figuring out how to throw. It works pretty much the same it does in other games. However, I did have a problem getting the imp to throw object where I wanted it. This problem was exacerbated during areas where you need to throw a barrel in an exact location. You can tap somewhere, and the minion will just throw in the other direction. It gets extremely frustrating when you spend the better part of five minutes just trying to get a barrel in place.

The game also has several points where you can get stuck. I don’t mean this in the sense where a puzzle is too challenging or a boss is too powerful to overcome. Rather, you can get a minion stuck on the environment in such a way that you can’t move him and you’ll need to restart the entire level over again. In one section, I tried to move a cannon using Giblet. I know for a fact that this was possible. When I tapped on the cannon to have him engage it, he instead climbed up on top of it. In this game, you can’t move up or down without stairs. This meant that I couldn’t get off of the cannon. I tired for a while, and even manage to get two others stuck before I gave up. In another section, There’s a room with a wall that closes in on Torch. You need to hit two targets to reset the wall and unlock a door. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t see the switches the first time, and I died. When I respawned, I immediately went back. I could open the door to get back into this room, but the wall mechanism wouldn’t reset and I was stuck behind it. There was no way to reset the wall, nor get back out of the room. Once again, I had to restart the level. That kind of thing just shouldn’t happen at all in a game, let alone multiple times.

Oh yeah. The game also crashed on several occasions. For this problem, the only thing I could do was reset the DS, often losing twenty minutes of work.

Another problem areas for the game is the presentation. The graphics are OK, but the textures are bland. The world is incredibly dim, making it boring to look at even if the locale is something cool. The minions look great though. The worst part is the audio. The music is decent, but is extremely tinny coming out of the DS speakers. It makes it hard to listen to. Beyond that, you’ll hear the same grunts and yells over and over again. At times, there will be no sound apart from the music, which is just unnerving. I can’t remember the last time I played a game where your footsteps didn’t make a sound. It just feels like the game wasn’t given enough polish.

Speaking of not having enough polish, that is how the whole game feels. It is clear that there are some great ideas in the game, but due to technical issues and a lackluster presentation, these great ideas are lost in a sea of near frustration. I liked the game, but it could have and should have been much better than it was.

What Score Would I Have Given It?

Despite the fact that I just spent the better part of a page decrying how unsound the game is on a technical level, I still think it is a decent game. Therefore, I would probably have given this game a score of, you guessed it, Decent.

Even if only the controls were tighter, that would send the score up as high as Enjoyable and maybe even Good. If the developers get another shot at this, they should really take these criticisms to heart. I believe that this gameplay formula can work great with the Overlord franchise. Someone just needs to give it the attention it needs.

Would it Have Made My Top Ten List?

I can say for certain that it would not. It just wasn’t good enough.

How Much Does it Go For Just in Case You Want it?

The price seems to have dropped rather recently. I saw this game in stores for twenty dollars, but according to some websites, you can find it new now for as low as ten dollars. If you’re a fan of the Overlord series or simply want a decent DS game to kill some time with, this isn’t that bad of a choice, especially for a low price.

Final Thoughts?

Oh what could have been.

I very much wish I could put this game up with Zelda and Dragon Ball Origins, but it just didn’t receive the same attention to detail that those two games did. The premise is solid. The puzzles are interesting. It is just that the controls are shot and the presentation is boring. It ends up lowering the experience so much that anyone is apt to be disappointed by the outcome.

Here’s hoping they get another chance to make this game as good as it could have been.

Next Time: Sparks fly as I take on a unique shooter for the DS!

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