Release Date: 06/30/09
If you aren’t familiar with the original game that was released on the 360 and later on the PS3, Overlord let you step into the shoes of the antagonist of a fantasy setting. Instead of playing around as Hobbits attempting to get rid of the Darklord, you were able to play as the Darklord, complete with a small army of minions that were willing to do your bidding. The minions were one of the best parts of the game, as the random antics that they caused were always fun to watch and the game tried to implement different strategies in order to manage the minions correctly.
In Overlord: Minions, as you might expect from the title of the game, puts the focus more on the little guys who are running around doing the dirty work. More specifically the game introduces you to four minions, Blaze, Zap, Stench, and Giblet. Not all missions call for brute force, and when the Overlord needs to send in an elite squadron, these are the minions who will do the job.
The focus on fewer minions is understandable, as the portable system would not be able to play like the main Overlord titles. However, even though the game plays more like a puzzle game, in many ways it is very similar to the console versions of the series.
The plot of the game is probably where the biggest differences lie. While in Overlord and Overlord 2 you can do some evil deeds, there are no such options in Overlord Minions. In Minions there is another evil that happens to be in town, and the Overlord’s trusted advisor Gnarl believes that the fantasy realm isn’t big enough for two different bad guys, so it’s up to the Overlord to send his elite squad to wipe out the new threat to the land.
This however takes some of the whole point of the game away. At no point as the Overlord are you clubbing seals or terrorizing towns. The plot has you saving both villagers and towns. There’s never really a bad deed to do in Overlord Minions. It feels like a missed opportunity to have a portable game about being evil instead of fighting evil. The story portions are told through well-drawn still images, and the writing for the plot, while amusing, doesn’t provide some of the humor that the main console versions do. It’s aimed more towards level of fart jokes, but the decent writing saves these jokes from falling flat.
Graphically it’s a pretty good looking title on the DS. The game is displayed from a top down perspective of a three dimensional area. The graphics and camera angle are similar to other DS games, such Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass or Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. The main four minions look good and animate well. There are six different areas with four different levels, and the backgrounds of the levels cover everything from snow-covered areas to villages to forests. There are occasionally a few different effects going on at once onscreen, but nothing exceptional. I ran across slowdown a few times in the second level in the game, but experienced none during the rest of the single player game.
The background music and sound effects for the game are solid and well done, but they also get old quickly. Like with many DS games, I ended up muting it and listening to a CD or my MP3 player instead. After the first level you’ve pretty much heard the range of different grunts, groans, and attack sounds in the game.
Interestingly enough, the developers decided to forgo a traditional control method for one that relies entirely on the stylus. Throughout the game you will guide the minions with the stylus, and here is where the best and the worst parts of the game come together. Guiding the minions with the stylus makes sense, and seems like a perfect extension of the other games in the series. Instead of guiding the minion with the right joystick, you’ll instead guide the four minions with the stylus. Using the stylus you can choose different combinations of the 4 minions, point to where you want them to go, and how to interact with objects.
Essentially, no matter what you do the controls remain the same: point to an area in order for the minions to walk to it, and slash in order to interact with the object. If there is an enemy you slash across them to make the selected minion or minions attack. In many ways this is great, since it’s a simple action to pull off with the stylus. Unfortunately problems occur when you are near different interactive objects and try to slash. You might end up constantly activating a one of the question marks that show game tips instead of lifting an essential item.
Then there is throwing. I had to quit the game and go and read the manual to figure this out, making it one of the few times I’ve ever checked a manual to figure out how to do something in a game. Eventually I realized that you select only the minion who is carrying the object and then tap an area until they throw it. It took much longer than necessary to figure this out, and the fact that at least the first two bosses required things to be thrown at them, it really sucks that there is nothing you can rely on in-game to make sure you actually want to throw some object at a target.
In most other ways though, the control system is great. Each of the characters has different abilities, such as Zap who can hurt ghosts, or Blaze who can walk through fire. Zap can also heal another minions, and Blaze has longer range attacks. With all of the different minion types in the game the level designers needed to create levels that suited the minions abilities, and they’ve done so superbly. Just making it through some of the later levels is a challenge because you can’t make a mistake and you have to apply some common sense to the puzzle in order to understand them.
That’s not to give you the impression that the game is difficult, because it is not. The game begins by only letting you have access to two of the four minions at a time. This helps you get accustomed to the abilities of the individual minions, but it also means that most of the puzzles at the beginning of the game are easier to figure out since if you get stuck, you have only two options for how to proceed. Later on the game will pit you against puzzles that require different combinations of the minions abilities, or a mixture of two. A prime example is with Stench and Blaze. Stench can eat certain foods that give him gas, and for a period of time everywhere Stench moves will leave a trail of this gas. Blaze can light this with a fireball that will set of an explosion that opens some doors.
Really though the toughest part of any level is just figuring out how to cross it. The health of the minions is never much of a concern because Zap can revive health and there are generally several points on a map where you can respawn fallen minions. The toughest part is actually getting from one level to another. The level design for many of the levels is great and there’s is a feeling of accomplishment in the later levels for figuring out how to proceed.
After clearing a few stages at the end of an area will be a boss fight. These are multi-stage affairs that mix up the different minions you can use along with different weaknesses. As mentioned, the most annoying part of these is the fact that the first two involve throwing objects, which was much harder to figure out how to do than to actually beat some of these bosses.
Once you beat the game there’s not much of a point of replaying it unless you are trying to beat a previous time. The interesting part of the game is figuring out how to get through a level, once you know how to it loses its charm. Many of the levels can take some time to clear though, and should last an average gamer at least about six hours or more to beat.
While Overlord Minions has more in common with a game such as Lost Vikings instead of the console titles, it maintains the humor and art design of those games. The game makes a few missteps with the stylus-only controls, but once you adjust to the controls it is a fun game with some well-designed levels.
Sound: Above Average
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Above Average
Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Overlord Minions is good for when you want to be evil on the go. It sports good level design and retains the series humor. Some touchy control issues hold the game back from being better, but they aren’t game breaking.