Review: Overlord: Dark Legend (Nintendo Wii)

Overlord: Dark Legend
Genre: Action
Developer: Climax
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: 06/30/2009

Across different video game forums an ongoing debate rages over the Nintendo Wii: are there too many casual games and not enough games for the hardcore gamer. Casual and Hardcore – both of these are the new buzzwords of the video game world and have been used recently to advertise some games. For example, The Conduit was hailed as a Hardcore game for the system that would silence those who didn’t think there were enough Hardcore games on the Wii.

What amazes me the most is that while a debate rages about The Conduit or if there are too many casual games on the system, Overlord: Dark Legend is released without much fanfare. While not particularly hard to play, lately it seems the term Hardcore (or just Core) games for the Wii takes on a different meaning. It generally means a standard style of gameplay with motion control, instead of a pack of mini games. By such a standard it’s hard to believe that some people are overlooking Overlord: Dark Legend. It is easily among the better Core games on the system. While the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the series are graphically superior and have the upper edge on Dark Legend, in many other ways Dark Legend is the best Overlord game out there.

The game starts out by showing off the slightly different art direction of Dark Legend. While the original Overlord game mocked stereotypes from fantasy settings, Dark Legend instead goes off in the direction of fairy tales. As such, it seems appropriate that the back story at the beginning of the game is told as if it was a fairy tale. The end result of that tale is that there is a King who has wandered off in search of some kind of help for his ailing Kingdom, while his children are left at the castle. There is an older brother, larger sized older sister, and one moody as hell looking younger sibling who is celebrating his birthday. Shortly after the game begins the annoying siblings take off, leaving the emo brother behind. He receives a mysterious present that is only supposed to be opened on his 16th birthday and opens it. He was probably expecting a My Chemical Romance CD or something, but instead it’s a glowing gauntlet.

Oh look, there happens to be a glowing handprint on the wall in part of the castle!

Boy wears glove, touches wall, enters a strange room and faster than you can say, “Moon Prism Power!” armor appears around him and transforms him into the new Overlord. From that point forward it becomes the new Overlord’s mission to subjugate the land under his power. Of course to do this he needs minions, and is provided with them. As I mention in my Overlord: Minions review, part of the joy of the Overlord games is the fact that you get to play the bad guy. Unfortunately as with Overlord: Minions the game seems to be less about spreading evil and more about doing good deeds with some random mischief.

Here’s the thing: during the game you have to do things like put down some hobbits, but they all seem like a bunch of crazy assholes anyway. Then you have to save a town, and the game provides plenty of contextual excuses, like, “Hey, as an evil ruler you need someone to worship you…right?” Even the missions that are based in fairy tales where it seems like you are helping someone, the game will make sure you understand that there is a deeper, more evil motive behind your assistance. Except nearly every time the Overlord will have to face something that is doing evil instead of destroying some goody two shoes. This was a problem in the original game, but it seems even more excessive in this game. Even the worst evil that the main character does just comes across as sibling rivalry instead of truly evil. Not to mention the fact that that you can’t attack villagers or take a mistress.

While the game doesn’t let you ever really be the kind of evil dick you might want to be, one thing that the game does get right is the humor. For a T rated game, I’m fairly certain one of the characters in the game is a pumpkin molester. The game uses well-known fairy tales to great effect with some surprising twists. The dialog and writing is all around excellent and is one of the strongest points of the game. Even when it comes across as “Overlord for the Angsty Teen,” it is still is fun to watch how the next story sequence will play out.

Graphically the game has a similar art style to the Fable games. There’s a certain British quality to the graphics and all around setting of the game and I think that works in favor of the game. There are not very many games with a similar art style, that’s for sure. One of the strong points of any of the Overlord games is the minions and how they interact with the world, and you’ll be pleased to know that is a definite strong point of Dark Legend. There seems to be no end to the different combinations of things that the minions can get a hold of and turn into different weapons and costumes. For example, one of my personal favorite costumes is the sombrero and wire moustache that some of the minions will wear.

The background and levels are among the best graphics for the Wii. While it doesn’t look as good as the original 360 game, it looks much better than many other Wii games and isn’t too much of a graphical step down. Except perhaps when it comes to the water; the water graphics just aren’t very good. There are a few other graphical issues, such as texture pop-in and in the later part of the game there can be some occurrences of frame-rate slowdown, but overall it’s a great looking Wii game. I think some of the slowdown issues have more to deal with the hardware than the software, and if that is the case I can’t fault Climax for that.

The other aspect of presentation, the audio, is great. The voice work perfectly fits the art style, with the only problem is the fact that NPC characters repeat the same lines far too often.

As far as control, this is where Overlord: Dark Legend succeeds beyond the wildest dreams of the other console versions. Pointing with the Wii remote and guiding the minions to areas feels not only natural but also easy to do. There are some occasional hiccups with the minion path finding, and sometimes they’ll get stuck on an object, but none of that really bothered me when you compare how smoothly the game controls otherwise. Seriously, while the game might have been made on other consoles, the control is nothing compared to moving the minions around with the Wii remote.

If you are curious about how Overlord controls and have never played any other Overlord game, let’s get caught up. Overlord is a lot like Pikmin. In the game the Overlord has certain numbers and types of minions. These can be controlled with the Wii remote. Essentially you point and press the B button as to where you want them to go and what you want them to mess up. The D-Pad selects different types of minions and with the – button you can separate the different types of minions in order to strategically place them in different areas. Moving the Overlord is easy using the joystick on the nunchuck. The C button centers the camera, and the Z button is used for melee attacks as the Overlord. The A button is used to call back minions to the Overlord and the + button is used for the spell menu. Up on the D-pad uses the currently selected spell.

I can’t easily convey on you how well these controls work except to say they are awesome. On the 360, the original game seemed to use every button on the controller and it still didn’t work as well as it does to use the Wii set up. The nunchuck and Wii remote combo feel naturally suited to this type of game and this is BY FAR the best third party effort on the Wii in terms of making the unique controls of the system work for the gameplay.

However even though the game absolutely nails it in the control department, the game isn’t very challenging at all. Part of the reason the game is easier is the fact that there is much less of a focus on farming for life energy to restock the supply of minions. In the game, there are creatures that can be killed to use their life essence to make more of the different type of minions, and in the previous game only specific enemies made the right life energy to create specific minions. Like the red minions, in order to summon more of them you’d need to kill fire beetles in the last game. If you ran out you would need to find an area with fire beetles and kill them over and over again until you restocked your supply of red life energy.

In this game all life energy is the same. Not only that if you kill a sheep or a beetle the game will supply you with multiple life essences instead of just one. So there is never really any need to resupply if all your minions get killed. Most of the time I had more than a couple hundred life energy stored in case I needed to summon more minions.

On top of that the game has a well detailed mini-map that shows you where to go next so that you don’t just wander all over the place wondering where the next objective is. As you can see these additions have made the game easier to play, and while some folks might not like the fact that the game lacks a discernable challenge, these additions also make the game far less frustrating and much more enjoyable.

That is what I mean by the game being the best Overlord game, yet at the same time it takes some steps back. There are far less minions to summon than in a game like Overlord 2, and even less than the original Overlord game. While there are less minions, no mistress, and less sense that you are committing evil acts, the game also provides less frustration, some great moments that play off of fairy tales, and a better control scheme with much less wandering around trying to figure out what to do next.

The game will last an average gamer about ten hours. There isn’t much reason to play through the game again, except for sheer enjoyment of playing it again. The game will hook you in order to just see what the next area unlocks, or what over the top boss fight is up next.

Again here is where I bring up a point that only I really care about. Why are people focusing so much on a game like The Conduit when Overlord: Dark Legend does what many third party games promise but do not deliver on? Dark Legend is a game that is like any other game on a major system, only with a better control scheme and some better ideas overall. It may not be the best game of the year, but if you own a Wii and are looking for a “Core” game, than look no farther than Overlord: Dark Legend.

The Scores:
Story: Great
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Amazing
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Good
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal: Good
Miscellaneous: Classic
Final Score: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
If you don’t own an Xbox 360 or even if you do, Overlord: Dark Legend is one of the best games I have played on the Wii and should satisfy any gamer seeking a “Core” gaming experience. It may not be as difficult as other Overlord games, but it’s also not nearly as frustrating and much more fun than the rest of the series.

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