Overlord: Dark Legend had me at sombrero-wearing minions, but I was still worried. I was worried there for a second because it's a Wii game, so surely they had to tone down the humour a little.
I was even more worried to hear that Dark Legend is scheduled to hit the Wii the same day Overlord II comes out on PS3/360 and Overlord: Minions releases on the DS. This means a strained development team, which might not have time to make sure all the good parts of Overlord made it into Dark Legend (and maybe some of the bad parts were left out). But for whatever they've cut, censored, or didn't get to on account of timing, they've added sombreros. And motion controls.
What Is It?
Overlord: Dark Legend is a prequel to the Xbox 360/PS3 Overlord - it is not a port, Producer Carl Johnson was careful to stress. The game was built from the ground up for the Wii controls and features some significant tweaks to the minion gameplay system - not unlike its cousins Overlord II on PS3/360 and Overlord: Minions for the DS. The plot doesn't tie in directly to the original, so your character won't get stuffed in a coffin and buried at the end of the game; but it lays groundwork for the lore that there is always an Overlord for every generation. Like Legend of Zelda - only Link is a bad guy that dresses like Sauron from Lord of the Rings.
What We Saw
I played nearly all the way through an early level in the game that has you wreaking havoc on a bandit camp hidden in a lush green location.
How Far Along Is it?
The build was most definitely pre-alpha. We had to reload the debug Wii three times just to get it to work right.
What Needs Improvement?
Streamline the controls: Even though the developer built the game around the Wii control scheme, it's pretty obvious they tried to cram the 360/PS3 controls onto the Wiimote-and-Nunchuck combo. The different types of minion are mapped to the D-Pad, but most of the commands for the minions involve the B or A buttons - so you're already holding the Wiimote in a weird way. The Overlord himself is mapped to the Nunchuck; the analogue stick makes him move and the Z button is his melee attack. These are about as basic as it gets; beyond that, you're twisting the Wiimote or the Nunchuck this way or that and pressing at least two buttons at any given time to pull off moves like shaking a minion to death or performing a special attack. You can't get by in the game on flailing; but unless you've got a second set of opposable thumbs, you'll barely get by at all.
What do you mean I can't have a girlfriend?: Apparently, to appease European ratings boards and nail that aged 12-18 male market, the developer had to drop a couple of things from the premise of Overlord. The first to go was the minions peeing on everything, for obvious reasons. The second was the possibility of getting a female companion who keeps your Dark Tower nice and
sexy tidy. This annoys me because I liked having an evil wench waiting for me at home after a long day's overlording. But the way it was explained to me was: "If we can't have fully interactive sex mini-games with the Wiimote, why even bother [to have women in the game] ?" And that's pretty hard to argue with.
What Should Stay The Same?
The fairy tale setting: The original Overlord stuck to a Lord of the Rings-flavored setting, which didn't quite do it for me (mostly because of the zombies). Dark Legend instead goes after fairy tale lore, so you get Little Red Riding Hood, evil gingerbread men and - apparently - bandits that throw ninja stars. It jibes with the humor from the original Overlord and hopefully gives me the chance to ransack all Three Little Pigs' houses.
There's a mini-map: Hallelujah.
Minion-shaking: Dark Legend adds a unique feature to minion-Overlord interaction - you can pick a minion up and shake him to death. There's a point to this; either you can let him go before he dies and he'll run screaming at the nearest obstacle or enemy and explode. Or, if he dies, he transfers some of his HP to you. You can also conk him on the head rather than shake him to death, if you need health. Also, you can cycle through which minion you've grabbed in case you happen to pick up one you don't want to kill (because he has awesome armour or something).
The part where they didn't make a port: I'm proud of the developer for not taking the easy way out and programming this game from the ground up for the Wii. If they're serious about capturing core gamers with Dark Legend, they've got to make a game that will work with the system and not against it. This could be it.
Dark Legend may be a prequel and it may be on a platform we're not used to seeing "core" games on - but it's still an Overlord game. The minion micromanagement is the crux of gameplay and there's still no logical explanation for why - as an Overlord - you're out there in the fields with your minions killing stuff. So if you didn't like that in the original, you won't like it any better now. And if you can't stand the thought of the minions not peeing on everything , you might be better off with Overlord II.