Overlord: Dark Legend
As you might recall, I gave the Wii a rather negative commentary. And that was reviewing its most celebrated titles. Since then, the little white box has spent much time just collecting dust, its poorly designed wiimote draining the batteries I'd mistakenly left in it. Recently I noted that there was an Overlord game for the Wii which had dropped below $10. Ten dollars is my reduced expectations price. Oddly, however, it became harder to find a copy because it was no longer regarded as a hot seller. Fortunately, I only had to cross town to find one, so the gas used wasn't enough to make a marked difference in price.
For those unfamiliar with the Overlord series, you play as a dark overlord bent on spreading your evil influence over the world with the help of your multicolored minions. The minions have different powers based upon their color and different immunities. Of course, you always start with just the basic brown minions and have to rescue the other hives because minions seem to have difficulty sticking together in between overlords. The relationship between protagonists in Overlord 1 and Overlord 2 is rather explicit, with the protagonist of Overlord 2 being the child of the protagonist of Overlord 1. The protagonist in Dark Legend, however, is not given any such overt connection. This is a prequel to the other games, and for the first time, the Overlord has a name, but only a surname - Gromgard. Ingame they are referenced as 'Lord Gromgard', but this is merely a courtesey title as their father is a Duke, and the protagonist holds no substantive title in his own right. This marks another divergence from formula as the protagonist's family is still alive, and several members are central to the plot.
As such, the front loaded backstory is heavier than in previous works. In Overlord 1, you're dragged out of your sarcophagus (turns out you were not quite dead), thrown into the overlord armor and proclaimed leader of the brown minions. In Overlord 2, your child aged protagonist is rescued from a purge of magic-users by the empire and raised to adulthood by the brown minions as a replacement for the protagonist from Overlord 1. Here, the tutorial serves as much as an infodump as it does a tutorial. Your character wakes up on his sixteenth birthday to find his mother has run off with a foreigner, his father has gone off on a quest and his older siblings are in the midst of a tiff over who gets saddled with watching him. In the end, they both run off, leaving you to wander the decrepit castle alone. To rub in the circumstances of the protagonist, his room is a not fully converted storage room behind the servant's quarters (and nowhere near the more conventionally aristocratic spaces inhabited by his siblings) and his starting outfit has several blatant patches on it.
It turns out that the castle cook was a fan of the protagonist's uncle (nicknamed the "Black Baron" and was the previous Overlord) because he maintained order. He did so with an iron fist, but it was better than the chaos that the duchy has descended into. The cook has held on to the Black Baron's minion commanding gauntlet for all these years since the demise of the old Overlord (cause of death is unstated), but pretends to not know what it is. Given his later dialogue, I'm not in the least bit convinced of his ignorance. The cook gives this to the protagonist as a birthday present and it serves as a key to get into the old throne room. There you wake Gnarl from his repose in an iron maiden and the tutorial proper begins. Gnarl is a recurring character in the Overlord series and the narrator of all three games. He's the oldest known minion, and evidently had ties to the Black Baron as well. At this point the protagonist exchanges his starting outfit for the overlord armor (made in the Sauron school of armor design).
At this point I have to mention something about the visual design of the Overlord in Dark Legend. Between the bulky rigid components of his armor (helm, breastplate, gauntlets, greaves, sabatons) his limbs are rather spindly (he is only sixteen at this point). He is also the shortest of the Overlords. The protagonists form 1 and 2 stood at about three minions in height, putting them at one and a half villagers tall. This protagonist stands at two minions in height, on par with the villagers. His height is harder to explain away by age, at sixteen I was 6'1", and I stopped growing at 6'3", so I can only guess that this is about as tall as Lord Gromgard is going to get, meaning he is the shortest overlord to date - mostly due to the fact that the other Overlords were practically giants. This does not turn out to be a bad thing, because it means less of the screen is taken up by the character, and the Wii isn't capable of the higher resolutions of an XBox or PC. (The Wii hardware can't go above 480p).
Now that you've taken on the mantle of Overlord, the extended tutorial has you enact petty revenge on your siblings by smashing their things and having your first pack of minions smash their things. Smashing stuff is a key game mechanic, so this petty revenge has a purpose in the larger scheme. Before you know it, halflings attack and set the castle on fire. So you have to beat them down and find the red minions to put out the fires. It was around this point that I noticed that Dark Legend had finally done what both Brawl and Twilight Princess had failed to - it used the Wii's bizarre control scheme in a way that made sense to the game mechanics. You use the wiimote pointer to direct the minions and control the overlord with the analog stick - it all works very seamlessly except for two mechanics which haven't been introduced yet. This $9 game got more out of the Wii's control scheme than either of its flagship titles. More importantly, it didn't cause the crippling aggrivation of carpal tunnel that the other games induced after a similar amount of play time. This is amazing, because Overlord on the PC is murderously brutal on carpal tunnel syndrome from the way you have to hold down both mouse buttons to 'sweep' the minions (the primary command you will issue in any of these games).
During this sequence, the other recurring minion character makes his first appearance. Quaver, the jester/minstrel of the brown minions. He reveals his presence by putting on the jester's cap of the halfling leader. Which was rather confusing for me, because at that point, I didn't have any browns left alive. Quaver's main role in the series is to stay in the throne room and annoy the crap out of you. In the original Overlord, you could kick the little snot to make him shut up for a while. Lord Gromgard, however, is a bit more brutal and hits him with a standard melee attack instead. But Lord Gromgard is crueler to his minions in general, often causing them to explode just to take out barricades or to restore some health. I didn't use these options much because they relied on the motion control aspect of the wiimote - whose precision is lacking. (And whose abuse of the wrist joint is legendary.)
As the plot progresses, you restore basic order to the ancestral fiefdom by purging some bandits and wolves who'd been terrorizing the populace. You know for being an Evil Overlord, you're tasked with a lot of rather benevalent deeds. True, it restores tax revenue and prestige, and it's the simple fact of being competent that causes the villagers to rally around you more than the benevalence. These tasks chain into the main plot when you find that your sister has been raising funds through a convoluted scheme involving a vacuum riding witch and a disgruntled tooth fairy. Am I the only one who noticed that when you smash things, money just falls out around here? What's more, the objects respawn. Unlike in previous entries, I was never wanting for cash, so I wonder what Lady Girda's problem was.
Oh well, you rescue the blues and can now get past the ankle deep water that was preventing your previous minions fromlowering a bridge to the dwarven district. After beating down some slugs (a returning pest from the original game that lived among the dwarven lands) you eavesdrop on your sister's conversation with the head dwarf and find out she's been financing his gadget production in preparation for an invasion of the fiefdom. You return to town to find that the elves have sicced ambulatory flytraps on the fiefdom for whatever reason. You pursue them back through the elven ruins and rescue the greens, leaving many a dead plant (and occasional elf) in your wake. As you head off, the cutscene reveals that the elves are working with your brother and plotting pretty much the same thing as your sister and the dwarves.
Gnarl proposes a plot - pit the two groups against each other so that they're too busy to invade. Towards this end you go back to the dwarven land to steal their ambassadorial wardrobe (minions dressed as dwarves look wholly rediculous) and attack the elves. You off the head elf and steal the elven wardrobe to conduct a similar attack on the dwarves. The credulity of the disguise is even more strained during this section to the point where the dialogue has to put a lampshade on it. Quoth a dwarf guard "Those are the shortest elves I've ever seen - they must be the new recruits". You beat down the head dwarf and... the game ends.
You get an epilogue cutscene about the warr you triggered between the elves and dwarves and how the elder siblings came crawling home after growing tired of the fighting, but that's it. At the very least I was expecting the protagonist to do something about the foreigner with whom his mother ran off, but no, after the dwarf fight, the game ends. To make matters worse, the dwarf boss is downright easy. While he might have devastated any ground based waves of minions I sent after him, my strategy was to fire magic at him from the balconies. He responded with a flamethrower, so I kept only reds around me. Whenever I ran low on health or magic, I just threw some minions into the conveniently provided fonts and got it back. I had over seven hundred minions in storage by this point, so I had effectively limitless reserves compared to his singular health meter. The elf boss who kept healing himself was more annoying, but the minions guarding the elf boss were ven more annoying than that. In fact, the minions leading up to the elf boss were the hardest fight of the game. I had to get three waves of minions to take down one of them. The elf boss killed none, and the dwarf boss killed only four. It was a bit of a letdown.
Dark Legend is the shortest Overlord in more than just character size, but I played it until it crashed (yes, the Wii just eventually locked up) for two night and finished on the third. The fact that I couldn't put it down until I was jarred out of the game (either by the screech of a locked up Wii or the sudden ending) says a lot about the game itself, putting it with Portal in the small category of games I didn't walk away from at some point.
That said, Dark Legend has issues. First, it is buggy. As I mentioned, it crashed the Wii twice while I was playing it. Secondly, triggering some npcs requires getting right in their face, while others whill trigger their cutscene if you're even in the general area. Thirdly, depending upon your active side-quests the number of things that a villager is eligable to say can be reduced to the point where they're looping the same line over and over, in a very annoying voice. The story, in addition to being short, is rather medicore. Much ado was made in some circles about the fact Rhianna Pratchett did the writing for this game. My instinct tells me that the publishers were banking on recognition of her father's name, as her own work did not impress me. So far, Overlord 2 has the best story and characters of the set, and in that category, Dark Legend was just bland.