Game Review: Overlord: Dark Legend
Neither sequel, remake, nor port, Dark Legend is looking to establish its rule as a Wii-centric take on the popular Overlord franchise. And though it may seem easy to dismiss, conscious design choices and a smart implementation of the Wii remote make it fit to roam among the Wii's action-adventure lineup.
Set before the events of the original, Dark Legend follows the rise to power of a budding overlord growing up in a less-than-storybook household. It's not the best of childhoods for the teenage tyrant, and his unfortunate circumstances set the precedent for his relentless pursuit of evil, guided by a group of familiar faces.
Series writer Rhianna Pratchett returns to lend her fanciful take on the fairytale. The result shares much of the same tongue-in-cheek sensibility as works like The Princess Bride and Shrek. The story is light, but appropriately so, keeping the humor in line with the series' facetious take on high fantasy. With only one storyline and ending to follow, however, Dark Legend doesn't quite delve into the morality plays explored in the other Overlord games. The journey is straightforward, albeit one that's punctuated by the occasional chuckle or two along the way.
As a Wii-based spin-off, Dark Legend incorporates many of the design elements of the Overlord franchise, all while distinguishing itself with its own set of features. Progression, for one, still stems from a fortress-based hub that teleports you to objectives that are marked clearly on the map. Gold you've pillaged still goes toward upgrading your minions or equipment, and various artifacts you find in your travels enhance various aspects of your overlording potential. This much hasn't changed.
What will tip off regulars of the series, however, is a diminished focus on base building. Your fortress does bear proof of your exploits, but since there isn't any customizable ornamentation, let alone a coterie of maidens to appreciate it, it doesn't have the same personal touch. Level designs are colorful and varied, though also a fair bit smaller and simpler than in the other Overlord games. If you enjoy spreading terror across the sprawling fields that characterize those, then you'll find Dark Legend's straightforward layouts a little disappointing by contrast, as well as its lack of multiplayer, online and off.
These excisions don't exactly make the best case for an Overlord game on the Wii. But Dark Legend finds its strength in smartly adapting itself to the platform. The levels are indeed more linear, but are packed with plenty of boss fights, enemy variety, and side-quests. A complete lexicon of characters and enemy types fills out gaps in storytelling and provides succinct strategies with encyclopedia-like entries. Whether those additions make up for the various cuts, as well as its brief sub-10-hour length, is debatable. But this compact, well-oiled machine wisely picks its battles, and successfully channels the spirit of its predecessors.
Dark Legend does a great job at making you believe that Overlord was meant to be played on the Wii. The control scheme it conjures up is vaguely reminiscent of Twilight Princess. The nunchuck's analog stick controls the overlord's movement, while targeting and sweeping minions across environments is done through an on-screen reticule directed by the Wii remote. It all fits very naturally with Overlord's Pikmin-style gameplay.
Combat flows at a pace similar to that of its counterparts, but takes on a bit of a shooter aspect with its use of magic, which follows the same point-and-shoot principal as minion control. Spells like lightning and power drain give you offensive options when you need them, while utility-focused abilities like freeze and polymorph help you defend from enemy attacks.
Overall, the setup handles better than any of the other Overlord games ever did, with combat that feels slightly more hands-on to boot. Every button is purposefully used with no slack to spare, and with a little work, it's surprisingly easy to execute complex sequences of actions. But that's not to say the game isn't without its faults. Puzzles still operate on elementary-level logic, mostly comprised of sending minions through barriers composed of their native elements. Minion AI is plagued with inconsistencies, and on more than one occasion, the retail version of Dark Legend froze abruptly with game-ending glitches.
Dark Legend certainly has its share of highs and lows, but when the game hits its stride, the experience is enjoyable. There's plenty to conquer among the game's many set pieces. And though the adventure ends a bit sooner than you'd expect, it remains solidly executed throughout.
Though lacking the graphical muscle exhibited by its next-gen peers, Dark Legend is no pushover. While prone to the occasional framerate dip, the visuals are rock solid, with impressive lighting effects and environmental details. The cutscenes, however, are fairly lackluster. If you're used to the level of quality set by the other Overlord games, you may be put off.
Its audio production, on the other hand, is strong all-around. The minion chatter is delightfully macabre, and the music puts you in the right mood for some gruesome overlording.
Of the three games in the Overlord family, Dark Legend is something of a black sheep. It's smaller in scope and lacks some fundamental parts of the formula, but in its pursuit to be different, it's managed to one-up its cousins in certain key ways. The series' minion-control mechanics are a shoe-in on the Wii, and as an Overlord game, it succeeds at what it aims to deliver: mindless fun with irresistible charm.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.