Review / Overlord: Dark Legend (Wii)

Overlord: Dark Legend is a kids game. Don’t be fooled by its challenging HD big brothers, this game is meant for a much younger audience. So while the essential gameplay and wicked humour of the series are here in abundance, difficulty levels and complexity are drastically reduced. Great for the young ‘un progressing from Wii Sports, not so good for the more experienced gamer. Still, at least it’s not another port.

Developed by Climax Studios specifically for Wii, Dark Legend introduces us to the Overlord as a 16-year-old boy; deserted by his loser father, abandoned by his adulterous mother, and bullied by his spiteful brother and sister. What follows is a kind of inverse Harry Potter, where the young lad embraces his latent evil, learns to control an army of gremlin-like minions, and goes out into the world to wreak havoc.

Whereas the Overlord series plays mostly with fantasy tropes, Dark Legend subverts the conventions and characters of the fairy-tale. Red Riding Hood, the Tooth Fairy, gingerbread people; all are present, but none are what you would expect. Infused with the wit and spark of scriptwriter Rhianna Pratchett, along with the voice talent from Overlord II, all the gloriously evil charm you would expect is present and correct. Slightly toned down from its HD siblings, yet still as cheeky, Dark Legend revels in being populated by thoroughly nasty characters.

As ever, the stars of the show are the minions. These color-coded critters are your own personal gremlin army. Each group has their own skills, in combat and abilities. Browns are your melee fighters, Reds combat fire and attack at distance, Blues heal with magic and move through water, and Greens are your stealth assassins, capable of invisibility and dealing with poisonous clouds.

Completing the game demands a knowledge of all your minion’s skills and powers. The puzzles and battles at the heart of the game are built around the exploitation of these unique abilities, most lazily described as Pikmin-esque. But don’t expect much of a challenge. It cannot be overstated that this game is meant for young gamers. The more experienced of us will fly through Dark Legend in a few fun yet meager hours. Indeed, it seems (to this old hand) that everything stops just as it gets going. You’ll complete the masked tutorial, enjoy a section that eases into the action, and then… oh, it’s finished.

But it’s not all bad. Some concessions to the younger gamer are actually to Dark Legend’s advantage. Whereas the crappy mini-map and more-open ended nature of Overlord II occasionally frustrate, Dark Legend simplifies by offering a linear, goal-oriented impetus. With a useful map and straight-forward instructions the journey from beginning to end is far smoother, if all too brief. No wandering and wondering while lost in this iteration, thank god.

The controls are an improvement too. Using the Nunchuk to move the Overlord while sweeping the Wii remote around to send your minions scurrying around the environment, the Wii’s unique controls are far better than the occasionally awkward, traditional controller versions. Using the Wii remote to move the camera FPS-style while simultaneously commanding the minions is near-flawlessly executed.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wii game without a little waggle, so the entertaining but largely pointless ability to grab a minion by the throat a shake him until he explodes is added. Like we said, pointless but fun.

The presentation, however, is a bit of a hotch-potch. In keeping with the fairy tale stylings, the opening cut-scene is presented in a wonderfully old-school cardboard puppet style. Brimming over with character, it’s a fantastic intro. Unfortunately, this style is not used across the board. Some in-game scripted moments are used elsewhere, while others are just talking heads. It’s a little muddled and unfocused, especially disappointing considering the fantastic opening salvo.

Most worrying of all, however, is a bug which causes the game to freeze. Dark Legend stalled every time we played it, necessitating a system restart and an annoying re-tread of old ground. This could be overlooked in just the review code, but a quick scan of the web reveals this problem is widespread. Along with the presentation foibles it’s an issue that stinks of rushed deadlines.

Ultimately, it is difficult to condemn Dark Legend for being easy and linear when it was clearly designed to be just that. A game should be judged on its own merits, and as a simple, fun title developed for younger gamers, it does its job. Yet as a man approaching his 30’s, some of the most difficult games I ever played were as a 12 year old. With this in mind, it is hard to shake the feeling that this new generation is being condescended to. This is perhaps true of a lot of games in the current market, for gamers across the board, but it is brought into stark relief here. But that’s a conversation for another day.

What you are left with is a charming, character-crammed romp through an inventive, fairy-tale inspired land that is undeniably fun, yet oh-so-limited. While the difficulty levels are a matter of opinion, the shortness of the game can be objectively frowned upon. And that crashing problem? Unforgivable.

We want to like Dark Legend as it has so much going for it. It’s not a port, or a mini-game collection, but a title developed specifically to take advantage of the platform’s strengths – something all-too rare on Wii. For its intentions it should be applauded, but the finished product has too many problems to ignore. It’s a real shame.

+ Fantastic voice cast and script
+ Nice smooth controls, a real improvement over the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions
+ Improved navigation tools

– Far too short
– Very easy
– Buggy freezing problems