Cross-platform development is perhaps finally coming out of its slump of the last few years. Each platform has born the brunt of sloppy ports, but developers are beginning to show signs of taking far more care when they intend their game to appear on 360, PS3 and PC at once. This gets trickier when you want to catch the Wii and DS market, mind you, and often the result is extremely compromised versions of the original, possibly with a couple of lazy hand/stylus-waggling mini-games. Or there's Codemasters' approach with Overlord, making three completely different games.
For those unfamiliar, the Overlord games have you control a cruel, evil figure who lords over a gang of minions. Your primary interaction with the game is to send off your critters to do your bidding, while able to muck in on the action when needs must. It's all about being dreadful to innocent citizens, burning things down and causing as much mayhem as possible. Overlord II for the PC/PS3/360 looks like it's developing nicely, and while we've seen it running and looking very attractive, beyond the announcement of the ability to possess your minions for more intriguing puzzle opportunities, there's not much more to add to our previous preview. However, there's much more news to report on Overlord: Dark Legend for the Wii, and Overlord: Minions for the DS.
Overlord: Dark Legend (Wii)
When developing for the Wii, quite a few too many developers have fallen into the trap of thinking players should look like they're performing semaphore while having a seizure. Fortunately Dark Legend developer Climax has taken a rather more sedate, mature approach. Attempting to create a 'hardcore' game for the mainstream machine, the only concession to inane waggling antics appears when prepping a minion to violently explode, and we've decreed this is acceptable.
Set before the events of 2007's original Overlord, you play the titular hero in his younger years, wielding an army of minions through a series of fairytale-spoofing scenarios. Using the Wiimote as a cursor, you sweep your gang of four different colours of minions into the fray, while controlling the Overlord on the nunchuk. It looks to be a very sensible application of the Wii's main strengths: the ability to point independently of your movement.
The first and most apparent fairytale to get twisted is Cinderella. Turning it in on itself, the Overlord grew up in a terrible castle, mistreated by his father, and bullied by his brother and sister. The action begins on the miserable occasion of his 16th birthday. Dad is out of town, which offers an excellent opportunity to cause trouble. The Overlord's brother is in an alignment with the Elves, while his sister is on the side of the Dwarves. So it seems like just the right time to cause a civil war in Gromgard.
From what we've seen so far, there appears to be a greater focus on the Overlord's own magical abilities in this incarnation, with quite an impressive arsenal of spells to fire with the Wiimote when you're not guiding the minions' antics. There's also the aforementioned minion exploding, which is achieved by grabbing them around the throat and throttling them until the point where they are ready to burst. Burst they do.
Despite the abundance of strangling, there have been a few concessions to the Wii market. While not interested in making a watered down "casual" version, certain elements have been removed to keep the age rating down to a 12+. The Mistresses that appear in both Overlord and Overlord II are absent, meaning there's no boinking, and the drinking/pissing behaviour of the minions has also been expunged. Neither really needs to be lamented in its absence, and the Wii version shares Overlord II's desire to be far more evil than the original's rather damp offering of naughtiness.
The most remarkable thing to report is just how extraordinary it looks. Considering Nintendo's first-party releases as the only measure of a target to beat, Climax has squeezed incredible detail out of the limited tech. Look, we'll just whisper this, but... we think it looks better than Zelda. Apparently they've used clever techy pre-instancing to get 128MB of a level into the 64MB Wii. It sounds like witchcraft, but the result is the ten hours or so of game, with up to 25 minions on screen at any time, across twelve domains, looks at least as good as anything else we've seen on Nintendo's cutesie-pie console. Whether the game itself will live up to the graphics is yet to be seen, but so far our hopes are high for a decent, hardcore Wii release.
Overlord: Minions (DS)
The DS is home to many ludicrous ports of main console games. Release your super-swishy, high-resolution, eye-bleeding third-person shooter on the 360, and then to cash in, um, a side-scrolling 2D platformer for the DS? Hoping people will recognise the Giant UltroGuns III name, the handheld piggybacks like a lame and lazy tramp on its bigger brothers. Again, this is a trend Climax is hoping to buck with its DS re-imagining of the series.
So rather than a homoeopathically diluted (and likely appropriately effective) version of the main game, instead the developer has plucked out one aspect of Overlord and developed a rather intriguing puzzle game.
Overlord's minions are divided into four coloured groups: green, blue, brown and red. Each has unique properties (greens create poisonous gas, blues can heal, and so on), used in the games to create strategic combat. So here, with the Overlord removed as a figure in the games, but rather representing you overlooking proceedings, is a collection of self-contained puzzles requiring smart application of up to four of the minions' abilities.
Owing a decent amount to The Lost Vikings, the puzzles tend to consist of using two or three of the minions to rescue the third or fourth. So if the green minion (Stench) can walk through a poison cloud, he can flick the switch that allows the fireball-throwing red minion (Blaze) to fling some fire, meaning brown minion (Giblet) can do a bit of fighting, to rescue blue minion (Zap). You get the idea. Called the Special Farces, their mission is to hunt the cult group the Kindred and prevent their resurrecting the dragon/human hybrid Dragon Kin.
It's viewed from a top-down perspective, the minions controlled by selecting them from a menu on the left of the screen, who then follow your stylus. Their abilities interact in smart ways. We were shown a boss fight in which Stench was farting out his noxious gases, then Blaze from platforms above was chucking down fireballs to set them alight, in turn burning the level's boss.
Designed to compliment the Wii's Dark Legend, while there's no Wii-meets-DS sort of magic going on, the two will have connecting story elements for those who play both, though we're assured there's no need to do so to understand either.
It's looking like a sensible way to bring an element of the series to the handheld platform, intelligently applying the stylus, and not wasting your time with idiotic blowing-into-the-mic nonsense. At a suggested six to seven hours, it doesn't seem like longevity will be one of its strengths. However, if the puzzles can capture the spirit of the puzzle games from the Lost Vikings era, it could be a lovely little treat.
Overall, both games seem to have far more spark in them than the usual Nintendo console "quick, make a port" knock-offs, with the Wii game's ambitions set especially high. Intended to compliment the Overlord series, playing as prequel to the original, hopefully both will stand up alongside Overlord II. It will mark an interesting breakthrough for developers Climax.
Overlord II, Overlord: Dark Legend and Overlord: Minions are all down for a 26th June release.