Since the release of god sim Black & White, many games have taken the idea of being the bad guy and ran like Usain Bolt with it, letting the concept directly influence gameplay like in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and it's the underlining frame of the Overlord series. Alongside Dark Legend on the Wii, Overlord Minions is an offshoot of Overlord II on the HD twins; does this status undermine the game, or propel it above the other offerings?
Minions follows a similar structure to the other games, as you take on the role of an evil Overlord figure in his attempts to snuff out resistance and opposition throughout the kingdoms. To aid you in this task is the diminutive race of Minions, led by your Yoda-like advisor, Gnarl. Consisting of four differently coloured creatures, each group has separate abilities and attributes. To start off with you are required to investigate the threatening creatures pouring out of the nearby Withering Woods, and from there move onto areas like the Cloudland Keep set atop towering cliffs, and Fossilised Temple which speaks for itself in regards to design.
Throughout the game, you'll take direct control of these four mini-terrors, not via an onscreen Overlord like many other games in the series, but from behind the scenes. The four are actually an elite squad of Minions, so you only get one of each, unlike the other Overlord games. They consist of Giblet the Brown, the heavy-hitter that acts as a leader of sorts, as he'll be your lead when controlling the entire group; Zap the Yellow, the White Mage and blue Pikmin of the team; Blaze the Red, whose fiery demeanour and hot-headed fireball throwing is pivotal to long range targets; and lastly the poison-resisting stinker of the bunch, Stench the Green. Each of these Minions' abilities are utilized in varying forms throughout the six worlds and subsequent puzzle-packed levels of the game, sometimes all together, other times just a select two or three.
Like many other DS games built with an effective 3D isometric view of the world, Minions makes direct use of the touch screen for movement and interaction - much more so than most, actually, since it is your only method of controlling the game. The map and list of collected items are handily placed on the top screen, making quick glances easy. For the most part, touch control works alright; guiding your group around the levels is rarely a struggle, and most switches and interactive objects take a mere swipe to use. Switching between Minions, or selecting a portion of the group to take to a separate part of the level is simple thanks to the right-hand pane (or left-hand if you so choose), and fighting grunts and bosses only takes a few taps or slashes. Sometimes however, the calibration can be a little off, as you'll find out when you try to use each character's special ability that requires a precise double-tap, often in the heat of battle itself. Also, when you're required to pick up and carry around items, such as bombs and keys, it can be very fiddly dropping them in the right place. The scheme definitely elevates control above that of regular buttons, but it isn't perfect.
The tutorial for the game is blended in gradually with the opening levels, but for future reference the developers have included a handy 'Mincyclopedia' that explains almost every aspect of the game in great detail. Alongside it are the sections that house the unlockables, the theatre and gallery, which are filled by collecting treasures, beating enemies, and breaking objects for a high score in each level. The latter is merely a collection of character portraits, and the former consists of all the cutscenes seen in the game up to that point. The cutscenes themselves aren't anything fancy; there's no animation or voices, but there is some clever and entertaining writing, so they don't feel tacked on at the end of the day.
The Mincylcopedia adds to what is already quite an easy game; as long as there is one character left on your team after a fight or a level hazard, the rest can easily be revived via generously-positioned spawn pits without lost lives, docked points or any repercussions whatsoever. The puzzles are far from simple, but we aren't talking about Broken Sword difficulty either, and despite the number of worlds and levels they won't take too long to complete. There are no multiplayer or online features either, so once the six worlds are done and dusted, and every feature unlocked, there isn't anything to come back to.
Despite this though, Overlord Minions is highly entertaining, with some clever thought-provokers, and large quantities of character injected into each area. It's worth a try for those of you wishing to see what a mish-mash of Pikmin, Zelda Phantom Hourglass and Another Code would be like.
Control works very well a lot of the time, and puzzle interaction is more often than not seamless. Slight calibration issues hinder the experience, but thankfully don't drag it down.
Functional, crisp and clear, with no loading pauses in sight. Static cutscenes are disappointing, but the witty and amusing writing helps guide them along, Nothing wow-worthy, but no slouch in the visuals department either.
Each stage is backed by an effective score, and each vase breaking or enemy getting clobbered sounds exactly as you'd expect. The chucklesome writing would have been complemented by the addition of voices, but it isn't a major issue.
There is a fair bit of length to Overlord: Minions, with unlockable rewards for persistent players, and a few fiendish puzzles to encounter. Completing the game though shouldn't take more than five to eight hours, and there are no extras like multiplayer to speak of.
Climax Studios have crafted an enjoyable adventure for DS owners, but the end result is not without its fair share of control and longevity hindrances. A successful combination of many styles of play, with a healthy dollop of British humour mixed in for good effect, it's definitely one to consider for fans of exploring and Overlord.
Minions is a ridiculously fun game. I was frustrated with the controls at first, but once you get used to them it's a blast.