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Overlord: Thy Bidding, My Master...

Company: Codemasters

When is a Pikmin not a Pikmin? When it is an evil, marauding imp. But, whether they be cute, flower-topped creatures or creatures bent on causing as much trouble possible, both are out to do your bidding.

Triumph Studios upcoming title Overlord takes the mechanics behind the popular Nintendo franchise, Pikmin, and infuses it with everything cool about being a villain. You have a horde of minions willing to do everything you ask without question, don't have to worry about pesky things like morality and you have a badass set of armor that would make Darth Vader jealous. On top of that, it is an original concept and fun.

Overlord places you in the role of a newly awakened overlord who has recently inherited powers after the previous owner's unfortunate run-in with a group of heroes. Unfortunately, the heroes did more than depose of the previous overlord, they pillaged his tower and left it a mess - diminishing your power. As the new owner, it is your job to rebuild the tower and reestablish yourself as world's dark master.

While the heroes may have taken most of the powerful artifacts, they left you with one thing, minions. These small bundles of fun are willing to do whatever you ask and make up a substantial portion of Overlord's gameplay. As in Pikmin, minions are needed to overcome obstacles, as well as acting as your main weapon in combat. The tasks your minions can perform range from pushing obstacles out of the way to carrying objects. You begin with a small number of minions at your disposal, though as you build up your presence in the world, mainly through improvements to your tower, you'll gain larger numbers.

One of Overlord's first major departures from the Pikmin formula (well... besides that whole being evil thing) is that you are given direct control over your minions by using the right analog stick. Not only does this make sure that minions will go exactly where you want, including small gaps or narrow ledges, but also takes care of pathfinding issues that tend to crop up in these sorts of games. More of your time is spent leaving a path of destruction rather than wasting time herding minions who may be stuck behind a tree or rock. This is especially helpful later when your minion counts reach higher numbers.

Minions come in four types, denoted by their color. Browns are your basic, all-purpose worker bees while Greens are better suited for combat; at least, if you can sneak them behind targets. Reds are fireproof and Blues are waterproof, making them ideal for swimming.

One key gameplay element is keeping your legion of minions alive. Like any good lackey, minions are expendable and tend to die. Not only will they fall in combat, but you can also sacrifice them at altars scattered throughout the world. New minions are created by collecting life essence gathered by killing things that get in your way, including sheep and other livestock.

Although Overlord puts out in the role of an evil character, it takes a lighter, whimsical approach to being evil. This is reflected by the game's presentation, which is more comical and cartoon-like. Much to the dismay of your advisor, the game's world is beautiful and filled with nice scenery like green grass, flowing rivers and lively forests. Of course, these areas won't look quite as nice once your minions have swept through the area, as they seem to take immense delight in destroying anything they can.

As your minions destroy areas, they will plunder anything you may find useful, like life essence and gold, as well as taking small trophies for themselves. Some minions will arm themselves with looted weapons and armor, while others may stick pumpkins on their heads after ransacking a pumpkin patch. The equipment doesn't seem to do much to enhance their abilities, though it adds a fun touch.

Although your minions will do most of your dirty work, as the Overlord, you also get to get your hands dirty and have some fun. Your axe is your main weapon, though you can also learn spells like a fire spell, which comes in handy while burning down fields to flush out pesky Halflings. You'll also run across rabid unicorns and other enemies - including humans. Though you are a bad guy who is likely to enslave their race, humans are willing to follow anyone who takes care of their problems. You can simply kill any innocent bystanders you come across, though allowing them to keep their pitiful lives will yield their support.

Based on the short demo, which is available for download on the Live Marketplace, Overlord looks like it is headed in the right direction for presenting a different sort of gaming experience on the Xbox 360. It remains to be seen just how extensive the use of minions will be, though at first glance things look good.

Overlord is slated for release later this month with our review to follow shortly.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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