My First Overlord would not have been a marketable title for the first Overlord game to land on the Wii, but it would have been an apt one. Overlord: Dark Legend is a catchier name, of course, but it doesn't prepare you for the watered-down adventure in this passable but dissatisfying package. Dark Legend gets the franchise basics down, sending you and a crowd of hysterical demonic minions into the countryside to wreak havoc on your rivals. Unfortunately, with this iteration you get only the basics. Dark Legend is so easy that you can sleepwalk your way through most boss battles; the simple puzzles are never clever and fail to capitalize on your minions' abilities; and character progression is such a cakewalk that the feature may as well have been left out completely. You'll enjoy the signature dark-humored charm, but ultimately, this action/strategy fusion is too shallow to be fulfilling.
Like the other games in the series, Dark Legend is a hybrid of third-person action and real-time strategy. As the titular Overlord, you recruit four different types of silly shrieking minions from the gates scattered throughout each level. You won't be playing with a full complement of minions when you begin, nor will you have access to each type at first. Eventually, however, you'll be leading around a crowd of evildoers and put their special talents to use. For instance, blue minions revive slain minions and wade through water; red ones soak up flames and toss fireballs at enemies; and green ones can pass through clouds of poisonous gases unharmed. You'll solve some light puzzles using these abilities, often by commanding your gleeful, cackling goblins to turn a crank or push a heavy obstacle.
Sadly, puzzles rarely get more complex than those simple actions. You often send blue minions through pools of water to get to the crank in question, or order red ones through infernos to do the same, but the more unusual possibilities go annoyingly unexplored. For example, you can throttle a minion by picking him up and shaking him, and then point him toward an object, at which point he'll sprint toward that location in a frenzy and explode. Yet the game requires you to use this ability only once, which is a wasted opportunity considering how funny it is to watch your suicidal minions maniacally scurry across the screen. Similarly, your green minions' stealth skills are needed only once--during the objective that introduces you to this mechanic. There was a lot of potential for crafty, multistage puzzles here. Instead, these environmental actions are so simple that you'd be hard pressed to call them puzzles at all, and the underutilized minion abilities make Dark Legend feel shallow and unrewarding.
The combat is livelier, though there are wasted possibilities here as well. Each minion type brings a different attack to the table, but while there are a few moments when you will need to use their combat skills wisely, almost every battle can be won by throwing minions at your target en masse and watching the resultant chaos. It's fun to witness these imps swarm around battle-hardened dwarves and pound on them for a while. Green minions will pounce on an enemy, straddle him, and bash on his head, while reds toss fireballs from a distance. It's especially charming when the rascals don makeshift armor; few sights are as amusing as a screaming gremlin cavorting about with an old boot on its head. Yet as appealing as this bedlam is to watch, it can't mask the underlying simplicity. You can join the fray if you like, though your only physical contribution is to perform your lone, bland attack--a swing of your blade. You can also cast some spells, such as chain lightning and petrify, but you could easily skim through Dark Legend without needing to use any of them.
You might die once or twice, particularly toward the end of your adventure, when meat-eating weeds leap from the ground while you face off against another foe or two. However, you'll probably coast your way to the end of Dark Legend's seven-hour campaign without breaking a sweat. You can sacrifice minions to blood pits or mana pits if you run low on health or magic energy, but it's a good bet you will never need to. Even boss fights, which you would hope would offer at least some challenge, are a letdown. A few provide some neat twists, such as one battle in which you must use fireworks in a clever way. Most of these conflicts are relatively straightforward, however; this includes the final boss, who is such a pushover that you can sit back and let your minions do all the work while you do absolutely nothing at all. Your reward for five minutes of boredom is a closing montage and a credit roll. It's an insulting conclusion to an anticlimactic adventure.
In spite of the banality, Dark Legend is just amusing enough to keep you pushing forward. As spectator entertainment, the game is a hoot. It doesn't nail the delightfully sinful vibe of the other Overlord games, but it does twist a few familiar legends into wicked retellings. Missions provide shrewd takes on recognizable fairy tales, such as Hansel and Gretel, and even when the story leaves these references behind, lively voice acting and comical dialogue almost make the game worth trudging through. As you traipse through the kingdom you'll pass through a variety of nice environments, from sun-drenched farmland to gingerbread houses to humid swamps. Dark Legend doesn't look as artistically striking as its cousins do, but it's attractive and diverse enough to make for amiable travel.
Dark Legend's character progression system will also give you an initial reason to press ahead, because it offers the temptation of better weapons and armor, as well as more-powerful minions. For the first hour or so, the promise of better stuff leads you to bash open every chest, crate, and barrel looking for gold to spend on upgrades. But like the rest of Dark Legend, this feature hangs out in the shallow end of the pool. Not only are sources of gold everywhere, but chests and barrels respawn, so your coffers will be quickly overflowing, which means there's no reason you shouldn't be touting the best available gear at any given time. It's just one more incomplete and unrewarding feature that was stripped to the barest essentials.
While you may struggle to find depth within Dark Legend, you will rarely struggle with the controls. Ordering minions about and setting guard flags are a breeze using the onscreen pointer. The camera occasionally falls victim to typical third-person jitters when you're in tight environments, but for the most part, the intuitive targeting and painless controls won't hinder the adventure. Other technical elements are far less agreeable. Pathfinding is an occasional problem; minions are prone to getting stuck and running in place, an issue that makes one of the last boss battles a real pain. The frame rate is prone to stutters, which isn't likely to obstruct your enjoyment until you discover that it could be a sign that the game is about to lock completely; during our time with Dark Legend, it crashed three times.
When you play Overlord: Dark Legend, you get the sense that developer Triumph Studios doesn't think highly of your intelligence levels. Almost every feature is watered down to its most fundamental level. Underused minion abilities, character progression that is all but pointless, boss battles that almost play themselves--Dark Legend isn't fulfilling because it doesn't go far enough. The story and the comedy offer a joyfully malevolent springboard for another fun, fleshed-out adventure. Sadly, Dark Legend covers only the fundamentals, leaving the true heart and soul of the franchise unexplored.