Overlord: Minions marks the first time this deviant fantasy series has ventured into handheld territory. It initially appears to be a fun accompaniment to its console big brothers, boasting malevolent minions and conveniently downsized exploration well suited for the DS, but it swiftly devolves into a simplistic action puzzler plagued by poor controls. The game is ultimately a dull experience without any of the elements that make its console brethren so enjoyable.
Minions opens similarly to its predecessors, casting you as the new overlord of all evil. A mysterious challenger is encroaching upon your kingdom, converting the locals to an oppressive cult that isn't yours. Gnarl, your senior henchman, has dispatched a team of four elite minions to uncover your rival's identity, and it's this minion commando unit that you control for the duration of the game. Though the plot provides a sufficient, familiar setting, it's largely flat and boring, replacing much of the series' twisted and fun nature with lame jokes that will have you rolling your eyes in dismay.
Basic exploration is true to the series if much more repetitive and tame, and you often need to solve environmental puzzles so the minions can clear a path to the next stage. Puzzles frequently require you to switch between minions so you can use each gremlin-like creature's unique set of skills, such as Zap's ability to walk through water or Giblet's talent for pushing boxes. Your four minions have some interesting skills at their disposal, the problem is that they're rarely used in interesting ways. Stench drops gas bombs near crumbling walls, and Blaze uses fireballs to ignite those gasses and bring the walls down. Those same fireballs can be used to light torches that, in turn, unlock doors. Most of the puzzle elements are this simple and bland, and too much time is spent pushing boxes around and searching for keys. You occasionally encounter foes that attempt to spruce up the puzzling by triggering scripted events, but if your minions are in the wrong place when these events occur some poor level design can result in them becoming trapped. The only solution to this particularly frustrating puzzle? Restart the stage.
A shallow combat system fails to enliven the experience. Most enemies attack head-on and are quickly hacked to pieces. You do have access to minion-specific special attacks, such as Giblet's head-butt stun, but these commands are easier to ignore than they are to use effectively, so what you're left with is monotonous stylus-slashing that works even against tougher opponents. Strategy comes into play only in boss fights built around short puzzles, most of which are immediately obvious and involve beating the boss to a pulp between tactically positioning objects, such as bombs. The lack of minion leveling and skill upgrading is a disappointing step back for the series, as both features would have provided some much-needed depth and variety.
Muddled, finicky controls make just leading your sinister subordinates a real challenge. Gameplay is marred by multiple targeting issues; sliding the stylus through an approaching fiend should select it for total annihilation, but your minions are far more likely to target other nearby foes or start slamming buttons on the other side of the room. Likewise, the game frequently misinterprets targeting commands for objects, selecting the wrong object even when it's nowhere near your intended target. This results in your running headfirst into enemies or turning the wrong capstone in the midst of battle. Even transporting bombs becomes painful when the game repeatedly confuses your tapped destination for a different location. Healing is also next to impossible during combat because your allies are too close to enemies for your healer to target them.
Navigation can be just as tricky and aggravating as targeting. It's much too easy for your minions to separate from the group and get stuck running into walls. They'll also regularly "catch" along walls or objects when you're guiding them through narrow passages, or the lackey at the back may lag too far behind and veer off in another direction. Boss fights can be especially irritating because it's difficult to maneuver the minions around a boss surrounded with objects, which are themselves optional targets; the little misfits get stuck behind barrels and start smashing nearby pots or throwing themselves at the boss, confusing navigation commands for attack orders. The game's most infuriating aspect is that you're more likely to lose your minion crew due to pesky control problems than any as a result of any challenge that's thrown at you.
Minions' graphical style is another departure from the series, utilizing colorful, hand-drawn animations during cutscene segments that have a more cartoonish aesthetic. Environments are in a crude 3D and rely upon a more realistic color palette with mediocre texturing and detailing; however, the minions are adorably designed gremlins with adequate attention to detail. The music is appropriately subtle and effectively complements exploration and puzzle solving, but outside of boss battles it tends to fade too far into the background to really register. Pitiful war cries and redundant attack swipes make up the bulk of the sound effects.
The game can easily be completed in less than 10 hours and offers little motivation to revisit stages, though the obsessive may enjoy breaking record times and exploring the series' lore in the bonus encyclopedia. Overlord: Minions should have been an interesting puzzler with a dark edge, but it's just an aggravating chore flooded with control faults that permeate almost every aspect of its lackluster gameplay.