"I think the real danger with Wii is it going the way of the Mega Drive," says Codemaster's rambunctious associate producer Dean Scott. "There's loads of lost Mega Drive players that know Sonic and Columns and that's it. It was a two game console. That's a real problem for our industry."
Dean's clearly not afraid to speak his mind as he plays Overlord: Dark Legend on Wii, a game that's due out this June at the same time as Overlord II on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. He's got some strong opinions on Nintendo's motion-sensing phenomenon, and so he should - he's producing a game for it. "We've got a responsibility to show them what's cool about video games. That's our grand philosophy."
It's hard not to get caught up in Dean's frank passion as he controls the Overlord, the evil Sauron look-a-like who fans of 2007's surprisingly successful original will know well. With the Wii Remote and Nunchuck in hand, the Overlord picks up one of his little minions and, as its eyes open wide in terror, he kills it with a simple headbutt like a farmer stunning a cow with a boltgun. The headbutt is so callous and without feeling that it's almost hard to watch. The poor blighter melts into virtual nothingness and the Overlord recovers some health; such is the life of the Overlord minion.
Later, Dean picks up another minion. This time, with waggles of the Wii Remote, the Overlord shakes his mischievous disciple until the sweet spot is hit - then, with a carefully-timed button press he lets it loose. It heads straight for an impassable barrier on a suicide run that ends with an explosion and the destruction of both. It's a scene that rekindles memories of that bit in the second Lord of the Rings film where an Uruk-hai brings down the brick walls of Helm's Deep by blowing himself up.
This, as any Overlord fan will know, is just what being an Overlord is all about: being a bit of a bastard. Being mean, cruel, just... evil. Killing cute fluffy rabbits and baby seals, that kind of thing. It works on "next-gen", but has publisher Codemasters and developer Climax, the UK studio building the Wii version from the ground up, dumbed down or sanitised that quintessential third-person action/puzzler experience for Nintendo's all-conquering family-friendly console?
The answer is unequivocally, bullishly, no. Yes, the Wii, with its stunning installed-base, offers a fantastic opportunity for brand Overlord to win even more hearts and minds, but Codemasters is of the view that availing of that opportunity does not mean it has to make concessions to so-called "casual" gamers. No sir.
Dean admits Overlord: Dark Legend is a hardcore game, and we all know what happens to third-party hardcore games on the Wii, don't we? They don't sell. At all. Dean admits that the sales of SEGA's recently-released adult kill-em-up Madworld is "a bit concerning", but is putting his faith in a simple philosophy: "If you build it hopefully they will come". In other words, if Dark Legend is a good game, then it should sell.
It's an admirable approach, one every Wii-owner tired of the endless stream of poor quality party games should be fully behind. Codemasters could have made Dark Legend cel-shaded, or have a kick the minion mini-game and call it Overlord Sports, but it didn't want to. "You've got to credit gamers with a bit more intelligence", he says. "This is quite a complicated game. It's unapologetically hardcore."
In any case, Overlord's pseudo-RTS third-person puzzling fits the Wii's motion-sensing controls to a T, Dean says. In the original you sent your minions on arcs of destruction with the right thumb stick, while moving the Overlord about with the left. Here, with an FPS-style camera, you move an on-screen cursor with the Wii Remote and press on something to make your minions move there. This, in theory, affords a degree of control over what's going on that's simply not possible on 360 or PS3. Not only that, but the control flexibility has allowed Climax to create more precise battles that, while not obviously on the same epic scale as in OLII, are "maybe better".
You might be worried that the grab, throttle and shake mechanic described earlier might end up a clunky, frustrating waggle gimmick, something so many Wii games suffer from. Not so. The imprecision experienced in most Wii games is down to the accelerometers, explains Dean. They aren't that sensitive ("Wii MotionPlus is in response to that"). In effect, the accelerometer is used as another button. So, you won't be waggling too much in Dark Legend. In fact, there's only two or three instances in the whole game where you're forced to.
Concessions, however, have proved unavoidable, mostly as a result of the 12+ rating. In Overlord II the minions will get drunk, climb on tables and wee everywhere. That won't happen in Dark Legend. In Overlord II you can sleep with three mistresses - that's been completely removed. "On Wii objects of sexual desire look crap," Dean explains. I agree. Beyond that, the obvious technical limitations have limited the minion cap to 25 (OLII is set at 50), but there's real-time shadows and everything.
In fact, for a Wii game, Dark Legend looks fantastic. Yes, it's got nothing on OLII, but it absolutely brutalises most Wii games. It's got that Fable-esque British fantasy feel OLII has. The Overlord is well animated and detailed, as are the minions. Graphically, you might almost, almost, say the game looks like OLII in standard definition. I'm watching it being played on a massive screen, at least 60 inches across, and it looks great. You'd expect there to be some degradation in visual quality in this situation. I didn't notice any. "To my mind there's not really any third-party games that look as good as this on the Wii," Dean confidently proclaims. I'd have to agree.
Fans will be interested to know how the story fits in with the "next-gen" games. Dark Legend's been described as a prequel but I'm told it doesn't end where Overlord starts. Like the Legend of Zelda games, this Overlord is just another Overlord doing his thing somewhere down the series' lineage. With your father off fighting a faraway war the Kingdom has fallen into disrepair and your siblings are trying to seize control. As Overlord, your mission is to seize control for yourself which you will do over 12 unique domains, providing about nine or ten hours on a full play through.
Still, there are important links between this game and other Overlord games: the first boss is a jester halfling who, once defeated, becomes the jester minion that's in all the Overlord games. There are more specific connections with OLII, too. The script is an original yarn penned by Rhianna Pratchett, who's written OLII's script. Climax is using the same voice actors used for OLII as well. One of your objectives is to start a war between the elves and the dwarves, something that's referenced in OVII. The differences instead lie in tone. Dark Legend is intended as a fairytale parody, ala Shrek - there's even a giant rampaging gingerbread man. "It's Cinderella but a boy Cinderella," Dean says. "Overlord is 16 years old and hasn't grown into his suit yet."
Codemasters is at pains to hammer home the point that Dark Legend is an entirely new Overlord game, one that's deserving of attention separate from the bigger-budget OLII, but that betrays the importance of spreading the word that Dark Legend actually looks like it's going to be a really good Wii game. "Maybe we've got it hideously wrong and we're on a hiding to nothing", Dean admits. Whatever happens, we appreciate Codemasters having a go.
Overlord: Dark Legend is due out on Wii this June.