We know what you're thinking - we were thinking the same thing. Overlord on DS, a game that's coming out at the same time as Overlord II on Xbox 360 and PS3, and Overlord: Dark Legend on Wii, is just going to be a shoddy port. An afterthought. A game made for as little money as possible with as little effort as possible. This is the way of the multi-platform video game - the DS version is almost always, well... pointless.
That won't be the case with Overlord: Minions, publisher Codemasters insists. Quite the contrary. It says it's being built from the ground up to make the most of Nintendo's dual-screen handheld. It says it's being developed to stand on its own virtual two feet as a distinctly separate Overlord experience. Having seen the game in action, it looks like Codies' confidence isn't misplaced.
Minions is aptly named. Instead of controlling an on-screen Overlord, as you do in the other Overlord games, you are the Overlord, guiding four minions through a series of puzzle-heavy dungeons from a top down perspective. Codemasters says Minions is inspired by SNES classic Lost Vikings, but it at first rekindles memories of Nintendo's superb Phantom Hourglass, with a similar camera angle, impressive, polished art style and stylus dragging dungeon crawling.
Upon closer inspection, however, it more accurately resembles Four Swords, that other Legend of Zelda game that saw four Links on screen battling it out in multiplayer games and solving puzzles cooperatively. You control four minions, one of each colour, brown, red, blue and green. Each one has its own set of special abilities, so, as you'd expect, you'll have to switch between minions, working out which one needs to do what in order to solve the game's puzzles and defeat the bosses.
The controls are designed to allow you to play with the stylus and nothing else. Simply pressing somewhere on screen will cause all four minions to move there in formation. Slashing on the touch screen will cause your minions to attack, and tapping on their portraits, displayed on the left of the screen, will allow you to control one minion individually with ease, something you'll be doing throughout the game. The green minion can fart, for example, something you'd expect from an Overlord game; the red minion can project fire. The abilities can be combined, too - the red minion can light the green's fart and use it to blow stuff up. In one boss battle, one minion needs to lead the boss to carefully positioned gas-firing pillars, which then need to be farted on by the green minion to project a damage-dealing green stream. Quickly switching between the two minions and avoiding the attacks of the boss proved a tricky exercise.
Compared with the other Overlord games, Minions is slower paced, with puzzle solving prioritised over causing mayhem. The gameplay has also been broken up so that it's possible to work your way through a dungeon or level in a 15 or 20 minute session - perfect for a commute. Each level is self contained, presenting you with two minions at the start with the other two to be rescued. There are six worlds in total, each with two or three levels and a boss arena.
Clearly, Codies' goal is to make Minions feel like it can only be a Nintendo DS game - the exclusive game design is testament to that. But that doesn't mean there aren't any links with the wider Overlord universe. The story ties into Overlord: Dark Legend's, in fact it runs parallel. Rhianna Pratchett, the high-profile scriptwriter who's penned the plot for Overlord II and Dark Legend, has done the same for Minions. There's a consistency of tone here, ensuring the dark humour and mischief making that underpins all that is Overlord isn't lost on DS despite its 12+ age rating. While Minions is inevitably aimed at a younger audience, it's still quite a hardcore experience for a DS game, by Codies' own admission.
At this stage the only concern is that Minions will be too short an experience for those looking for a Phantom Hourglass-style game. The six worlds will offer around six or seven hours of gameplay on a single play through, but beyond that there's nothing else to do, and that's because Minions is a single-player only game.
Codemasters' says Minions is about having four guys worth of abilities in one, and if it made it a four-player game, one player will inevitably get bored - simply standing on a switch isn't exciting enough to justify such a mode. It's a fair explanation, but why no competitive multiplayer modes then? Overall, though, Minions is looking good and far from the cheap port we expected it would be.
Overlord: Minions is due out for the DS in June.