June was a month of reckoning for the gamepad. Nintendo released its MotionPlus add-on, promising to produce a newly accurate Wii-mote that’s good for something more than the tiresome “waggle.” Not coincidentally, the other two console makers unveiled their own pie-in-the-sky motion-control schemes, with Microsoft’s Project Natal prototype disavowing controllers altogether. It appears nobody wants to stake the future on the buttons and joysticks that have defined the medium for 30-plus years. But Overlord II shows that gamepads aren’t about to disappear either, because the way a well-tuned game can amplify finger-twitches into sweeping onscreen movement is its own kinesthetic pleasure.
You command the Minions, a race of little goblins with such debilitating daddy issues that they can’t function until you step in as the Overlord. This axe-swinging antichrist can wreak havoc on his own, but the fun is in flinging Minions around the scenery to ravage everything in their path, whether it’s baby seals, hippie elves, or gluttonous residents of The Empire. (Yes, even in a game where you play the evil character, the “empire” fills its dutiful role as Standard Bad Guy.)
The Minion army begins as a force of five puny brawlers, and over the course of a surprisingly deep quest, the fight is joined by new races with predictable specialties: Reds are long-range experts, and Blues heal fellow Minions. The recruits broaden Overlord II’s strategic possibilities without muddling its basic stimulus-response action.
While it has base instincts at its core, Overlord II works as a whole because it knows where to exercise restraint. The sound design is crafted with care, so the Minions’ battle cries harmonize in a mayhem that stops short of cacophony. And the story is informed by a surprisingly literate sense of humor that’s more tongue-in-cheek than hand-in-armpit.
Beyond the game: In spite of a lukewarm reception for the first Overlord, the sequel is getting a strong push from its publisher, with the simultaneous release of Overlord: Minions on the DS and Overlord: Dark Legend for the Wii.
Worth playing for: The wholesale slaughter of frolicking garden gnomes.
Frustration sets in when: Minions sometimes get stuck or drop dead for no apparent reason, although much less often than in the original game.
Final judgment: It feels good to be in control.