The devil has the best tunes, they say. He also has the tastiest armor, a nice line in monstrous helmets, the smoothest custard, and - naturally - an army of minions to carry out his evil deeds. Yes, this is Overlord II, the sequel to 2007's RTS-cum-adventure, which placed you in the role of a mute demonic character and lets you oversee his ongoing sinister shenanigans.
In spite of some graphical improvements, the control system and central idea remain the same. The setting seems to be that period of time when the Roman Empire invaded the Christmas display of an undernourished shopping centre, and it's up to you to fight off the endless hordes of bad guys. Of course, essentially you're also a bad guy; but you're one of those good bad guys, like Darth Vader or his Sith master, Michael Barrymore.
As well as conquering the land, you have to keep your hellish base up and running, and make sure you've always got enough minions. The control system - as with the first - is incredibly intuitive: left button to attack, right button to defend, both buttons to go-on-a-mad-rampage-and-destroy-everything-in-sight. The hands-off approach takes a little getting used to, and if you prefer your hacking and slashing to be a bit more tactile it may leave you cold.
If the titular character lacks presence, the minions steal the show, and there's nothing quite like executing a perfect attack using the variety of little buggers on offer. Sitting somewhere between the Gremlins and Gollum on the small fantasy creatures scale, they're utterly hilarious and absolutely captivating, causing untold chaos wherever they go.
The first level is littered with snowmen, and ordering your minions to attack results in them stealing the snowmen's heads and wearing them as freakish snow helmets. Unfortunately, even the cutest of minions can't cover the fact that the game has more flaws than a carpet skyscraper. The levels are neatly constructed around your save points - I mean, portals - but figuring out what you've got to do is a process of trial and error. Mostly the latter. I spent ages stood in a seemingly-unescapable room, my exit blocked by a small stream. It was only after about thirty minutes that I accidentally walked in the wrong direction and realized that, just this once, the player character wasn't as hydrophobic as a cat made of granulated coffee.
My frustrations with the game didn't end there. It's so much of a console conversion that it might as well have come on a cartridge. I could just about put up with the irregular save points, and the lack of a quicksave system; but enemies re-spawning upon loading made me want to kick my PC across the room. The Al is also abysmal, with bad guys standing there while your scamps kick seven shades of shinola out of them, or becoming horrendously aggressive and beating your mites into minion jam.
I thought that flaws like these had gone the way of the dinosaur, when the last generation of consoles became extinct but, obviously not.
In fact, take away the contemporary graphics and the whole game feels like a product of about 15 years ago, when cute little bastards with funny voices (Lemmings, Worms) in genre-mashing settings could shift oversized boxes of games. It's not a bad thing just a little quaint in these days of games being proper grown-up entertainment.
The sheer levels of charisma contained in Overlord II make it immensely hard to dislike, but I think I've just about managed it. There is a lot going for it: the mere concept is still enough to make it stand out from the hordes of other RTS/RPGs, and it certainly has its charms. But, like a radioactive puppy, the novelty wears off pretty quickly and you just become sick of it.