Spaceballs said it best: "Evil will always triumph because Good is dumb." Overlord II (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 $59.99, Windows, $39.99, Triumph Studios/Codemasters) looks to prove that point by unleashing a darkly humorous horde of minions on the surface world. Their goal: conquer the magic-hating Glorious Empire and burn the forest enclaves of the tree-hugging elves for the greater glory of their mail-fisted leader.
The game throws you into its namesake role early on as monstrous minions search for a new leader (their old one having died in the first game). I missed out on that earlier chance for world domination, but given pleasant memories of Bullfrog Games' similarly themed (if ancient) Dungeon Keeper series, I looked forward to trying the sequel.
The minions, which look and act as if they just stormed off the set of Gremlins 2, find you in a medieval town as you're about to be turned over to soldiers for the crime of being a "witch boy." They help you escape, and a cutscene later you're an overlord-in-training.
The game's played from the over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective, with the game controller's left joystick controlling the Overlord and the right one directing a small horde of minions. The triggers, bumpers and buttons allow you to select which minions will be assigned to a task. Combined, the Overlord and minion controls provide a decent mix of melee action and tactical planning. While they can get a bit clunky at times (particularly when coupled with occasional odd camera angles), the controls work well.
The game's missions are linear affairs—you can double back to earlier areas if you want, but there's little reason to do so save to stock up on resources. The game's visuals are adequate for the task at hand, and are done in a caricatured style that helps soften the game's evil underpinnings.
There are four minion types: browns are melee fighters, reds incinerate opponents from a distance, blues can swim and heal, and greens are assassins. They work well as cannon fodder, but acquiring them is a pain because the game makes finding each type a story objective. I'd rather have had them all available after the tutorial.
When not conquering the world, you're improving your NetherWorld headquarters. The game lets you construct weapons, resurrect favorite minions, upgrade spells and decorate your evil bachelor pad. Unfortunately, the game makes you wander your expansive lair to complete these tasks; I'd rather have done it all through a simple admin menu.
Ultimately it's Overlord II's dark sense of humor that makes the game. From clubbing baby seals in order to garner energy to summon minions to fighting tree-hugging elves (who love all creatures, especially the cute ones), the game offers plenty of laughs, with nary a fart joke to be found. If you've ever wanted to save the world from, well, those who want to save the world, this is your game.