Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 21 TOP TEN BEGINS HERE!



Yeah, I hadn't heard of it either. But everyone said this game was absolutely vicious and after five confusing and aggravating hours I have to agree.  Sadly, it's not that Overlord is a bad game.  Quite the contrary, I bet it is a very good game. Even the kind of game I can really get sucked into...if it were on a system that could handle what it is trying to do.

Overlord is one of those early micro-management games similar to something like SimCity and something almost exactly like a predecessor to the very cool Star Wars Rebellion game for the PC from a while back.  In Overlord, you are the commander of a planet whose galaxy is being threatened with take-over by an evil...wait for it....overlord.  Your mission is to gain control of the galaxy by inhabiting and arming the various planets and then use your might to force the overlord to stand down (kind of thus becoming an overlord yourself, the irony is thick).  To do this, you must first build up resources on your existing planet and then send out terraforming parties to claim the uninhabited worlds.  Once you terraform them, you can mine them for resources, build up a population and arm them for defense or war.  To achieve success you must become a sly resource manager and administrator (unleash your inner Lando), and you must be ever vigilant, because the evil overlord is on the other side of the galaxy moving toward you in much the same way.
There are four levels of play, basically only changing the size of the galaxy and cunning of the overlord.  To consider the game "beaten" you must win each scenario.  The general idea is that if you start on the smaller galaxy you can develop the wherewithal to tackle the larger ones (Rebellion is much the same way)

All of that sounds amazing, and honestly it really is, but the NES just cannot deliver a game of this scope and magnitude in a way that does the genre justice.  Heck anyone who has played SimCity on the SNES knows that system isn't even equipped to truly run one of these kinds of games.  Games like Overlord belong on the PC.  I can say this to you because I loved Rebellion, Roller Coaster Tycoon, SimGolf and many other games like these on the PC.  Rebellion in particular did every aspect of a complex micro-management exactly right.  Overlord on the NES just comes up very short in so many ways that it actually makes the game extremely difficult.  I'm a classic gaming enthusiast. Readers of this blog (all 5 of them) know that I am all about the game play and innovation of pre-disc era games, but Overlord is a clear example of the NES's reach exceeding its grasp.  There are just some games you cannot play with a D-pad and two buttons.

And therein lies the chief difficulty in Overlord: figuring out how to do all of the things the game wants you to do with its limited resources.  Of the five hours I spent playing this game (more honestly) for this project, I would wager that over half were spent in trial and error defeats just trying to work out what I needed to do, how to do it, and then how to do it effectively.  To be honest, I never really got to a point where I was 100% comfortable.  However, I did get far enough past the learning curve to actually play the game.  And when I did, I was miserable.  One of the biggest problems with games like Overlord is getting yourself ready for the first onslaught from the opposing force.  Generally if you can survive that encounter you are on good footing to take on the rest of the game.
Is that Zoidberg's evil brother?

I never really got to the point where I could survive that encounter and have enough left to challenge my opponent.  The resource management is clunky at best and very slow.  It is extremely tough to build resources and manage your planets, much less build up a surplus to arm a fleet.  Resources are acquired very slowly and your income is insufficient to the task at hand, even on the easiest levels.  Combine that with an extremely aggressive enemy and you have one hell of a challenge ahead of you.  I kept waiting for that breakthrough point where everything would be clear and I would know exactly what I needed to do to succeed. It never came.

System limitations should have prevented this game from ever making it to the NES. The learning curve is so steep that getting into the game and learning what makes you successful is nearly impossible.  That said, the system limitations reduce the complexity and make the game beatable for the lucky devil who can hit upon the exact right formula.  What hopes to be a very smooth and engaging micro-management game turns out to be an extremely hard challenge, even for the gamer experienced in these sorts of games.  I played for five hours, all on the easiest level, and never once controlled more than half of the galaxy.  Overlord earns its spot at #10 on the list of hardest NES games ever.

Baby, you don't argue with Thomas Jefferson.

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