Along with Tetris, Lemmings has to be one of the most ported games out there. Originally released in 1991 for the Commodore Amiga, it has been ported to 30+ devices ranging from the Nintendo Gameboy to the Playstation 3 and Mobile Phones.
The concept of the game is simple – guide a specified percentage of Lemmings through the exit portal within the time limit.
There are 120 levels split across four difficulty settings. FUN is the easiest and is mainly there to get you used to the controls. The game gets progressively more difficult through TRICKY and TAXING, with MAYHEM being the most demanding. There is a password system so you don’t need to repeat completed levels.
|One of the TAXING levels. Note the lack of available skills.|
Each level starts with the Lemmings dropping out of a trap door. Their release rate is shown at the bottom left of the screen. This can be increased or decreased using the + and – icons, but cannot be set lower than the initial rate. Left to their own devices the Lemmings will move in a certain direction until they reach an obstacle, at which point they will turn around and walk the other way. If they encounter a long drop, water, lava, a trap or anything else lethal to them, they will walk mindlessly to their deaths like, er, lemmings.
You do not control the Lemmings directly but give them actions by using the skill icons. The Climber icon allows the Lemming to scale a vertical surface. Using Floater on a Lemming allows it to survive a high fall. The Bomb causes the selected Lemming to self destruct taking a chunk of the landscape with it. Blocker stops other Lemmings passing and sends them in the opposite direction. A Bridge Builder constructs a set of twelve steps to cross chasms or climb to higher platforms. The Basher icon orders the chosen Lemming to dig horizontally if in front of a suitable surface. Use the Miner or Digger skills and the Lemming will respectively tunnel diagonally or vertically down.
|Building a stairway to heaven.|
The final two icons are ‘Paws’ and Nuke ‘Em. Paws obviously pauses the game. You can still scroll around the level to plan a route or quickly get to a Lemming that’s about to die, and becomes invaluable in later levels with the tight time limit. Nuke ‘Em causes all your Lemmings to explode if a level is obviously lost.
Some parts of a level can be made of metal and can‘t be dug through, blown up or damaged in any way. Some walls can only be tunneled through from a certain direction.
|This obstacle can only be tunnelled through in the direction of the arrows. The metal floor prevents digging under.|
When Lemmings was released in 1991 it was a totally original concept – there was nothing else like it. In 2016 it is still fun to play. The graphics are still acceptable and the tiny Lemmings are well animated despite being only 8 pixels high. The soundtrack is good for the most part, mixing some original songs with music from other Psygnosis games and some well known tunes (March of the Mods on the intro, the Can Can and the like in game). Sound effects are limited in number but are effective. The learning curve is pretty good too, ranging from very simple on the lower levels to practically impossible in the MAYHEM stages. Like Tetris it‘s a game the that stands the test of time.
A couple of FUN levels….