Lemmings (PC) review
"Itís quite hard to appreciate retro classics these days without actually being there at the time, especially when coming to grips with torrid graphics and dubious bleeps claiming to be music. But in this case, itís ironic that a game I absolutely loved as a kid fails to satisfy much nostalgia. With this being a serious keystone in gaming, being ported on every computer, console and handheld up to the PlayStation, itís hard to pin down my dissatisfaction. Maybe itís the fact I played this game to..."
Itís quite hard to appreciate retro classics these days without actually being there at the time, especially when coming to grips with torrid graphics and dubious bleeps claiming to be music. But in this case, itís ironic that a game I absolutely loved as a kid fails to satisfy much nostalgia. With this being a serious keystone in gaming, being ported on every computer, console and handheld up to the PlayStation, itís hard to pin down my dissatisfaction. Maybe itís the fact I played this game to death and am over-familiar with the levels, or Iím too good at it for my own sake. Or maybe this title over the years has turned out to be, well, a little bit boring.
Of course, the green-haired lemmings used in this game donít look a pixel similar to their real rodent counterparts, but their presence in this game satirises the mythical stereotype commonly attributed to the tundra creatures. Real lemmings are unique in the fact they donít hibernate, but commonly hunt for food in the winter seasons. When the population gets too dense (they have high reproductive rates), they migrate in the masses and mindlessly walk off cliffs following their urge to press on. This is unlike the misconception they commit mass suicide missions. Nor do they fall out of the sky in stormy weather unlike Zeiglerís claim, also put into practise here when the lemmings start by falling from suspended trap doors.
By now youíve probably gathered the essential formula. You have to divert a mass-scale swarm of lemmings to the exit, manipulating each level by assigning lemmings whatever skills are available. Basher, digger and miner skills allow lemmings to plough through obstacles across, down and diagonally down respectively. Bombers place a detonate charge on a lemming, killing it but destructing some of its surroundings. Builders construct a small diagonal bridge, whilst certain skills affect lemmings for the rest of the level: climbers can climb steep vertical drops, whilst parachutes allow them to safely drop down high falls, and blockers indefinitely freeze a lemming to turn others around. The amount of times a skill can be used in a level varies drastically, and on many occasions certain skills wonít be available at all. Alongside extra variables such as the release rate of lemmings from the trapdoor, exit quotas and some stringent time limits, many levels require some advanced planning before delving in.
But whereas the skill set in a level contributes significantly to the difficulty, they only compliment some of the satanic crash courses you have to plough lemmings through. Take for instance a level where you have to create a passageway by setting the detonator on moving lemmings, requiring precise timings. Or even cases where the trapdoor is so high up a lemming splats upon impact hitting the ground, and you have to build upwards to cushion the fall before too many die. Obstacles such as metal blocks cannot be dug through, thus meaning you have to craft an alternative passage. Countless traps lurk in levels waiting to gobble up lemmings in front of an unsuspecting player, and water pools and high drops will inadvertently write a lemmingsí suicide note. Ploughing through levels is a matter of pristine precision by the pixel; even a millimetre off with a decision could cost the level.
Itís not the game formula thatís at fault in terms of the titles lack of appeal. Lemmings is an original and fantastic concept for a puzzle game, that many have failed to match. Outside the box thinking is an imperative when dealing with the severe handicaps placed in levels, by stringent skill availability and other variables. Micro-management is an inevitability when swarms of lemmings need attention, perhaps constructing a pathway whilst ensuring others falling from a high trapdoor donít splat onto the ground, or even dealing with lemmings simultaneously falling from four trapdoors. The Ďtry againí factor surges when youíre determined to correct the slightest error, whether it was narrowly missing out on an exit quota, or even building a bridge that bit too short, a frequent event in tougher levels. The satisfaction of beating some of the games real levels monstrosities is immense, and really gives you the motivation to keep on going.
The problems lie within a large fraction of the levels on offer, in under 120 levels it isnít until the Mayhem rating levels when the Lemmingsís legendary unforgiving nature really seeps through. The Fun difficulty levels are justifiable, as by definition theyíre just meant to be easy tutorial and sandbox levels. However, the intermediate difficulties, Tricky and Taxing, donít take a notable step up in difficulty; the latter only has a handful of puzzle-bogglers. The reuse of level maps with tougher skill sets is far too often occurrence, and the strong emphasis for large levels that simply involve constructing large bridges makes the game seem very dull. Take a Taxing level where you have to guide the lemmings over a rendition of the loch ness monster. The novelty value becomes drastically outweighed by the boredom of spending 8 minutes laboriously building bridges with one lemming. Whereís the puzzle in that?
It still surprises me that I donít enjoy this title nearly as much as I used to, but maybe Iíve just become more accustomed to games with more meaningful action. Many points in levels are barely a step up from glancing at a loading screen when building a mega bridge or just going through a painfully easy level. Too many levels are either needlessly large, or reused, and the learning curve here is far too soft, with only the real action confined to the last quarter of levels. Had it not been for the Windows version specific fast forward tool (so you donít have to wait for lemmings to hit the exit) and an instant replay function (repeating the entire level, and you can take-over to correct a mistake) I wouldíve been fast asleep on the keyboard long ago. Despite some real corkers toward the end, youíd be better off opting for the Oh No More Lemmings! expansion. Itís much more challenging and, incidentally, also comes with the Windows version. Sorted.
Community review by bigcj34 (June 18, 2008)
Cormac Murray is a freelance contributor for HG and is a fanboy of Sega and older Sony consoles. For modern games though he pledges allegiance to the PC Master Race, by virtue of a MacBook running Windows.
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