Lemmings (PSP) review
"Admittedly then, expectations for the PSP update were low. How were Team 17 going to overcome the interface problem on a system notorious for its poor controls? Long answer made short: they didn't. Instead, a series of workarounds have been implemented to increase user-friendliness, though in doing so, some basic design issues have gone unchecked."
Like most gamers over 30, my first experience with Lemmings wasn't on the Playstation 1. Heck, it wasn't even on the Super Nintendo. Predating Sunsoft's mediocre port by a number of years, Team 17's self-destructive darlings were the poster children of Amiga gaming. The simple, 2D vibrancy of their suicidal march inspired maternal instincts in anyone old enough to wield a mouse, while each stage was the work of a creatively sadistic game designer in his prime. And though players had their hands full guiding their little buddies to safety, the quick-draw interface made strategic planning and last minute rescues a joy.
When it came time to port Lemmings, the console versions inevitably suffered. From the first minute of the opening stage, it was clear the absence of mouse support was going to make input seem positively archaic. The rules however, stayed the same. By manipulating a series of icons, players could charge each lemming with a particular ability, thereby allowing the group to overcome any number of obstacles and ultimately reach a designated safe zone. Handing out umbrellas for instance, would protect them from massive falls, while a pick-axe allowed them to burrow under hazards and create shortcuts. The problem was though, with a joypad in hand, the game was rarely that simple.
Admittedly then, expectations for the PSP update were low. How were Team 17 going to overcome the interface problem on a system notorious for its poor controls? Long answer made short: they didn't. Instead, a series of workarounds have been implemented to increase user-friendliness, though in doing so, some basic design issues have gone unchecked. The ability to highlight each lemming with the cursor was an inspired touch, aiding players with the sometimes difficult job of target selection. But what if your screen was overrun with the creatures, each moving left and right in a small, confined space? It'd be impossible to tell which is which, and asking the wrong one to construct a staircase will often send the entire group marching off a cliff, into a fire, or right smack-bang under a compacter.
*Ouch* x 3
Still, those that cut their teeth on the various ports are sure to feel right at home with many of these problems, and if you've lived with them once, chances are you'll do so again. Not because the gameplay is new & improved, but because it feels just as relevant and challenging today as it did back then. Multiple paths through each stage offer the adaptability missing in most puzzlers, and allow players to devise their own solutions to each disaster in the making. The action also carries an unmistakable charm, from the way lemmings celebrate with a sprightly yippee as they pass through the goal, to the sad, splat of brains driven through concrete when umbrellas are in short supply. That some poor game design will cause you to make mistakes is a disappointment, but with each stage taking only a few minutes to complete, going back to try again doesn't seem so bad.
The real clincher for many though, will be the title's surprising longevity. Complimenting the 120-odd stages of the original are a further 36, never-before-seen brain twisters, as well as a level editor for DIY enthusiasts to lose themselves in. And if you're still not convinced, the promise of downloadable content ensures there'll be fire-pits, bladed whirly things, and cliffs to maim, kill, and injure your charges on for many months to come. Similarly, players will dig the updated visuals as their colorful, cartoon-esque imagery perfectly captures the comedic aspects of this game to a tee. In the end though, you'll stay for that delightful death march, always pushing your lemmings over, under, and sometimes through dangers both thick and thin.
Genocide is rarely this perplexing, or even this much fun...
Staff review by Michael Scott (March 19, 2006)
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