A group of brownies are walking across a bridge going from A to B on some sort of grand pilgrimage– either that or some sort of mass exodus. One of them messes with the bridge raising controls and accidentally sends the rest of his brethren falling into the ravine below. Now he’s miserably alone and the rest of his friends are far from home. The player must assign tasks to guide the Lemmings to their desired destination and away from hazards.
By Brownie I mean the mythical creature depicted above, not the dessert.
The game started when Mike Dailly animated a walk cycle with a character eight pixels wide and eight pixels tall. DMA design kept tinkering with the animation and improving it. The model would loop endlessly. Russel Ken said, “There’s a game in that.” The creatures were named Lemmings after the animals of the same name, famous for the misconception that they will run off of cliffs blindly. The levels were designed in custom Deluxe Paint interface which made it really easy for all the team members to make levels. It’s even possible to tell who designed which levels based on their characteristics.
This game is one of the most widely ported games I’ve ever heard of. Originally released for the Amiga and the Atari ST it was also released for the 3DO, Acorn Archimedes, Amstrad CPC, Apple IIGS, Lynx, Atari 800 XE/XL, Commodore 64, Amiga CD32, MS-DOS, NES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Philips CD-i, Windows, TurboGrafx-CD, and some Texas Instruments Calculators. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t heard of half of these consoles.
Lemmings was released for the SNES on December 18th,1991. It was up against Cid Meier’s Civilization (PC), Sonic the Hedgehog 1 (Sega Genesis), and Another World (Amiga 500).
This is the Amiga box art, I think it’s better than the SNES. That warning is totally legit though, this game is hard.
This is the one game that my mother would play. I was playing this game before I could read so it was great to have her around. She loved the music, she stills remembers it if I bring it up. When we would play I would operate the controller and she would tell me what to do and we’d strategize. We’d always forget to write the passwords down so we’d end up starting from the beginning of the game ever time.
We tried playing the two player once. The regular game is hard enough without another player breaking stuff.
The goal of each level is to get the lemmings from their starting trap door to the goal. They’ll keep dropping at a constant rate and walk the right. They’ll climb small steps and will gladly walk off of cliffs. The player needs to think fast to order certain lemmings to perform certain actions. Lemmings can be made into climbers, floaters, and blockers, they can also be told to build a 15 stair stairway, mine in a down diagonal direction, bash to destroying obstacles that are straight ahead, dig straight down, and explode. When I say explode I don’t mean setting a bomb, I mean self destructing– it’s weird. Certain levels limit the number of iterations of actions the player can bestow, other levels eliminate them entirely.
Did I mention that the Nuke button next to the map destroys all the Lemmings? Between that, the fact that exploding them is necessary to beat some levels, the sound they make when they die of fall damage, and this screen this game is shockingly dark.
Um… it’s a good puzzle game. There are infinite tries so there’s no way to fail. Some puzzles have multiple solutions that reward the players ingenuity. The music samples a lot of public domain music and I really like hearing old songs get a new 16 bit paint job.
This set up is a great example of the micromanaging that this game asks for and the rewards it brings. Putting those blockers at the end of the stairs prevent Lemmings from falling to their death, and the use of the miner ability makes up for the lack of bashers.
I’ve got a lot of problems with this game. The falling death sound effect is quite possibly the most brutal death noise I’ve ever heard in a game. I’m always hesitant to make a lemming explode because they’re clearly sentient creatures, I guess it’s for the greater good but it’s sort of disturbing.
As far as I know none of the passwords work. Story time, I stepped away from my console after I lost a level to grab something to drink. There’s a 10 second time to restart a level so it went to the main menu. No problem, I have the internet. I can look up a password. I put it in and it didn’t work. So I figured the internet is filled with trolls and they’re wrong passwords so I played back to level 15, keeping track of the passwords this time. When I came back to it the passwords didn’t work. I don’t know if its my cartridge or the password system as a whole, but I’ve got to beat all 100 levels in one sitting and that’s ridiculous.
Sometimes it’s impossible to target the correct lemming because they’re all clumped together. Commands are also direction sensitive so if the lemmings are too clumped together then a lemming will start bashing in the wrong direction, wasting a use of basher.
The traps are horrifying. Lemmings get hung, burned, crushed, and destroyed in a bunch of horrible ways. It’s not terribly graphic but it’s a puzzle game for children. And the usage of a nuclear blast mushroom cloud to indicate the destruction of all the lemmings seems super insensitive.
That thing in the center there is a gallows that’ll hang your lemmings on the spot.
The game is great, the puzzles are solid and fun to solve. But looking back there are a lot of disturbing things in the game. All the ways that the lemmings can die wouldn’t be so strange if the game didn’t pretend it was all so happy. I guess it worked, when I was a kid I didn’t think it was so horrifying. I like it but now I feel bad for not caring about all the lemmings I exploded when I was a kid.
Next Week: The Pokemon Trading Card Game (Gameboy Color)