Tag Archives: puzzle game

The Witness (PC, PS4, XBox one)

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There’s an island covered in puzzles, you solve them. It’s very pretty and and quite breathtaking. There are people statues and tape recorders with recordings of people talking about god — or something. Um… the puzzles get pretty complex. That’s the game.

History

The Witness is the second major release from gaming giant Jonathan Blow, known most however, for his work at the Games Developers Conference. The whole point of the game was to showcase game and storytelling. Not simply delivering a narrative via dialogue but delivering the story and gameplay in a way that only a game can. Allowing game’s talents for exploration and player agency to guide the player naturally through the story and the adventure.

It was released on January 26th, 2016. It’s competition was Pony Island (PC, Mac, and Linux), Darkest Dungeon (PC and Mac), and FNaF World (PC).

Gameplay

The Witness is a game in which the player solves a series of puzzles made like geometric grid mazes. Each one begetting more puzzles and more rules that combine to transform routine puzzles into mind bending affairs often incorporating elements of the natural environment to present meaning. Recordings of the islands, presumed, previous occupants can be found hidden among the puzzles.

The issue with talking about the gameplay of puzzle games is that I cannot speak more about them without spoiling the solution, undoing the point of the game. So I’m instead going to speak at length about my response to those puzzles.

Experiences

I cannot recall the last time a game had me from moment one and then lost me at moment 4. The opening puzzles were a gentle guiding hand, showing the bare basics. As were those outside the first section these served to introduce that some grids had rules and paths that had to be crossed. Then came the symmetry puzzles, which introduced restrictions that complimented the path crossing rules nicely. The troubles started in the Desert Ruins. I could not manage to solve the first puzzle in the sequence.

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This image technically has all the information someone needs to solve the puzzle on this screen. But I could not see it then and can barely recognize it now.

I wasn’t sure if I didn’t know the rule or trick of the puzzle and therefore should wander until I found something different and new that would lead back to this. Or if I didn’t know that I was supposed to understand what was going on. This lead to ten minutes of guessing, checking, and brute forcing in the hopes that finding the solution would reveal what the method to it was. It did not. I solved the first, but when I approached the second I realized I had no idea how I had completed the first and therefore was still unsure whether I had or had not figured things out. It became apparent that my success had been the product of blind luck and that I had learned nothing about the puzzle’s intended solution or method.

I elected to leave, running into more and more areas with more and more puzzles. I was unsure whether or not I did or did not have the tools I needed to solve them. Some I did manage to solve but it felt like dumb luck again rather than the application of concerted thought or effort. I managed to figure out what to do, not by any deductive reasoning, but more like a prehistoric man banging rocks together until one of them gains an edge. Yes, it’s sharp but it also grows dull easily. Thankfully there are always more rocks around but unfortunately the process of chippings rocks takes a fuck-load of time. I found rules that I had previously encountered and thought I had mastered but with new twists that I couldn’t manage to wrap my head around or presented in new ways unlike their previous iterations.

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When I found this I don’t know if I was supposed to understand the little orange squares or if this was the puzzle that was supposed to teach me what they do.

Which would then prompt me to run further, trying desperately to find a group of puzzles that had a thematic link, something that would help me complete them. This was my understanding of puzzle games. Each zone has the basic mechanics of the game but plays with them in interesting and different ways. Thankfully I was able to stumble upon an Orchard and a Zen Garden that offered such things but they too offered seemingly insurmountable walls of difficulty. Somehow this felt worse than bouncing off a series of puzzles wholesale like I had at the temple. Now I knew what I was supposed to be doing, at least I thought I understood the rules and logic, but now I could not manage to apply them.

 Overcome with despair and doubt I committed the great sin of looking up a guide. Particularly for the Desert Temple. It was my understanding that that’s where my confusion began. I figured that if I could complete the puzzles in that area then I would learn more about the rules and logic of other puzzles I had found. Upon seeing the solution and seeing how I was supposed to come to it my immediate response was to wonder in dumbfounded confusion how the hell I was supposed to figure it out. But the response was obvious, “fuck around with it until you figure it out.” Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like fucking around with things for too long. If I don’t apprehend something quickly — I give it 10 minutes of messing around tops — I get the distinct impression that I’m missing something, not that I just need to keep experimenting more.

I continued through the temple hoping that now that I understood the basic logic of what I was meant to do would guide me through the rest. I was wrong, so incredibly wrong. So incredibly guide guzzling wrong. I eventually opened my laptop, with the guide open on it, only glancing at it when I was confused, which was almost constantly. Deeper in the Desert Temple I could not even recognize the method for finding the solution, I only copied them knowing that I would need this logic later, having not learned it and therefore ruining the rest of the game if I didn’t stop using the guide as a crutch. But… I was at a standstill. I could not manage to derive the logic with the guide. Nor could I solve the puzzle without it.

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This is the screen that broke me. Dark, oppressive, probably a little moist but not totally wet, not enjoyably wet. It’s like that feeling of sweat all over the body on a humid day level of uncomfortable. I thought it would be a great place to take a long rest and just sink into the mire of my failure.

And so I quit. I admitted defeat. I wasn’t having anything that could remotely be called fun. I wasn’t experiencing that feeling of discovery I had heard about and read about. Every success only prompted me to consider my past failures or the puzzles that I had found and still had no clue how to even begin to solve. And if I couldn’t understand this logic here, then what hope did I have of understanding the parts I found later?

But I can’t bring myself to give up, I can’t bring myself to leave it behind completely. I know I won’t enjoy it, unless something changes dramatically — either in myself or in the game. But I can’t let it beat me. I was able to finish Bubsy, goddamit and that game’s only got nine lives and two continues. I could certainly finish, but certainly not complete — who knows how many hidden puzzles Blow’s tucked away — the game. But… I dread going back.

The Gush

The world is incredibly pretty, but I often spent too much time looking at it with a critical eye. I was unable to simple smell the fresh air. I was too busy scouring rock outcroppings, trees, and piece of geography in a manic and paranoid frenzy, desperate for direction or meaning. No longer was a derelict ship simply something to look at and explore. It was now, perhaps, some place I would find meaning or more puzzles to solve, perhaps not. Soon I began to suspect that there was no decoration, that every object or surface was some sort of clue that I was unsure whether I could or could not decipher the meaning of. But, at least, it was all very pretty.

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So Idyllic. Wait, are those marks a puzzle? Is there a puzzle there? Is this puzzles?!

The sound design is spot on, the sounds of beginning and completing a puzzle are chipper and encouraging. The sounds generated by failure are not discouraging for the first 20 times or so but after that they get quite grating. Most liberating of all were definitely discovering the sources of the larger puzzles, as the light on the grid gives way to some sort of fire that burns across the lines.

The Kvetch

I think the lack of music is supposed to leave no distractions in the way of figuring these puzzles out but I ended up feeling alone — and not the good sort of ‘company of myself’ alone. I’m talking the ‘looking inward at oneself and no longer recognizing the individual whose eyes I am currently staring from or at’ level of alone. In constant conflict between playing my own music or playing the game as it was meant to be — or something. An Oddworldesque leitmotif ambiance could have been a welcome to distraction to my near constant frustration in the latter portions and maybe helped me understand when I was entering a new zone with new rules.

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Just a little musical change from the paths to the field could make all the difference in teaching me that I’m someplace new. Someplace that is not, ‘new derelict place with puzzles in it.’

God, I wish I could jump. Not huge Mario jumps or something, just little hops. Perhaps the ability to climb chest high walls. I cannot relay the number of times I’ve come to a small cliff I, my literal self, could climb up or down but instead have to find a path around. Sometimes it leads me to lose my way to an area I really wanted to go. But I don’t want to leave this new area behind. I mean, it was put there for a reason right? Was that vista meant to lure me to this point? Is this puzzles?!

The Verdict

The Witness is a game I’ve only played for four hours but has felt like far more and I mean that in the worst way. Every setback, every puzzle I found but did not have the knowledge to solve — but also did not have the knowledge that I didn’t have the knowledge –, every puzzle I could solve but could not apprehend the ruling logic created an incredibly frustrating experience. I feel that searching for a puzzle that I might be able to solve was meant to be an opportunity for a scenic tour of the beautiful landscape. But it instead transformed into a desperate affair. Hoping, often in vain, that I would find something I could call forward progress. Or at least something that would release me of the stubborn feeling of total stupidity that lingered in my success and festered in my failures.

I know that the point of the game is to stump the player until they un-stump themselves but I found the experience of being stumped so distasteful that it was not nearly balanced by those rare moments of brilliance. Any pretense I had to intelligence or discovery was doused in thoughts that someone had been able to solve this puzzle with incredible ease. That even when I had cracked the code it was not impressive or interesting because someone else had. Relating the experience of having cracked it rendered as pointless as going in detail about a dream I had. The Witness invited me into a grand maze, I wandered, and was lost. But I keep coming back in the gloomy hope that I might somehow find my way. Or at least show it couldn’t defeat me.

Next Week: Space Pirates and Zombies

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Tetris Attack (Super Nintendo and Gameboy)

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Yoshi is just hanging out on Yoshi’s Island, as he does, with all of the — presumably reformed villains– when Bowser — with his incredibly ill defined magical powers — enchants them to become Yoshi’s enemies once again. The spell also creates a torrential downpour that will flood the world — you see what I mean by poorly defined. Yoshi must now defeat his friends in a puzzle game to break the spell. You know what? Just… don’t overthink this, don’t think about it at all actually, it’s a tetris-esque puzzle game. Just play it.

History

Tetris Attack is a game being torn in three directions at once. It started off as Panel De Pon, a game about fairies trying to defeat the Devil King, Thanatos, who casts a spell to make the fairies fight among each other. Only Lip is able to resist the spell thanks to her magical stick — hence the Super Smash item Lip’s Stick. Nintendo knew that a puzzle game about fairies wouldn’t sell well in the states so they changed the graphics and made it about Yoshi and the cast of Yoshi’s island, which had been released earlier in the year. They couldn’t call it Panel De Pon and in order to increase the approachability of the game Nintendo asked Tetris and it’s then CEO, Henk Rogers if they could use the name. He agreed, but looking back on it regrets the decision because this game isn’t like Tetris at all, quote from Rogers, “In retrospect, we should never have done that. I don’t think that’s a good idea. It dilutes the brand”.

Tetris Attack was released on November 28, 1996. It’s competition was Diablo (PC), Twisted Metal 2 (PS1), and Donkey Kong Country 3 (SNES).

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Even the walls are happier in Panel de Pon!

Experiences

I can say that as a young child renting video games from Taylor Brook Video I was completely drawn in by a game that was Tetris but HAD ATTACKING! I knew I could play Tetris so I figured I’d be able to play this game, I figured wrong. I couldn’t get very far in the main campaign because I couldn’t figure out how to execute combos or how to organize blocks to eliminate more than three at a time. Like many of these games, I came back when I was in my late teens and was able to finish it. But those unlockable characters would always taunt me, I would never beat very hard mode.

Gameplay

Tetris Attack is… well it works like… I mean, it’s sort of like… and you… nevermind, lemme just show you.

There, that’s how the game works.

The game actually presents a large variety of ways to play the game. There’s endless mode, which is most like actual Tetris. The player plays and accumulates points until they lose. In this mode combos freeze the game so you can get a few seconds of breathing room. There’s puzzle mode which presents the player with a game-state and a certain number of moves. The player’s got to use those moves to eliminated all the blocks. Then there’s VS mode! Where you get to play the campaign style game but against another player. With each player getting the opportunity to adjust their own boards difficulty. And then there’s the main campaign in which you face down 12 computer controlled opponents.

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Endless mode also gets larger, more flavorful stages.

The Gush

Once you get into this game it can plunge you into a state of pure flow. It’s not about seeing the blocks, it’s just moving them — I love it. Although when things would get rough I would lose it though, me and my friends would call this, “losing the sight.” One of us would just say, “I’ve lost the sight,” and then they’d soon lose.

The game looks really kiddy, and I mean that in a good way. If the game wasn’t so difficult it would be pure joy. It’s all fluffy and and edgeless until Yoshi reaches The Cave of Wickedness. And come on, how much more punch can you pull calling it the Cave of Wickedness.

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Cute overload.

The music in this game is also cutesy and I really like it. It’s not as iconic as Tetris’ A-theme but it suits the puzzling aspects of the game well, even growing more excited as the blocks rise higher. I’m personally fond of Blarg’s, Raphael’s, and Bowser’s theme. I will say though that it’s a little lazy that three bosses all use the same music.

The Kvetch

If you want to unlock the bosses as playable characters then you’d best buckle yourself in for a bumpy ride. You’ve got to beat the game on the hardest difficulty. No, not hard mode. I mean the hardest mode. After you beat Hard mode without using a continue Yoshi says that you’re gonna have to hold up and the L button on the difficulty select screen with Hard highlighted to unlock really freakin’ hard mode. Then you’ve got to beat really freakin’ hard mode without using a continue. Then you’ll unlock the bosses as characters. I just want to play as Kamek because he’s a koopa Wizard.

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KOOPA WIZARD! Look at that goddam robe!

A game like this needs the tightest of controls and yet sometimes I feel like the cursor goes further than I mean it to. Maybe I’m just REALLY good at hitting the button quickly but making a misplay can be costly and undoing it takes up valuable time.

The Verdict

You can get the game these days on the WiiU virtual console for eight dollars. It’s a decent enough title but it was really a creature of its time. The big reason I spent my days learning how to play it was because it was the only game I had and I was bored as hell. It’s not a game you and your friends can pick up and play because the handicapping in the VS mode leaves things a little lopsided, and there’s only local multiplayer. You can’t just pick it up and mash buttons like you would be able to in a game like Mortal Combat. The games got a really slow burn and no real focus. I don’t think this game can replace the sheer zen of Tetris but I keep getting drawn back to it every once and awhile. I’m nostalgia blind, and I don’t think I can see past that.

Next Week: Mob Rule

One Piece Mansion (PS1)

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Introduction

Polpo– the guy in red up there– owns an apartment building. He’s doing pretty well for himself. His rival, Chocola, has kidnapped his sister– because this is a videogame and women exist to be kidnapped and push the male hero forward. If Polpo does not complete Chocola’s challenges then he’ll never see his sister again! These challenges revolve around, strangely enough, making Polpo’s mansion better suited for his tenants– These are the worst kidnapping demands that I’ve ever heard of.

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This is basically how much plot we get but I want to know more about this world. What are those buildings?

History

It’s hard to believe that Capcom made something so weird. It’s stranger yet that this game got released to the American market because it is incredibly bizarre. Hideaki Itsuno was the director on the project and he also directed Power Stone (an arena fighting game) and some of the Devil May Cry games– which do not follow the strangeness of this game. It wasn’t his first rodeo and it was released around the middle of the Playstation’s life-span.

One Piece Mansion was released on September 30th, 2001. It’s competition was Silent Hill 2 (PS2), Ico (PS2), and Devil May Cry (PS2). I see a lot of PS2 titles and I’m seeing that backwards compatability was working out really well for Sony.

Nostalgia

I saw this game in Playstation Magazine, a great publication to have by the way– I can’t tell you how many things I wouldn’t have found if not for it– and I imagined something totally different than what the advertisement for it presented. I don’t know what I expected exactly but I imagine it had something to do with helping tenants and exploring this mansion. Not the case. Thanks 00s games industry.

Gameplay

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Just look at that. Look at that up there. Does that make any sense? It’s a little overwhelming but let me assure you, that all make sense. Each of those characters in a yellow bordered room is a tenant. They pay you rent every month. Each of them inflicts or relieves stress in different adjacent rooms. That sumo wrestler– trust me, he’s a sumo wrestler– on the left center slams the walls, floors, and ceilings to practice. You can imagine that that racket pisses off his neighbors, hence their stress increase.

Those bastards in the upper left with the black bordered rooms are part of the Syndicate 5. They’re here to rob your tenants, light the place on fire, piss them off, or blow up their homes– which is your property. For some ungodly reason there’s no police force to get these guys off your property so you’ll have to scare them when they’re robbing people. Positiion those letters well, they’ll help you or get in your way when it comes to stopping criminals. The only way to get them to leave for good is to use that stress your tenants are inflicting and put them right near these chumps. After about 1600 sumo slams they’ll bugger off.

This game is all about managing the stress of your tenants so you’ll have to position, evict, and bring in tenants that fit your tenant’s stress needs. Elevators, rooms, swapping, all cost you money so it’s all a matter of managing resources. By the way, when a tenant gets too stressed out THEIR ROOM EXPLODES so don’t let that happen.

The Gush

I love the designs of these characters. They have really unique and interesting animations that I love to watch. If you zoom in then you can even hear what they’re saying and thinking. It’s really interesting and fun.

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From right to left, Ai-Chan (The happy MPDG), The Lovers, Heebee (The bamboo artist), and some unknown creature that looks like it’s gonna eat my tenants.

Each level in the game has a unique character that appears at a random time. They can either be really beneficial or really destructive. The only one I ever saw was a spoon-bending psychic with a long scarf who would rain lightning down on the mansion. Even though it was destructive I thought it was so cool.

I don’t know how but Polpo himself is immune to the stress caused by his tenants. Putting him in the middle of a stress nexus is totally fine. He’ll never flip– I wonder what his secret is.

The Kvetch

So you’re mansion is going well, everyone’s got a nominal level of stress, sometimes you have to swap a few tenants around to keep everything good. THEN, out of nowhere a member of Syndicate 5 can show up– blowing up one of the previous tenant’s rooms (at no cost to you but still)– and start causing a ruckus. At that point you’ve got to move all the tenants around to get that prick to leave. I know they’re goal is to make the game difficult but it’s really punitive when they blow up the stress lynch pin. I think it would be much better if they took up empty rooms or dropped in from above.

There are only 2 tracks of music for the game. One when everything is relaxed, and another when you’re on the verge of bankruptcy that’s really repetitive and frantic. It gets really boring really fast listening to these same tracks over and over again.

The Verdict

Nostalgia can’t save this game for me. I just don’t see what the purpose or payoff for the game is besides a high score. I’d say that it’s worth a look at but buy a copy of it and share it with your friends. Actually, the most fun I’ve had with the game is inflicting it on my friends so let that frame the game.

Next Week: Dawn of War: Soulstorm

Braid (PC, XBox, PS3)

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Introduction

Tim is an innocuous young man with the bizarre power to rewind time. He’s having some sort of problem with a Princess. It’s uncertain what their relationship was but Tim is pretty torn up about it. We join Tim on his journey to make amends for what he did as he traverses a series of worlds that allow us to use Tim’s powers in different ways.

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Time and Forgiveness, that’s certainly what this game is all about— or is it!?

History

Braid was developed by Jonathan Blow. This was his first game and it was one of the first Indie Games. His intention was to create a puzzle game that was “bringing together the abstract parts of a complex puzzle, revealing deep moral and philosophical questions.” To that end Braid played with the knowledge of the subject and the nature of time. He wanted the time travelling mechanic to have an effect on the world as opposed to just altering the player.

Blow pushed a two dimensional plane and the very idea of simplicity to its limits trying to design puzzles for the game that were intuitive and would click in the mind of the player. Blow didn’t want anyone to look up a walkthrough playing through the game. He tried to link the ideas of certain puzzles into puzzles encountered later. This was meant to create a sort of “Ah Ha” moment for the player who would run back to the earlier level.

Fun Fact: Edmund McMillen of Team Meat fame worked on the art before Blow hired David Hellman to do it instead.

Braid was released on August 6th 2008. It’s competition was Too Human (XBox 360), Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (PS2, PS3, XBox 360, PC), and Stalker: Clear Sky (PC).

Experiences

I really liked Indie Game the Movie. Johnathan Blow makes an appearance talking about Braid as the indie game that has already been released. I really liked hearing about his game but there’s a scene where a  bunch of young guys laugh and having a grand old time just using the time power to go forward and back. It cuts back to Blow and he talks about how that’s not how he wanted his game to be played (I don’t remember the exact quote, correct me if I’m wrong). I don’t think it’s relevant how the developer wants their game to be played. A book or a film or any other form of media experiences something called the death of the author where the author’s desires shouldn’t impact the work once it’s past their hands. I wonder why he said that and I wonder a little about how he wants his games to be played.

Gameplay

The gameplay is deceptively simple. Tim can walk, jump, and rewind time. Unlike in most platformers Tim can’t actually die. Whenever Tim dies the player is prompted to rewind until he’s alive again. The world is typically made in such a way that enemies and obstacles create continuous patterns eternally so Tim can rewind to the beginning of the level or the beginning of the problem area and everything will unveil as it did before.

The enemies in the game act strangely like tools instead of actual obstacles most of the time. Jumping on an enemy springboards Tim into the air, increasing how high he can jump, allowing him to reach new places– and as previously stated there is no consequence for death.

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Sometimes this bouncing mechanic is of critical importance.

There are six worlds, each world has 12 puzzle pieces that form an image in the hub world. Each world has a different thing in it that effects Tim’s powers. It really mixes up the gameplay and keeps things interesting. Each world has a couple of stages that act as a sort of checkpoint for Tim’s time travel powers– although time travelling back through the whole game could have been fun. And by fun I mean game ruining.

The Gush

The gimmicks for all of these worlds are really interesting and easy to understand but difficult to master. My personal favorite is the one in which going to the right makes time move forward and moving to the left makes time go back as well. It creates unique puzzles that require intense thinking about how much the character moves.

Although I find the bosses lacking I really enjoyed the silly, “But your princess is in another castle,” joke. Everyone who ever played Super Mario Brothers got a quick chuckle out of that one.

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Which is apparently being delivered by some sort of plush dinosaur.

I really liked the finale of the game. It’s a little confusing but when it clicks it’s so compelling and I found it really interesting. I can only encourage players not to stop and play all the way to the end.

The art and music are contemplative and gorgeous. Music is really important in a puzzle game because it can distract the player or help us percolate an interesting idea. It’s also what we have when we fail to come up with an idea. And while we’re not coming up with any ideas we can just take a look at this beautiful art and wonderful backgrounds.

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Why is a gorilla holding that cannon? Who can rightly say?

The Kvetch

The boss fights are really similar and I’m not exactly sure what they’re supposed to accomplish. Each one employs the mechanic of the world but most of the puzzles are more challenging than the frantic movement that the boss fight brings. It also loses impact because the boss can’t kill you, you just rewind to before you got and avoid the attack.

The plot is conveyed by books that project text in each of the worlds’ minihubs. I think there could have been a more interesting way to convey this but it probably would have been more complex and might have muddled some things. I think it’s meant to add to the ambiguity of the plot. Instead of seeing what happens we only have Tim’s account but it feels a little weak.

The Verdict

I found Braid to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience that didn’t pad out its play time. It knew what it wanted to do and executed it very well. If you’ve got the hankering for some puzzles with time based shenanigans then I definitely suggest giving Braid a try.

Next Week: One Piece Mansion

Lemmings (SNES)

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Introduction

 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.

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By Brownie I mean the mythical creature depicted above, not the dessert.

Development

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).

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This is the Amiga box art, I think it’s better than the SNES. That warning is totally legit though, this game is hard.

Nostalgia

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.

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We tried playing the two player once. The regular game is hard enough without another player breaking stuff.

Gameplay

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.

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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.

The Gush

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.

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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.

The Kvetch

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.

lemmings_6

That thing in the center there is a gallows that’ll hang your lemmings on the spot.

The Verdict

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)