In the old days, when everything was better… When your game characters were always made of 2D pixels instead of 3D polygons. In Retrofiel, one of the editors of Eurogamer Benelux goes back to the good old days. In preparation for Lemmings’ Silver Anniversary, Yvo looks back at the classic first part of the series.
1991. I can’t complain about a NES and a Game Boy in my own bedroom. It is my exclusive oasis of entertainment. Still, the study in the hallway catches my eye. On the desk is a somewhat yellowed beast with my older sister and my nephew. They laugh. As often, because I see them regularly with a Larry Laffer wearing a white suit. But the eternal anti-hero has given way to an invasion of strange creatures. Crazy green haircuts and blue dresses. Nothing for me. Until a little later, I cannot control my curiosity and get behind the Amiga. My Nintendos then gathered dust for weeks.
The classic Lemmings 25 years ago, I not only captured my heart, but millions of other players as well. The roots of special creatures are found in Scotland. DMA Design is located in a comfortable office in the city of Dundee. The studio consists of a handful of young dogs who met at the local computer club. Programmers have games to their credit and will one day experiment with sprite animations and level design. At lunch, they laugh at a bump when they creatively kill little eight by eight pixel males. So it’s no surprise that the same ghosts market Grand Theft Auto years later.
But laughed enough, you have to earn money. It is Russell Kay who sees bread in the idea and first finds the name of Lemmings. Not everyone is convinced, but the whole team ends up on the project. And this involvement goes far. The Psygnosis publisher is not immediately ready with a bag of money. DMA Design employees fund the demos provided with the magazines themselves. Additionally, they inject a large portion of the royalties from their previous Menace and Blood Money games directly into the development of Lemmings. So above or below. Is the world ready in 1991 for a game that can hardly be described in words? Yes. And the rest is history.
Setting up Lemmings is as simple as it is ingenious. Lemmings are dropped to level one by one through a hatch in the ceiling. Curious creatures walk stoically. Until something blocks their way, after which they walk the other way. Or they glisten casually in a choppy lava sea. So they keep messing around until the bitter end. It’s a nod to the fable created by the Disney documentary White Wilderness in which the lemmings collectively plunge into the abyss. No, Suicidal Lemmings are not very intelligent. But damn cute.
The charm of the game is that you are responsible for the Lemmings. The idea is to guide them safely out into a world full of dangers. Like a shepherd watching over his sheep. It’s something different in the game culture where you shoot aliens from around the planet or destroy entire cities on the ground. It is not about destruction, but about security. As the deus ex machina, you step in when necessary and protect the Lemmings from their fate. It gives you a supreme feeling.
However, lemmings are more than walking zombies. You can give them instructions. As a traffic controller, De Blocker sends his peers approaching in the other direction. In its free fall, the Floater picks up a yellow umbrella just in time to land safely. And the Basher slams his hands like coal shovels through the obstacles. While the majority of the Lemmings clique roam around undisturbed, you put some to work. Or you can detonate them all if you don’t hit your target again.
Because even though the puzzle game looks childish, the shiny is deceptive. As the levels progress, the difficulty increases. You get less and less skills for your Lemmings. The terrain also contains more and more obstacles that you must overcome. Then combine that with an increasing quota of Guaranteed Lemmings and an increasingly brutal delay. So it’s not just about applying the right skills, but also synchronizing and multitasking. Lemmings has an attractive learning curve. Easy to learn, hard to master.
But that’s no excuse for the sometimes dull moments. Especially in Mayhem levels, you sometimes end up with a few linear meters with dozens of neurotic Lemmings. With only one skill left to cut you off from a pit, all you need to do is select the right lemming in this green-blue-white pixel knit. Which of course often fails or succeeds. And then you have to start over. Again. Oh Lemmings, how I hate you sometimes. But after the PC is off for ten minutes, I forgive you and want to get back to work. Unconditional love.
The first Lemmings is ultimately a big hit thanks to its charming style and inventive gameplay. Ports are published on some 25 platforms and eventually 20 million copies of the game are sold. The many sequels and spinoffs weren’t even added to that. Some are successful, others less. But all are far from being at the origin with the original of 1991.
Source : IGN