Of all the games in the puzzle solving genre, and of all the games in the category of 'addictively annoying', the master champion has to be Lemmings. With over 120 levels of varying difficulty, it is only right to label this game as one of the best games of its type.
In nature, Lemmings are small rodents which live in the arctic. They have a reputation for being suicidally reckless, famously dashing over cliffs and into raging torrents, seemingly oblivious to the consequences.
Lemmings, the game, challenges us to save as many of the tiny creatures as we can, as they blunder about. It comes with its own brand of cuteness. The green-haired creatures need your careful guidance to see them safely home.
There are many aspects of Lemmings that make it addictive, as well as make it incredibly irritating.
All computer games have music to accompany them. Sometimes, the music can be soothing to the ears. Others have a hearty rhythm with drums and bass smashing it out in the background. But none can be as unpleasant as the tunes you hear in this game.
Lemmings boasts a variety of classic camping songs and ditties remixed by the choicest 'elevator music' (see Muzak) composer. With songs like 'Ten Green Bottles' and 'She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain...' remixed apparently to make them deliberately displeasing, the player is doubly tortured by the cheerful strains of these songs and the difficulty of the level.
Not all of the tunes are bad. Sometimes, the player grows to like the music... which may be even more of a cause for worry.
Although the music does have a kind of quaint 1980s throwback quality, it can be blocked out by the puzzles which need to be solved. The other alternative is to switch on the sound effects.
The Sound Effects
When the sound effects option is selected, it automatically deactivates the music, sparing the player the mind-numbing repetition of the 'elevator music'. The sound effects fill in the musical gap.
The control panel sounds a musical scale, as you choose a job for a lemming; and a little pop is heard when you decide to blow up a lemming. Of course, in the event of conceding defeat, many pops are heard when you 'nuke'1 all the lemmings in the screen, along with the famous 'Oh no!' cry.
This 'nuking' can be carried out in all the levels.
There are two possible states that the lemmings could be in. These are automatically given to the lemmings and are passive.
This is the state that the lemming will mainly be in. The walker will walk on anything that is horizontal and fairly flat. If there is an obstruction which it cannot walk over, it will simply turn and walk in the opposite direction. The lemming will not care if the surface that they are walking on suddenly ends with no wall to stop it - they will walk on. This even occurs when there is either water, unspecified boiling green stuff, electricity, fire, scalding vapours, or even thin air. Death is instantaneous.
When the lemming is first released, it is a faller until it reaches the ground. Fallers are lemmings which do not have the skill of the floater, and die when dropped from a great height. Fallers only move in one direction, and that, is down.
There are eight different skills which can be assigned to the lemmings when they are in either of their two passive states.
When a lemming is assigned this job, it is able to climb up vertical walls. This is one skill a lemming is able to keep using over and over, so there is no need to keep making it a climber. Unfortunately, the lemming does not climb back down when it reaches something blocking its path. It just falls. From a large height, this means death is certain. You may want to make it into a...
This is another skill which a lemming can use over and over again. This skill prevents lemmings from falling to their death at breakneck speed. Instead, the lemming opens up an umbrella and the creature just floats gently to the ground without killing itself. A lemming can be both a floater and a climber, as well as being other things. A lemming which is a climber and a floater is called an athlete.
Here, the lemming sacrifices itself to blow a hole in its surrounding area. It has a handy five second fuse; but, since the lemming walks around, it may not blow up in the place you want. For more accurate bombing, you may want to turn the prospective bomber first into a...
This skill makes the lemming block the path ahead. Lemmings who approach the blocker are turned away. Unfortunately, when a lemming becomes a blocker, it is almost impossible to change it into something else. Blockers are also useful for accurate bombing as they do not move.
When a lemming becomes a builder, it builds a path out of a given amount of paving slabs at an elevated angle. This skill is probably the most widely used. The lemming, however, will use up its entire quota of slabs and will stop building at some of the most inopportune times. A builder will stop building if it hits a wall, or there is no space left for it to build.
This skill lets the lemming bash through walls at right angles to the vertical. Again, this is a widely-used skill. This is useful in creating paths to another place, but the basher will not stop bashing until it reaches a gap in the floor or wall. There are, however, some walls which cannot be bashed, bombed, mined, or dug. There are also some walls that can only be pierced from a certain direction.
The miner is similar to the basher in that it makes pathways to other places. It mines downwards at a diagonal angle. The miner, however, only stops when there is no ground left to mine.
The lemming will dig straight down into the ground. Again, great heights may be a problem here. The digger will not stop until its job is changed (like bashers and miners) or until there is nothing left to dig.
Depending on the level and rating, you can be given all of these skills to use, or just a select few. Whatever you are given, they are, in the game developers' infinite wisdom, just what you need to complete the level.
The Ratings and their Levels
There are four main ratings, each comprising 30 levels. From easiest to hardest, they are:
Depending on the console, two more ratings of high difficulty were also made:
Each level has a time limit. The level has to be redone if not all of the lemmings have been saved during the allotted time. Some levels are repeated in the harder ratings. One such example is the level 'We all fall down', which occurs in Fun and also in Tricky. The only difference is that the level has been made harder in Tricky... as you might expect.
The levels themselves have names which may or may not reflect the point of the problem needed to be solved. Some names are quite ironic, such as 'Lemmingentry, dear Watson' or 'If only they could fly'. These names hint that there is a simple answer. You just have to find it.
Passwords are given when a level is completed, letting the player have access to the next level. This lets the player resume play at the point which they stopped playing, rather than having to start at the beginning.
Each password consists of five letters, omitting all vowels. The passwords are programmed completely randomly, so there is no chance of skipping levels by working out what the next password is.
History of the Game
Lemmings was made originally in 1991 by DMA Design, a game design company based in Scotland. It was developed for virtually all the game systems available at the time of its creation. This is a list of all the systems that Lemmings has been developed for:
- Amiga (1991)
- Commodore 64 (1991)
- Atari ST (1991)
- MS DOS (1991)
- Sega Master System (1992)
- NES (1992)
- SNES (1992)
- Sega MegaDrive (1992)
- RISC OS (1992)
- Sinclair Spectrum 48k (1992)
- Sinclair Spectrum 128k (1992)
- Amstrad 464 (1992)
- 3D0 (1992)
- Apple Macintosh (1992)
- CDTV (1992)
- SAM Coupe (1992)
- Atari Lynx (1993)
- Sega Game Gear (1993)
- Nintendo GameBoy (1993)
- OS/2 (1995)
- Windows 95 (1996)
Other companies soon saw the potential of Lemmings, and worked on developing the game for other consoles. Focus Studios, Probe Software, Visual Sciences, Psygnosis, Interactive Design, Sunsoft, Presage, and Ocean all made Lemmings for at least one games console.
Since the success of the first Lemmings, there have been a number of sequels. These were basically Lemmings I with a few improvements, like more levels and better graphics, and so were not as popular as the original, and interest soon dropped. Sales of Lemmings I, however, were still high. Here is a list of the sequels:
- Save the Lemmings/Covox Lemmings
- Lemmings from the Original Companion
- Lemmings II - The Tribes
- Christmas/Holiday Lemmings
- The Lemmings Chronicles/All New World of Lemmings
- 3D Lemmings
- Lemmings Paintball
- Adventures of Lomax
How Lemmings ever managed to top the games charts is a mystery to a lot of people. But the now well-known cries of 'Let's go!' and 'Oh no!' haunt the dreams of the many who have become avid fans. With many sequels and spin-offs, Lemmings has gone down in gaming history as one the most successful, addictive, and infuriating games ever.