Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 134 / OCTOBER 1991 / PAGE 106

Lemmings. (computer game) (evaluation)
by David Sears

I feel driven to play Lemmings, and it's not just for the entertainment value. Perhaps Psygnosis has tapped into the human instinct for survival in formulating this perfect blend of puzzle, strategy, and action.

Better known for its less sedate titles that have you blasting every object that dares scroll past on a starscape, Psygnosis downshifts here with surprising results. Unlike most of its other games - unlike most games from any software house - Lemmings doesn't exasperate. Though at times you'll be hard pressed to move all your Lemmings from point a to point b, you'll sense a solution to every level just around the corner, no matter how difficult the gamut of pitfalls appears. Nor does Lemmings depend heavily on your manual dexterity. Don't expect to mistime the same segment of play over and over again. Sure, you'll plummet to your death a couple of times, but you'll do better. Your onscreen brothers depend on you.

As the primacy controller for all the characters in Lemmings, you not only must plan a mass exodus from each perilous level but also must learn the personality traits of your charges. First and foremost your cartoonish brethren need guidance because they possess the brainpower of common hamsters. Once the hatch opens in the ceiling of each cavernous level, lemmings drop at an alarming rate. They amble forward in their bay tunics, little green tufts of hair bouncing, until they smack into a wall or rocky outcropping. Then it's full reverse and off in the opposite direction until they encounter a similar barrier. We might respect the little guys' determination; like most rodents, they'll pace back and forth, slamming into objects and swarming in a manner that renders them all but impervious to your selection and guidance of individual lemmings. If you have a task for a particular lemming to perform you'd best assign the duty before you lose him in the crowd.

To provoke a lemming to a specific action, position the crosshairs over the standard-issue lemming and click. Depending on which attributes you've chosen on the icon bar, you've just designated a specialized worker, or hero, if you prefer. On the icon bar, you'll find what might seem a perplexing array of customization choices, but that confusion will fade fast. If you don't alter at least a few lemmings in each level, you won't see much of the quirky, exhilarating, and torturous world that lemmings populate. Of course, they don't experience the apprehension of future levels as much as you might, since they see only the walls in front of them .

Often you'll want to send a scout ahead to pave the way for the masses and to reveal the traps. To do this, let the first lemming out of the gate pass; then change the next lemming to a Blocker. He'll stand in the path of the oncoming gang with his hands up in defiance. The others will bump into him and rebound toward the gate. You might need to plant another Blocker to stem the tide in that direction; pitfalls exist everywhere, and your entire crew could fall into a crevice, lost forever.

Meanwhile, your intrepid explorer may encounter a vertical cliff, a column, or another sheer surface. Select the Climber icon and transfer that ability to the explorer, and he'll clamber straight up. Should he face a fatal drop on the other side of the mountain , activate the Floater icon and transfer that safety feature to your trailblazer, and no matter how far the drop, he'll parachute serenely down thanks to a trusty umbrella. Unlike most of the attributes you can imbue, Climbing and Floating have staying power. Until the lemming gifted with either or both of those powers dies or reaches the next level, he will retain those abilities.

When your front runner clears the first mountain only to be stopped by a lava flow, do you worry? No, just add Builder to his list of talents, and he'll construct a bridge that will support any amount of pedestrian traffic. You can't use bridges for everything, though. Sometimes you'll have to tunnel horizontally through a piece of rock or other substance. Lemmings supplies you with suitable iconic options for surmounting these obstructions - Basher, Digger, and Miner, respectively. When excavating drones run out of material to displace, they revert to type and won't dig again unless you reassign them special abilities.

With diligence, you'll guide the first of your lemmings out of the worst culs-de-sac and to the egress. There, he'll happily bail out of the cavern, showing you the bottoms of his feet as he crawls up and over to safety. But what about the others? Up to 99 lemmings might have been involved in this subterranean peregrination, and we've left them back at the entrance, bouncing off the walls and one stolid Blocker. Here Lemmings teaches the art of sacrifice. To finish the level, that Blocker - the one who's done such a commendable, job deferring his brothers' date with destiny - well, he'll have to die. Choose Bomb and click on your poor, dutiful Blocker. A five-second countdown down play begins over his head and stays there until the fateful explosion occurs.

Don't expect remorse or gratitude from the rest of the group. For them, the Blocker just delayed progress. With their mindless intent to go places, the surviving lemmings will troop over the crater left by their defunct comrade, through tunnels excavated by their long-gone nameless kin, and over bridges erected especially for them. Rather like a civil no lemming should expect thanks for a job well done; neither should you.

Your reward for completing a level and orchestrating the actions of so many myopic, disaffected jokers is a password; with it you can return to this point in the game without performing any sort of disk-based save-game procedure. You also merit the intense satisfaction that comes from surviving - even vicariously - the worst the world (or same designers) can throw at you.

You'll have to play Lemmings for the PC solo. The design team left behind the two-player version offered for other machines. Don't fret over that loss too much; the two-player game might seem more entertaining at first because players can cooperate, but soon enough, they'll start killing off each other's lemmings just because they can. Playing Lemmings on your own should provide adequate challenge and allow you to focus on the real object of the game - saving as many lemmings as possible.

Though not the most graphically detailed creatures, lemmings animate flawlessly, and when they combust, explode, drown, or grind themselves into hamburger, you'll be quite aware of what they go through. With a sound card, Lemmings supplies a satisfactory array of thuds and chirps and - while not traditional Psygnosis disco by any stretch - a charming soundtrack.

Squint at Lemmings, and you'll see a number of metaphors ideal for mention in the conversational circles of the sociologically minded. Draw comparisons between Lemmings and the me-first, menow generation; your friends who never play computer games will marvel at your insight and wonder if they shouldn't buy a machine of their own. Mention the fun , too, of course - that sells more games than any amount of political correctness.