Psygnosis - 1991
Machine: Commodore Amiga, Acorn Archimedes, PC, and many others
Genre: Platformer, Puzzle, Strategy
Let's not beat around the bush. Lemmings is one of the most evil things ever created. In conjunction with its sadistic, demonic nature, it also happens to be one of the most ingenious video games yet to appear. It manages to combine lots of different kinds of game play (puzzle, platform, real time strategy) and create a new sort of genre, although I'm not sure what you'd choose to call this... Certainly, at the time, it was totally new. It had elements from the old school of games, yet it featured newer concepts (point and click interface, for example) that had yet to be properly exploited by video games.
The game is divided into missions, each mission effectively acting as your 'opponent'. The object is to guide a certain number of lemmings from the start point to a doorway where they can safely exit. In between the entrance and exit there are bottomless pits, flames, boiling acid and other hazards into which your lemmings can fall (and die). You have to safely guide them through the obstacles by assigning the lemmings different skills: there are blockers, diggers (vertical, horizontal and diagonal), climbers, bridge builders, and parachutists. You can also make your lemmings self destruct which is particularly useful if you want to remove a blocker. If a level has gone badly (and it usually does) you can also cause all of your Lemmings to explode. As the game gets more difficult, you are required to come up with ever more ingenious methods of exploiting these skills. It gets very, very tricky and to be honest I never had the patience (or skill) to complete this game... The missions themselves start off in the capacity of a tutorial, getting you accustomed to each ability that you can bestow upon the lemmings. However, this draws you into a terrible, false sense of security. The later levels of the game are so unbearably evil that this game really should have been locked in a lead case and buried half a mile underground. Yeah, okay, it is a fantastically clever game with really nice touches: the animation of your lemming charges is excellent, providing an incredibly frustrating game with much needed humour. Another crucial aspect of the games playability is the inclusion of a two player mode: you have to basically compete for lemmings with your friend, by guiding as many of their lemmings to your exit (your opponent will try to do the same vice versa.) This invariably resulted in sabotage and the death of hundreds of innocent lemmings.
Maybe I’ve been a bit hard on Lemmings, but that's because I wasn't that good at it. In truth, Lemmings was great because it was such a simple concept that was realised with the aid of great design and humour. The key to the game’s success was the fact that the game played by well defined but strict rules. The lemmings themselves ruthlessly obeyed their programming; If they all walk off into an abyss that you've failed to spot, then it was your fault. It wasn't because of poor collision detection or badly programmed AI. It is your fault. And this is why the game isn't for everyone because it really can be devastatingly annoying. As you sit there, cursing, the computer looks back at you, totally blameless. It's your fault.
Bubbaray 05 Nov '02
Lemmings Universe - A huge Lemmings resource.
Wikipedia's Lemmings page - Lots of great information.