I’ve been streaming the original Lemmings, and I intend to stream my way through the whole series.
When’s the stream? Wednesday nights, UK time. Random other times too.
Here’s a brief history of the series, and my own personal history with it.
1991 – Lemmings – we are here
The original, and the one I’ve spent the most time with. It was ported to every platform of the time including Game Boy. It’s ideally played with a mouse, and to my knowledge the Amiga version is the definitive one. I played the MSDOS port back in the day, on a floppy disk, and that’s the version I’m playing now via DOSBOX.
I also extensively played a DOS demo of its expansion, Oh No! More Lemmings. I later acquired this as part of the Lemmings for Windows release. I didn’t play any of the Christmas-themed releases til years later via emulation.
1993 – Lemmings 2: The Tribes
I only played a demo of this one. This article reminded me to go back and give it a proper play.
Yet when the time came to make the first full-fledged sequel, DMA resurrected some of their discarded skills. And then they added many, many more of them: Lemmings 2: The Tribes wound up with no less than 52 skills in all. For this reason not least, it’s often given short shrift by critics, who compare its baggy maximalism unfavorably with the first game’s elegant minimalism. To my mind, though, Lemmings 2 is almost a Platonic ideal of a sequel, building upon the genius of the original game in a way that’s truly challenging and gratifying to veterans.
Where the original had stages grouped by difficulty, meandering across several themes for the settings (the grassy-topped earthy areas, Hell, crystal cave, etc.) this one splits the game into distinct zones for each of the twelve tribes, with their particular tribal skills. There’s continuity to progress in the zones: the number of lemmings you save from one level is the number you get in the next.
1994 – All New World of Lemmings, or The Lemmings Chronicles
Or, Lemmings 3. This was recieved worse than Tribes, from which it continues in narrative and theme – but includes only 3 of the 12 tribes. The others were to get their own subsequels later, I guess?
I didn’t even learn about this till years later. The obvious difference is in the bigger, cartoonier lemming sprites. Much fewer of them in play, too. I’ve only given this a short go, and it seemed like a rationalised remix of the concept. The lemming skills are back down to a more minimal set, and made smarter. If a lemming can dig down, why can’t he dig across? In the old game, a level can arbitrarily provide diggers but not bashers or miners; not so here. Why can’t a blocker just, y’know, stop blocking? Here he can.
1995 – 3D Lemmings
I played a lot of the PC (DOS) version of this.
(I forgot how awful the camera controls are, but was reminded when taking these screenshots. And the sound is missing… )
Here’s where series moves away from its originating developer, DMA Design. The publisher Psygnosis owns it. The developer, Clockwork Games, takes it back to the original ruleset, and dumps the Tribes storyline. It’s a faithful enough translation of the concept into 3D. All the original skills are included, with the addition of the turner, a variation of the blocker. The blocker turns Lemmings back 180 degrees, while turners turn them 90 degrees (you choose which side).
Everything is set on a coarse grid. Where the original lemmings would smoothly bash through individual pixels, bashers (and diggers, and miners) here work on destroying one 1m3 block at a time.
Themes like ancient Egypt, space, circus, and mediaeval return from Tribes along with new ones like computer internals, and sweets (with Jelly Belly product placement). But this is just level skinning, there’s no more continuity from level to level. It’s a set of puzzles, not worlds.
But it has some deviously excellent puzzles. And some bangin’ tunes.
Looked decent for its time, too – 3D environments on the level of Duke Nukem 3D (pre-Quake). Now, I wonder what’ll be the best version to play in 2021? I suppose the PSX version can be upscaled in the emulator? But the sprites will remain blocky… some research is needed.
2000 – Lemmings Revolution
Not much hype around this one that I can remember – I was online, and still reading paper games mag. Didn’t hear much about it. Reviews were cool, not hot. I got it. Seems it was the first single-format Lemmings, a PC exclusive.
This is a throwback to the 2D original. It’s a 2.5D game. 2D stages, rendered in polygons and wrapped around cylinders. You also have to contend with enemy characters – also introduced in Lemmings 3 – and a rising water level.
2006-2018: Lemmings with Sony
From 2006 we saw remakes of the original Lemmings for PSP, PS2, and PS3. I’ve never tried any of these. I won’t settle for having to play Lemmings with a console controller! There was also a Eyetoy-controlled Lemmings minigame where you could stretch out your arms to make a bridge for them to walk on.
2014 – Lemmings Touch for PS Vita – a remake, according to Wikipedia. Not to be confused with:
2018 – iOS and Android phones get a Lemmings app. I pay so little attention to the mobile games world that I’d never heard about this until now. It’s “free” with in-app purchases and ads, and by the looks of it, the “addictive” collectathon trappings of standard modern mobile game bullshit. I’m not gonna touch it.
Other ports, remakes, rehashes…
DHTML Lemmings. Play Lemmings in your browser. Unofficial port made with ripped graphics, incredibly from back in 2004. We didn’t know web browsers could do this stuff back then! Why is it hosted on a Dutch gothic metal band’s website? Don’t ask such questions.
An official port. Includes the Oh No! levels. Sadly, less compatible with modern operating systems than the DHTML version linked above! It also used Windows GUI controls for some reason. Windows system-style buttons to choose skills. Scroll the level with a frickin’ scrollbar.
These upscaled graphics aren’t how I recall it… maybe this is an unintentional result of running the program on a higher-res screen?
Unofficial Windows 8 port– even worse UI, visually.
To play the originals, friends, I say go with emulation.
Lemmings: Definitive Edition
This is yet to be made. With the support of high resolution screens we should be able to play the original levels at 1x zoom without scrolling. I said above that the mouse is the ideal Lemmings controller, but what about touchscreens? We should have the option to try and find out. (Forget mobile phone crap, I’m talking about proper large screens on touchscreen-enabled PCs.)
That’d be the ideal remake or remaster for the 2D originals. The original and the Oh No! levels have been given the remaster treatment several times. Please include Tribes and Chronicles next time!
EDIT: what’s most likely to be a real definitive version will be the unofficial fan efforts, rather than any official re-release. See comments on this post.
Lemmings Revolution had the right idea for a true retro sequel they: return to the original ruleset. But here’s an innovation from the sequels (2 and 3) that’s worth keeping: continuity. The number of lemmings you save are what you get for the subsequent level. And to draw from and expand upon Lemmings 2’s world map, consider Revolution‘s branching pathways on its level select menu. Let’s put them into an overworld.
How about 3D? We know the core concept works best in 2D. If you want a kid-friendly 3D cute realtime tactics game, Pikmin has you covered. Darwinia was a fine tribute. These games have their own style, their own distinctive systems. Pikmin and Darwinians mill around their 3D environments in a natural, lifelike manner. Lemmings, if we straightforwardly translate their basic rules from 2D to 3D (as does 3D Lemmings), are bound to keep walking in one direction at a constant pace, resulting in steady streams of them marching in lockstep. A busy scene in 2D Lemmings looks alive, in 3D it all has more of a mechanical look.
Still, I’d appreciate some sort of modernisation of 3D Lemmings: at least give it better camera controls. Maybe lift them directly from Darwinia’s. A resolution bump would be nice too.
Sony holds the IP now. Will they make proper use of it?
Lemmings adventure gamebooks. I played these too! Single player RPGs, a strange extinct format.