25 Years Ago: I Had To Save All The Lemmings From Falling To Their Deaths

Feb 13, 16  | posted by Phoenix Vanguard (1031)

But sometimes, I liked to nuke them all, just to hear them scream “oh no!” in their high pitched voices before they exploded like popcorn all over the screen, tearing holes in the terrain.

On the 14th of February 1991, Psygnosis released a puzzle game called Lemmings from developer DMA Design (who would go on to make Grand Theft Auto). Lemmings was a puzzle game where your objective was to lead the helpless (and stupid) lemmings to the exit, and along the way prevent them from falling to their deaths. You could not control the lemmings directly: they poured out of the entrance and walked around the level on their own accord. Your job was to give them special abilities, such as burrowing through a wall or floor, stopping others from walking off an edge and to their certain doom, or giving them an umbrella so they can slowly float down to safety. Only by doing this could you alter the course of the herd and lead them to safety.

Sometimes, this can be as simple as burrowing some holes through a few walls and watching them flow through like water. Often, it can get more difficult, requiring you to separate some lemmings from the herd to be sacrificed for the greater cause. For example, lemmings can build bridges to span deadly gaps, but they build at a slower rate than they walk, which means those following the builder will simply walk past him off the edge of the unfinished bridge. As such, you might want to let the builder go ahead and assign a stopper behind him so others don’t mindlessly walk off the edge before the bridge is done.

You can “paws” the game and assign skills to your lemmings, which means that you can give yourself enough time to approach things strategically to try and figure out how to proceed, even in levels that require one to be quick in dishing out commands. Each of the short levels has a set amount of abilities you can give to your lemmings, which narrows your choices in strategy, but there are levels with alternate solutions. Levels will also have a set percentage of lemmings that need to get through to the exit, but you can always go back and replay levels to try and be more efficient, trying to get 100%. Lemmings was an incredibly addictive game, which given the length of the levels, could be played in short bursts, but leaves you with the feeling of “just one more level”.

Lemmings was extremely successful, and was released on over 20 systems, including Amiga, Atari ST, PC, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, Commodore 64, Apple Macintosh, Apple II, NES, SNES, Atari Lynx, 3DO, Sega Master System, Sega Megadrive, Sega Game Gear, Nintendo Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, TurboGrafx-16, Commodore Amiga CD32, CDTV, Philips CD-i, Sharp X68000, Playstation. Throughout all of its releases over the years, Lemmings is estimated to have sold over 15 million copies.

There were a few expansions with extra levels released, in the form of Christmas Lemmings and Oh No! More Lemmings, before Lemmings 2: The Tribes was released in 1993. A third game, All New World Of Lemmings, was released in 1994, which staff at DMA Design admit was rushed to capitalize on the success of the franchise. It was DMA Design’s last Lemmings game. DMA Design went on to create games for Nintendo such as Uniracers for SNES and Space Station Silicon Valley for N64, along with Grand Theft Auto for PC in 1997, which would become their next major series. By the time Grand Theft Auto 3 came out in 2001, the company had changed hands several times, and the name was changed to Rockstar North.

Publisher Psygnosis retained the rights to the Lemmings franchise, and were now owned by Sony Computer Entertainment. In 1995 they released 3D Lemmings by developer Clockwork Games for PC, Playstation, and Sega Saturn. The game was good, but I seem to remember grappling more with the camera angles than assigning roles to the lemmings, and as a result it did not have the same simplicity as the original 2D games. In 2000 Take Two Interactive developed Lemmings Revolution for PC, which despite having 3D graphics, operated on a 2D plane similar to the original games. Team 17 of Worms fame developed a remake of the original with updated graphics and a level editor, which was released on the PSP in 2006. Another version was released in 2007 for PS3, but apparently the level creator feature was removed from the PSN version. Lemmings Touch was released on PS Vita in 2014.

I loved Lemmings when I was a kid, and I find that after playing it again recently it still stands up extremely well today. Good for a short few games or an extended session. Try to hunt down a copy if you can.



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