Lemmings. (PSP)

April 19, 2006

Lemmings used to be a franchise that struck fear into the hearts of rival developers, proving that a game could be cute yet extremely demanding. It had an impressive wide appeal to various age groups and even the mythical female gamer. It was one of the prime examples of how exquisite gaming should be made. The reason why the franchise all but disappeared in recent years is a mystery (though an awful 3D rendition on the PSOne must shoulder some of the blame), but Sony have enlisted Team 17, creators of the equally lovable Worms series, to spark a revival for the green haired, brainless rodents.

For those who are unenlightened as to the ways of the lemming, you are an omniscient player who must tell the diminutive creatures when and where to use various 'tools' to ensure safe passage to each level's exit. The challenge of the game comes from various targets such as the number of lemmings that must live to see the end, a strict time limit or the availability of tools. Early scenarios speak for themselves, but when the difficulty moves from 'fun' to 'taxing' your brain will start to hurt from trying to assess exactly how the game developers imagined the level to be completed, and you haven't even thought about the 'mayhem' levels yet.

As mentioned before the levels are separated into categories which dictate difficulty, these being fun, tricky, taxing, mayhem and special respectively, adding up to an impressive total of 156. Some may consider it unfortunate that 120 of these are the same as those released in the original Lemmings over a decade ago, however most returning players will have probably forgotten the solutions to the more fiendish puzzles. But for those that can clear all these stages with ease, the 36 new 'special' levels should offer a degree of challenge while they wait for new levels to become available to download.

These new arenas are not merely churned out by designers at Team 17, but by other Lemmings players thanks to the simple but very effective level editor included in the game. Players can create sets of up to ten which can then be uploaded to the Lemmings infrastructure for friends or totally random players to download and play, meaning that the game has an impressive amount of potential for those with the brainpower, and time, required to extract the best results from this feature.

The PSP screen allows the player to see a large chunk of the landscape, so keeping track of lemmings is easy. On top of this Team 17 have made several intelligent design decisions that cause the game to function effectively on the PSP. While the D-Pad controls your cursor, the analogue nub allows quick scrolling around the screen meaning that it's easy to reach the lemming you want to with ease. The game also allows two points of zoom. Admittedly the first is drawn a little far back causing lemmings to appear slightly too small and as a result individual character control to become a hard task. However, the second is at a good depth, presenting the lemmings at a reasonable size while keeping a hefty proportion of the level in view. It would have been preferable for Team 17 to allow the player to dictate the zoom level, but fortunately what is here works.

One of the best control decisions is in allocating the tool bar to the L and R triggers. This means that tool selection is swift and also means the player isn't forced to relinquish control over the lemmings (a problem that hampered previous handheld versions of the series). The other two additions that improve the game are the target and fast forward buttons. Targeting a specific lemming means that controlling a solo worker is easy when in a large group, although you may occasionally have to wrestle with the cumbersome D-Pad. The fast forward button is a godsend to this portable version, allowing the player to speed up arduous tasks such as bridge construction or bashing. A necessity if you only have ten minutes left before work, it also helps the pace of an otherwise slow game.

You will undoubtedly become stuck at some point, but as with the majority of puzzle challenges, your brain will continue to think of possible methods to save your suicidal friends after the system is switched off. Thanks to the fact you can now take the game on the move, any tricks you think of can be tried in any period of free time, rather than having to wait until you get home (and ultimately forget the idea). Likewise, you could continue construction on a masterpiece so that you can upload your set of contraptions to the server when you reach an access point.

For those that have not heard of or played Lemmings, the PSP release is the perfect excuse to sample one of the finest retro gems. Having the game on the move really improves the experience, meaning small, bite-sized chunks on the bus are not only possible but rewarding. Likewise, to hardcore fans who have fond memories of this title, a purchase for a trip down memory lane is worthy not just for nostalgia, but to sample the wonderful, limitless possibilities opened up by the level creator. For all the Worms styling and musical remixes that have been added; this is still the classic it always was.




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