Lemmings, where to start? It's Lemmings! I'm reviewing a new game. In 2006. And it's Lemmings! Here we are roughly 15 years after the first iteration of the game made its way on to the Amiga and it's being released again. In fact Lemmings is the most ported game in the archives of SPOnG with 23 versions of the original game. From its origins on the Amiga, Lemmings has made its way onto such diverse platforms as the Amstrad CPC, the Acorn Archimedes, the Nintendo Gameboy, the Atari Lynx and the Sony PlayStation.
Today we are looking at a hand-held version of Lemmings, on the Sony PSP no less. Which makes sense in a round about sort of way - the original versions of Lemmings were developed by DMA Design and published by Psygnosis. While DMA Design is now Rockstar North of GTA fame, Psygnosis is a studio of SCEE and is beholden to the owner of the PSP platform. However, yet another company has actually developed this version - Team17 software, another Amiga stalwart and a company not unfamiliar with games containing small creatures in life or death circumstances.
So now that the pedigree is in place, how does the latest version of Lemmings stack up against the versions of old?
Straight from the off, you are presented with a very genuine blast from the past. From the theme music on the PSP's media menu through the humourous logo screen to the game itself, Team17 have successfully captured the feel of the old versions. Sure, the graphics have been updated and made more cartoony, but they have survived the process more or less intact, more so than those of Team17's own Worms did between the Director's Cut and Worms 2.
The music has been re-mixed, but not by a huge amount and it still retains the bouncy fun-like quality that is so at odds with the death and mayhem you are trying to avoid while playing.
For those who have spent the last 15 years living in a cave or flying through outer space and have only just heard about the joys of lemming herding, the objective of the game is to guide your troupe of furry base jumpers across a series of levels from one or more entrances to one or more exits. The levels are made up of various pieces of landscape that will block the progress of your lemmings or tempt them to kill themselves, since they will purposefully march in the direction they are facing come cliff, high water or death dealing trap. Your only hope of getting the little blighters to safety is to get individual members of the group to perform various tasks or learn various skills. You can teach them to climb or float, or you can get them to block other lemmings, build staircases, dig in three different ways, or simply blow up! Using these skills and tasks, you have to save a pre-determined number of your lemmings within a time limit.
The original Amiga version, and most subsequent computer-based versions, of Lemmings was controlled by use of a mouse, not the rodent variety, the computer input device. The PSP does not possess a mouse, not that we could find anyway. So in order to assign tasks and skills to your lemmings you need to use the d-pad and the analogue nub. Now here is the first perplexing thing about Lemmings on PSP.
The tasks are assigned by way of a cross hair that is controlled by the d-pad, with the nub handling scrolling your view on the level. This is odd since you require quite fine control of the cross hairs and just rough, approximate scrolling, the nub would have been the more logical choice for cross hair manipulation. Choosing a task to assign to a Lemming is performed by the shoulder buttons, relieving the player of having to click on the icon with the cross hairs as was the way with the mouse-enabled versions of the game. Tasks are assigned with the cross button and a handy zoom feature is activated by use of the triangle button. You can also press the circle button to speed up the action, this feature is accompanied by some VHS-style fast forward flicker lines and a tape spooling squeak noise.