4-One Retro Corner: Lemmings

lemmingsLemmings are terrifying angry rodents that live in Arctic regions, who contrary to popular belief, are not suicidal. These differ to another type of Lemming usually seen sporting green hair, blue clothes and tend to fall to their deaths or blow themselves up quite often. The latter of these rodents can be found in a game that should need no introduction, as I am sure everyone has come across Lemmings on one of the many many systems it released on.

Source: Mike Dailly, Lemmings developer

The puzzle-platformer originally released in 1991 on the Amiga after some strange beginnings. It was produced by DMA Design, who had previously made the games Menace, Ballistix, Shadow of the Beast and Blood Money. Lemmings began its life as an animation demo for the follow up to Blood Money called Walker. They took on the challenge of making a walking man sprite in 16×16 pixels or less. They
did it in 8×8 and the first Lemming came to be. Of course being game devs they couldn’t showcase this sprite simply walking and instead showed the little guys getting eaten, squished, shot, catapulted and flattened. Well what’s to be expected from the likes of DMA who then went on to make Grand Theft Auto.

The idea of Lemmings is to guide the critters across levels consisting of destructible terrain and obstacles. Sounds simple. The concept may be simple but in practice these levels were sometimes fiendishly difficult. There were four difficult to choose from, “Fun”, “Tricky”, “Taxing” and “Mayhem”. The  first few levels in the lowest difficulty were straight forward but the levels became more and more complex (and heartbreaking) as you went on.

To get the Lemmings to safety and through the door to freedom, certain skills needed to be assigned to some. Which skills to use and how to use them were up to the player, however depending on the level only certain skills would be available and they would have limited uses. The Lemmings could become ‘climbers’ and could climb walls up, but fall to
their death otherwise; ‘floaters’ who could float down using a parasol; ‘blockers’ would stand with their arms out blocking the passage of other Lemmings; ‘builders’ who would build stairs; ‘basherslemmings‘, ‘miners’, and ‘diggers’ dig horizontally, diagonally downwards or directly downwards respectively; and finally my leas
t favourite, ‘bombers’ who would explode after 5 seconds of them being clearly terrified at the prospect. As a child, this upset me greatly. I felt like a monster, but hey… If it cleared the level for me.. Naturally, you couldn’t always get 100% of the Lemmings through the door, but murdering them in an explosion of pixels was tough going.

Below you can see an example of a mayhem level accompanied by the often great music in the game. This one inspired by the dance of the sugar plum fairy from the Nutcracker Suite. You can see how it could become pretty hectic at times.

Have you any fond memories of Lemmings? Which of the many systems it released on did you play it on? Let us know in the comments!



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