I quickly set my flamethrower on the obstacle in front of me, Para-glide off the top of a high ledge to a small platform beneath me and grapple onto the one just across the way. No I’m not playing the latest entry in the Far Cry franchise, in fact I’m playing Lemmings. The original Lemmings along with its many ports has become one of the bestselling games of all time, its tactical puzzle-solving action was unrivalled upon release and its innovative gameplay spawned an entire franchise and a horde of spin-offs. But yet despite the huge impact Lemmings had on the industry there hasn’t been a completely new Lemmings game in almost 2 decades. So let’s take another stroll down memory lane and look at what happened to some of the most beloved creatures of 90’s.
Back in 1991 the Amiga was in its prime, it had one majorly successful title in the form of incredibly popular game The Secret of Monkey Island, but it had nothing that really stood out in its extensive library. That was until Lemmings. Lemmings sees you control an army of, you guessed it, Lemmings as you guide them through a variety of stages and locations. By controlling different species of Lemmings, you get past obstacles using grappling hooks, parachutes and even Flamethrowers. The game’s difficultly however comes from the fact the Lemmings can die in a ridiculous amount of ways. That can be falling from a height, falling into water (or lava), disappearing off the side of the map, being caught in a trap or fire, or being assigned the Bomber skill. The list continues on and it only becomes more infuriating and difficult as the game progresses. But yet somehow it resonated with audiences, the original Lemmings quickly started picking up in sales and became the best selling game on the Amiga throughout its lifespan. It was inevitable with a rap sheet like that, Lemmings wasn’t going to be disappearing off our screens anytime soon.
Enter Lemmings 2 -The Tribes, pretty much a carbon copy of the first but with an entire new set of Lemmings to abuse. It featured 120 stages (split up into various “Tribes”, hence the name) and came with a new Practice mode. The gameplay remained mostly the same even with the new lemmings added but what’s really interesting about Lemmings 2 is surprisingly the “Practice mode”. This may seem odd because it’s only a side mode but this was where I spent most of my time playing Lemmings 2, and was to me the true lemmings experience. It’s a complete sandbox of chaos, playing around with the many different Lemmings in a completely inconsequential environment led to a level of experimentation that was unseen in the original. I spent hours upon hours throwing Lemmings into completely unwinnable scenarios, in which 20 flamethrowers would face off against an impossible battle; and I couldn’t put it down. My obsession with the practice mode got so far, my dad (Whose console I was using) actually scratched the disk to stop me from playing it, yes I had a backup copy, but the principal is still there. Other than that Lemmings 2 only improved on the original’s pretty basic formula. The levels got more complex and puzzles became more in depth, it was an all-round improvement on the first and the critics agreed. But Lemmings 2 didn’t sell as well as the original and its hard to pin down why. Maybe it’s because of the insane sales heights of the original game or maybe the gameplay was too similar. But even so Lemmings wasn’t going to die with one sequel. It may however have died with the influx of strange Lemming’s spin offs that populated the rest of the nineties.
Xmas Lemmings, Christmas Lemmings, Holiday Lemmings, 3D Lemmings Winterland. That’s right 4 Lemmings Christmas games, not one but 4. The franchise went from the one of the bestselling games of all time to a series of really out of place spin offs. These shorter games changed nothing about the core gameplay but added a festive theme to the proceedings. Why? I’m not really sure. It’s a strange misstep in the franchise that has left little marks on it. They seem to me as if there just an excuse to cash in on the holidays but with two stellar games behind them it just comes across as odd that this would be the next logical step in the franchise. However, it became more and more obvious that cashing in on the Lemming’s franchise was high on the publisher’s objective list. Because while they may have made a few random spin offs, the real money was in the remakes. In 2006 Team 17 (Responsible for the worm’s franchise) released a 3D remake of the original Lemmings, that was followed by a port to the PS3 and in 2014 to the PS Vita. This was the same game as the first (including all the original levels) but with a graphical up-haul, all the backgrounds were 3D and the Lemmings themselves were also 3D models. With the original already released on 12 consoles back in the 90’s it somehow keeps getting brought back to life on new consoles meaning it’s probably going to reappear again sometime soon.
Of course I’m missing out on one of the big leaps for the Lemmings’ franchise, the move to 3D. Now if we ignore the slightly 3D, Lemmings 3D (Which is regarded as the worst in the franchise and isn’t really very 3D) This was a big step for the Lemmings and an obvious next step for the series, the popularity of 2D games was being heavily outweighed by the popularity of 3D games and this all led to the 2000 release of Lemmings Revolution. This version saw you again controlling Lemmings in varying levels, solving puzzles in order to get them to the end goal. Its twist however was that the levels themselves were actually twisting. Each level rotated in a circular motion and saw you having to deal with not only the Lemmings you could see in front of you, but the Lemmings on the other side of the level. It made the frantic element of making sure your Lemmings are on the right track significantly more difficult because you also had to navigate a full 3D environment. When compared to every other Lemmings release of the 90’s it was a drastic change and the critics didn’t ignore that, It received pretty great reviews to back up its changes and it would have seemed that this may be where the Lemmings would once again thrive. But they didn’t. In fact, this was the last completely new Lemmings game we ever got because while Lemmings may have been original upon its release by the year 2000 we’d seen an endless amount of clones.
The Humans, Pingus and a whole host of other games took heavy “Inspiration” from the popular franchise. Even now games like Mouse Craft use an altered version of the original formula. Lemmings became oversaturated very fast, but that wasn’t because Psygnosis were pumping out ridiculous amounts of games, it was because the formula was being used everywhere else. In the end Lemmings were killed not by falling down a huge chasm but by being completely overused by other companies. It wouldn’t surprise me we saw a remake of the original Lemmings on PS4, but the likelihood of a completely new game nearly 20 years after the last is slim to none. It’s a shame that the franchise that almost single-handedly brought RTS games to the lime light has completely disappeared but only time will truly tell if we will ever see another army of Lemmings.
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