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Lemmings

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Reviewed by Ed Griffiths Even today, Lemmings stands out as a unique game. The objective is to get as many little green-haired rodents through a level as possible. The catch? You don't actually control them. They'll blissfully walk straight forward forever, even if it means stepping into the jaws of disaster or straight into oblivion. They'll only turn around if something immobile gets in their way. Their only hope is you. You bestow upon them special abilities, like the ability to dig, climb, gently float to the ground with an umbrella parachute, build bridges, and even to explode. You have to get them to somehow use their skills in the right way to create a safe path to the finish. The other catch? There's sometimes a hundred lemmings on the screen at once, and you have to be sure you're keeping a constant eye on them all the time, or at least make sure they can't wander very far. As a frantic puzzle game and as a release for pent-up hostility (click on the Armaggedon button and watch them explode in a gory fireworks display), Lemmings has succeeded on almost every platform it has touched. Except for the Game Boy. The little handheld's limitations come shining through with flying colors -- or should that be flying black and white? The most lemmings you'll see in any level of this game is 14; it seems the Game Boy just couldn't handle that many little sprites at once. The lemmings march along at a pace that's at times tediously slow. Though it would seem that this would make the game easier (it doesn't), it also makes the levels more frustrating. The time it takes to clear a level depends on how long it takes the lemmings you're working with to get into the right positions, so the slow marchers make finishing a level unnecessarily long. And if you make a fatal mistake somewhere late in your plan, it'll sometimes take a *long* time to get all that progress back once you restart the level. On other consoles, when you tell a lemming what to do, he stops in his tracks and does it. On the Game Boy, he'll sometimes take a few steps before starting in. The reason wasn't clear until I'd had a lot of experience with the game; the levels are set up as tiles, and the lemmings aren't programmed to start their jobs as they're crossing from one tile to the next, so they start when they reach the next tile. So, off they go, sometimes plummeting to their death or hitting a wall and turning around (giving you a *completely* different, often undesired, effect) if you don't time your commands right. This game has always had high demands of precision from its players; this system just doesn't work very well. The levels themselves are recognizable from other versions (the titles are often a bit mangled). They've all been slightly altered, either to fit the limited "length" that the Game Boy allows or to make them easier to complete now that the game goes by a tile system. In all, Lemmings fans will enjoy being able to play their favorite levels on the road, but they may be disappointed by the treatment they receive.

Graphics 7 out of 10

The lemmings themselves are tiny sprites that can get a bit hard on the eyes, but they're the same old lemmings we've come to know and love from other consoles. The other graphics in this game are nice enough; there's lots of neat textures on the grass, dirt, and metal. The folks at Ocean were nice enough to make the view nice and big on the Game Boy. They've eliminated most of the tool bar and made the screen scroll up and down slightly in order to give us a more zoomed-in picture of what's going on. If the levels were shrunk so that the height of a level is roughly the height of a screen (as it is for other consoles) you wouldn't be able to see anything. An odd side effect of this setup is that you have to hold down the B button to access the menu. This actually works very well, since you don't have to move your cursor down to the bottom of the screen, pick an option, and go all the way back up to use it on a lemming. I was a bit disappointed by some of the animations. Many of the lemming traps were toned down to work with the Game Boy; there was a lemming masher in this one part of a level, but it was replaced by something in the floor that makes the lemmings vaguely disappear. If you enjoyed the sadistic pleasures of watching lemmings being horribly destroyed in the other versions, you'll be disappointed by the Game Boy version.

Music and Sound 8 out of 10

Many of the more popular tunes from Lemmings make a decent showing on the Game Boy version. They're nice classical pieces, assumingly to calm you down during the mayhem of keeping the rodents alive. The sound effects often lack luster, but they serve their purpose. A noise lets you know when a builder is running out of bricks, there's a little kaboom when a lemming is detonated. . . not much else, really. I really miss the lemming voices ("Let's go!"). I know the Game Boy isn't much for digital speech, but they could have simulated the lemming noises somehow. The PC version that I played had musical notes that sort of sounded like "Let's go!" That would have worked on the Game Boy.

Game Challenge 10 out of 10

You have a limited number of abilities to bestow upon your little tribe. In later levels, it becomes harder to use these precious abilities to create a safe path between point A and point B. A lot of creativity is required to solve these puzzles, as well as quick timing. Fortunately, there's a pause button, so you can do something at one part of a level, pause, and run over to see how things are doing on the other side of the level. The early levels are designed so you can get a feel for what the different abilities do, while the later levels really test your wits. To this day, I've never figured out how to finish the first level of the hardest difficulty setting.

Game Play-Fun 7 out of 10

The basic gameplay *is* still there, despite the lack of fun animations, the slightly altered levels, and yes, even despite the "no between-tiles actions" rule. There's lots of enjoyment to get from this game. However, if you've played any other version, you'll soon grow weary of this one. You'll remember the animations, the sound effects, the hordes of lemmings running around, and yes, the colors in the other versions. You'll think of how you could be playing those versions. Then you'll turn off your Game Boy and play one of them. If you want to play Lemmings on the go and you don't have a laptop, this game will suffice, but it won't necessarily satisfy.

Frustration

Eventually, you'll come across a level, look at your available abilities, look at the number of lemmings you have to save, and realize that not even MacGuyver could accomplish that feat. It takes a lot of lateral thinking to make it through these.

Replayability 3 out of 10

You'll never want to play the levels you've cleared ever again. Some games have levels that are just fun to play around in, if just to show off to your friends that you can do it. This game will never give you that feeling. You'll get your password and think "Finally! I'm free of level (fill in the blank) forever!" While this gives you a great feeling of accomplishment once you've finished a level, it doesn't make the game especially replayable.

Game Value 9 out of 10

The only way you can find this game nowadays is used or in a bargain bin. Either way, this is going to be one cheap game. If you can live with the limitations, you've got a lot of game to play for a low price.

Overall C

Lemmings has the two things that make a puzzle game great: simple interface and challenge that grows as you do. However, it also has the things that make any game bad: slow-down, "iffy" control, and many other versions available that are bigger or flashier. It all comes together to make an average game. Not really good, not really bad. Not quite fun, but certainly never dull. It'll hold your interest, but it won't breed addiction.

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