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Lemmings - The Atari Times

Lemmings


Leading the pack
by David Sherwin

July 5, 2003
Lemmings was one of the last games released by Atari for the Lynx, and in it the game's coder, who realized that the Lynx was on the ropes, placed into it every ounce of his passion, creativity, and talent with the hope that he'd leave a lasting mark for posterity. He succeeded.

Lemmings on the Lynx is an absolutely superb port of the puzzle/simulation that was popular on a number of computers in the very early '90s, and none of the charm of the original concept is lost for being reduced to the Lynx's tiny screen. Lemmings is, simply and truly, an excellent game on the Lynx, and its quality has made it a coveted item by every serious Lynx collector. Unlike some rarer items, however, it's also well-worth every cent of the considerable amount of money that you're likely to spend to acquire this game.

Gameplay

For all of its complexity, Lemmings is an incredibly easy game to play. I lost the instructions booklet that came with my game soon after it arrived, and I was forced to learn the game through simple trial-and-error. It's a testament to the game's excellent design that I was able to both learn the game and play it within the space of a few minutes of inserting the cart into my Lynx.

Lemmings is both a puzzler and a simulation. For those unfamiliar with the concept, gamers have control of a set number of lemmings per screen. They must guide a percentage of them safely over and through a number of hazards / barriers, which include dirt, pillars, crystals, and empty space, to a carefully-placed exit. Lemmings are quite fragile (and brainless), and both skill and patience are required to ensure their safe egress out of hazard-filled levels and into the "outside world".

Lemmings follow each other (of course!) and will deliberately pursue one path unless their progress is impeded by barriers or other lemmings. Fortunately, lemmings can (briefly) learn some tasks, and players can train them to, respectively, float, block, climb, burrow, build, explode, or tunnel their way through difficulties. Tasks are selected in the options screen, but this is easy to do, and your various selections should not interrupt gameplay.

Each level is presented in miniature at its beginning, and players should use this mini-map to determine initial strategy. This feature is especially useful for the larger lemmings, and it's saved me quite a few lemming lives.

Lemmings also contains a built-in self-destruct feature that automatically ends all games for frustrated players. It's a handy features for players who realize that they've made a few too many mistakes to advance to the next level.

Players have the option of selecting levels that are either "fun", "taxing", or "mayhem"...but beginners are well-advised to start on the "fun" setting. Levels may be selected by entering passwords at the start of each game, and these words are available from a number of different gaming sites.

Controls are responsive and well-designed. It's remarkably easy to assign individual tasks, place lemmings, and end levels when desired.

Graphics

It's arguable that Lemmings boasts the best graphics of any Lynx game. The opening sequence is quite impressive, and demonstrates the degree to which coding had advanced at Atari between the first Lynx titles and superior "second generation" efforts.

The quality evident in the game's opening credits is maintained through all elements of the game. The lemmings' world is presented much like those cut-away ant farms you always see at school science fairs, and the various levels are just as complex. Levels are quite large, and only a portion of the game screen will be present at each time. Other areas may, however, be viewed by utilizing the game's fluid horizontal scrolling feature.

The lemmings themselves are tiny sprites barely a few pixels high, but they're all quite detailed and quite expressive. All assigned tasks are performed with a nice dose of graphic humour; climbers move sluglike up the sides of 90-degree walls, while "floaters" pop open umbrellas and waft gently down when they encounter a drop. Conversely, lemmings who fall to their death explode into a few pixels.

There's often so much going on in each level that it's often fun to ignore the lemmings for awhile and just absorb the game's richness and complexity. Lemmings flail helplessly as they fall out of the trap door at the top of each level; they bounce up and down as they walk through the various levels; and exit triumphantly out of the level exit if you've successfully solved each puzzle. Beyond this, it's possible to discern individual waves in water traps, dirt flying up from the progress of "digger" lemmings, and even tree roots.

All of the game's traps and hazards are done extremely well and produce amusing results when triggered. My favourite lemming hazard is the "spring-loaded trap", which snares unwary lemmings, throws them upside down, and fries them with an electrical charge. It's delightfully ghastly, and I've wasted quite a few lemmings just watching -- and marveling -- at the details of their demise.

Music and Sound Effects

Lemmings has a number of engaging background tunes that provide welcome accompaniment to the action of each level. Music can be turned off, but there's no reason to do so when it's so well-crafted.

Sound effects are even better, and Lemmings features a number of superb digitized speech / sound effects in each level. I especially like the sound of the opening of the trap door and the voice of the lemming who commands "let's go!" at the beginning of each level.

Summary

Lemmings is, without a doubt, the rarest of the Atari-released Lynx games. Gamers should consider themselves lucky to find any copy and should expect to pay upwards of $50 to add this item to their collection. Lemmings is, however, an excellent gaming value even at these inflated prices.

Lemmings is a challenging game, and it's not for gamers who prefer to blast their way to success or who can't stand puzzles. It was, however, crafted with extreme care and is a superb game of its type that even non-puzzle fanatics will want to add to their collections.

Many tragedies have been associated with the short life of the Lynx, but one of the saddest is that the pleas of the coder to fund Lemmings 2 (to be seen in the game's credits) went unheeded. Lemmings represents the best that Atari could produce for the Lynx at the end of its life, and this game shows just how good that effort could be.



The popular computer game Lemmings on the Lynx!
Dig your way home!
Lemmings go splat if you don't give them an umbrella.
"No one allowed through this area."
Lemmings
System: Lynx
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Puzzle
Graphics Score: 95%
Sound & Music Score: 90%
Gameplay Score: 95%
Control Score: 95%

Final Score: 95%



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