I often feel very nostalgic of my experiences with computers in the 80’s and early 90’s. I still remember the specs of the first IBM PC compatible our family had at home in 1992 – a 386SX/16, with a whopping 4 megabytes of RAM, and an absolutely whopping 60 megabytes of hard drive space. It was an absolute powerhouse.
One of the few computer games I was allowed to have on that machine as a kid was Lemmings. This game was introduced to just about every common platform of its era, and I have fond memories of playing it after school with one of my friends, tying to solve the puzzles, save as many lemmings as I could, and progress to the next level. There were many moments of frustration as it would often take a few attempts to complete a level.
It was with much excitement that I found there to be an Android remake of Lemmings. This does not seem to be a simple recreation of the original game, rather it seems to be a whole reinvention of the game with new graphics and new levels. I was excited to install it and try and relive the enjoyment I had as a high school kid playing the original version when it first came out.
When you first launch the game, you are taken into the tutorial. I would strongly recommend taking some time here to become familiar with the game. The interface is very different from the original version and while it’s not difficult, it took me a moment to get used to it. In the original version, you select the skill that you want a lemming to perform from a bar at the bottom of the screen and then select the lemming that needs to perform that skill. In this version, you select blocks on the map to change skills. So for example if you want lemmings to dig through a wall, you select the wall block you want them to dig through, and then select the shovel. The first lemming to reach this object will then start digging. It took me a few goes in the tutorial to completely understand how this worked. Once I got the hang of it, it almost became second nature.
Once I started playing, I was absolutely blown away. It seems the perfect combination of old and new.
The first thing that I noticed was the sound track. It seems to borrow quite heavily from the original game. The vocalisations the lemmings make (“let’s go!”) are straight recreations from the original game. The music that you get when playing a level is also recreated from the original. The only disappointment is that they didn’t use more of the original music, as in the original game each level had its own music track. Having said that, the music that they chose to use is an absolute earworm. Good luck trying to get it out of your head.
Moving onto gameplay, this is different from the original game, but also borrows heavily from it. You will be required to safely navigate your crew of lemmings safely towards the exit, using a combination of blockers, diggers, floaters and bricklayers, all while avoiding obstacles designed to hurt your lemmings. Be careful though, some of these obstacles occur very quickly after your lemmings appear!
This is somewhat simplified compared to the original game. I have yet to play a level that requires a climber for instance, and all the maps seem to fit conveniently onto one screen to avoid having to scroll around to find the exit.
There are a few additions to make the gameplay more interesting. For instance, many maps include a form of tunnelling, where the lemmings will enter and then reappear at another location on the map. The entrances and exits for these are fairly clearly marked, and often there are more than one on a level. You really have to think ahead with these, as this can either make the level a lot easier or more difficult depending on which tunnel you choose to use. Also, at the end of many levels, there’s a “spin the wheel” type arrangement where you can win in-game prizes, such as extra umbrellas to use for floaters. A few rounds of this definitely does make certain aspects of the game easier.
The modified gameplay is brilliant. It is the perfect way to adapt the game to the form factor of a mobile phone or tablet. Where on some levels from the original game you’d have to scroll around to find an exit, this doesn’t happen on this version as everything is on one screen. The additions of the tunnels adds a different element to make up for the lack of scrolling. The simplified skills that the lemmings can take on also simplifies gameplay. While the scrolling and extra skills worked well on the PC versions and added a lot to the challenge of solving the puzzle, the form factor of your typical tablet or phone might make these features difficult to implement elegantly. This seems to be a good compromise.
A lot of effort has been made to keep with the character of the original graphics, and it shows. The graphics are a lot more modern than the original version, yet the lemmings still keep the basic animations and look and feel of the original version. Those looking to go on a nostalgia trip will find something to love here, while also taking advantage of the better capabilities of modern hardware.
Speaking of which, this game really benefits from a larger screen size. I have been testing the game on a Nokia 2.3, which has a 6.2” display. It was very playable at this screen size. This game does require a certain amount of accuracy when selecting the right square, so if you’re on a device with a smaller screen, this might prove to be somewhat cumbersome.
The only thing I don’t like about it is that it is ad-supported, with a subscription model if you want to get rid of ads. This isn’t necessarily a bad model, but the pricing of $9.49 a week is a little bit excessive. Even though I love the game, that represents very poor value.
In conclusion though, I had rather high expectations of this game. It is with fond nostalgia that I remember the original, having played both the IBM PC and Commodore 64 versions of the game. This is the perfect combination of nostalgia meets modern hardware and has been thoroughly updated and remade in a way that is fun but tastefully harks back to the original. Where the game gets marked down is the poor value of the subscription model it uses to remove advertising from the game.