Genre: Puzzle
Year: 1991
Developed by: DMA Design
Published by: Psygnosis
Platforms: PC, everything else
Feeling Like: The Skin of My Teeth

There are very few games on the 500 that will be as sentimental as Lemmings. We had a 386 or a 486 back in 1992 and it was the kind of machine that could barely run Lemmings. Anything more intensive graphically required a boot disk. I don’t even remember how we came to possess it. Freeware, maybe?

I understood how to handle a Nintendo controller, but games on PC were intimidating. I didn’t understand any of it – how to install software, how to use a mouse and keyboard and do I shut down the computer when we’re done? Why isn’t it loading properly? Why can’t I get the sound to work?

I don’t recall active lessons, but I’m positive I either learned through raw experimentation or dad taught me. It didn’t take long, either way, for me to beg him to play something with me. Lemmings wasn’t violent, it required thinking and it was easy to learn. He was on board from the beginning.

Dad figured out the puzzles and I controlled the mouse. Some of the easier challenges (shown above, for example) basically meant I could mash the “dig” command, watch the army of Lemmings toss dirt aside and they’d eventually get to the exit. Easy!

Eventually, the levels progressed into the “I have no idea how to do this, I’ll ask Dad when he’s home from work” stages of difficulty. Combinations of blockers, exploders and bashers meant the solutions weren’t always so clear. Experimentation was encouraged, and failure meant I got to click the “nuke all Lemmings” button and try again. The clock is always ticking, but the punishment for losing was so minor that it never felt like anything more than a casual reminder that we had to do SOMETHING. Tick-tock.

Sometimes we’d try to brute force our way through. An intimidating chasm usually meant that we should use our builders, right? Well, they would run out of steps to use, shrug, and plunge into the ether. Could we use another builder? It always depended on what the minimum amount of Lemmings required to pass was. It wasn’t just about how we could traverse an obstacle, but how efficiently. Minimal casualties was always better.

We got pretty good at memorizing exactly how many steps the builders would build before running out. Oftentimes, chasms were met with our brute force. Builders didn’t work? Well…how about we build MORE and let them walk a single pixel before plunging to their death and THEN order them to build again. Can we make it?

Often the solution was more cerebral than that, but through trial and error (and error, and error), we got our intrepid lemmings to their goal. This led to great exasperations of joy, high fiving and general joviality. We’d often play when my sisters had gone to bed, so we had to keep our rambunctious ramblings to a minimum; for those who have met myself, or my father, they know this is next to impossible.

The levels started out simply – sometimes you weren’t even given multiple jobs. The above screenshot, for example, shows that umbrella Lemmings are the only way to go. Don’t over think things! Even the most basic solutions were presented to teach you gameplay mechanics. Umbrellas mean high cliffs can be navigated. Chasms can be built across. Solid earth can be dug up. Lemmings can be given a power mid-fall. Very cool.

Eventually stages will require you to employ a dastardly combination of jobs and tasks to get to the finish line. Like any good puzzle game, it incorporates smaller lessons into bigger, more grandiose ones. I always do better in a small team in these scenarios; ask Eric about Wasteland 3, we always picked each other up. Not only do you have two brains working on one puzzle, but you have the camaraderie and moral support. Talking it out can reveal revelations; sometimes a little encouragement is all that’s needed to show that you had the right solution in mind the entire time.

Dad’s the only one I ever played Lemmings with. My entire schemata revolves around him and me playing in our tiny computer nook on Oliver St. It’s only one of a handful of games I enticed him to play with me – a few others on the 500 are to come where Simon will feature prominently, but I’m confident this was the first. Computers were mostly a mystery to me, but Lemmings were a very good introduction to what they could offer me, both professionally and personally. Thanks, Dad!

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