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For most people, lemmings are rodents of the family cricetidae and are closely related to Hamsters, Voles, Mice and Rats. Due to a longstanding misconception, lemmings are often associated with mass suicide, an idea that was reinforced by the Disney documentary “White Wilderness”.
If you ask gamers, they will probably tell you that Lemmings are weird little bi-pedal creatures with brightly colored hair that usually wear long robes (neon green hair and blue robes usually, reversed for a second player). These creatures walk mindlessly to their deaths, so it is likely that the somewhat unfortunate misconception about the rodents played some role in the creation/naming of one of the quintessential puzzle games of the 90s, which are playing this December on Together Retro: Lemmings.
In 1989, one of DMA Designs founders, Dave Jones, decided to make a gaming starring the Walker used in their previous title called Blood Money (a horizontal shooter where you control a helicopter, submarine, spacesuit or spaceship depending on which of the 4 stages you are playing).
DMA hired an artist by the name of Scott Johnson to create the animations for Walker*. Johnson created the Walker and men for it to shoot at in 16×16 pixels but Mike Daily, another founder at DMA, was convinced they could do it in 8×8 pixels. The result is the bottom portion and the 10 ton weight of the nearby gif. Later Gary Timmons, another artist at DMA, added the mouth and hands, and the concept was born. It did take another year before it actually became Lemmings, but in 1991 the world was introduced to Lemmings and it has not been the same since.
In addition to the characteristic graphics with tiny sprites, the game also has rather characteristic music, as during the creation of the original (Amiga) version of the game, renditions of classical pieces were used to avoid issues with music copyright.
*Walker was later made into a full game in 1993, because of the success of Lemmings, featuring a then novel control scheme with a mouse-controlled cross-hair independently of the movement of the
left-right movement of the mech (controlled with keys or joystick, which can be done by a different player).
Lemmings is a real-time puzzle game, although there is a pause button you are limited on what you can do while the game is paused.
You have a set number of lemmings who will drop into the world from a door in the sky and you have to get enough of them safely to the exit somewhere on the map within a time limit. Maps will contain various hazards and blocks to stop your lemmings from making it to the exit. How you get over these issues is by assigning your lemmings a task. These tasks, vary from the ability to climb up vertical surfaces, “parachute” down great heights safely with a parasol, digging in one of three directions, to building staircases, to being a traffic guard and not allowing lemmings to pass. A more cruel ability is the explosion, which is made either more sad – or more funny – because when the timer above the targeted lemming reaches 0, you get a now classical animation involving lifting up the arms, shaking and a proffered “Oh no!” (available in the Amiga version and some other ports) just prior to the lemming exploding. Keep in mind one often has to explode the poor Blocker (traffic guard) lemming that kept the others safe, in order for the others to continue to the exit.
All abilities are needed in one way or another and you only have a set amount you can assign each map. This leads to interesting maps where you may have an hazard but need 100% of the lemmings
to reach the goal so you cannot use the Blockers at all, or levels where you need to make a hole but get no diggers and thus have to sacrifice some lemmings to explode away the obstacle.
The scenario is mostly destructible, by digging or blasting, and one can see what happens to the map by hitting the Nuke button, which puts the explosion timer above every single lemming leading to a chorus of “Oh No!” and the decimation of your population of lemmings (which explodes wholesale, unless some fall into some hazard due to the holes created by the already exploded lemmings).
The original Lemmings contains 120 levels. An expansion pack was released shortly after the original called Oh No! More Lemmings, and there are also some Christmas themed releases dubbed (of course) Christmas Lemmings.
Some of the more modern ports have upwards to 300 levels, and specific ones also come with a level editor.
Originally an Amiga game, Lemmings was blessed with over 30 official ports and numerous unofficial. It is considered to be one of the most ported games of all times.
The most common ports are NES, SNES, Genesis/MD, PSP, PSN, DS, and PC. And out of those PC and
SNES are usually the two most suggested. While the SNES port has lesser music and a cheesy intro by Sunsoft, it is faithful to the original Amiga title and is quick, even in two player.
The original remains a fine choice and has the interesting feature of allowing two mouse-controlled players in its two player mode.
Lemmings has been ported numerous times and has sold over 20 million copies to this day. It was the bestselling game that DMA had created when it was released (selling almost as much as their other two titles together).
In addition to the additional levels in Oh No! More Lemmings and the Christmas games, it received some sequels – Lemmings 2: The Tribes introduces a large number of new abilities and All New World of Lemmings changed some of the fundamentals (for example, you can have Lemmings jump, and you don’t need to explode stoppers as you can just have them start walking again). 3D Lemmings was the series jump to 3D, although it returned to 2D gameplay with Lemmings Revolution. Beyond those 2D real time puzzles, there are some other spin-off games featuring the Lemmings name. It also paved the way for several clones (Humans and the open-source Pingus come to mind).
The success of Lemmings may also have contributed to some other games: DMA Design also made the quirky SNES game Uniracers, and the company eventually became Rockstar North, which you probably recognize as the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series.
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