3D LEMMINGS REVIEW - July 1996
|Ever since the first Lemmings back in 1722 or
whenever, Psygnosis have claimed that every sequel marks a complete sea change in the
With Lemmings 2 they famously remarked "Lemmings 2 is going to be very different... we probably shouldn't call it Lemmings 2 at all", only to release a game that - although it was a very good game and everything - was by and large exactly the same as Lemmings, but with a few extra bits. When the time came for the third in the series, they even went so far as to call it "All New World Of Lemmings", which was odd because the game itself was pretty much identical to Same Old World Of Lemmings 2, but with most of the new bits taken out again. There have been loads of other Lemmings games, data disks, Christmas specials, magazine coverdisks and so on, but the basic formula has been more or less completely unchanged every time. So as you can imagine, you could have knocked me down with a suspension bridge when 3D Lemmings turned out to be, well, a bit of a revolution. Stroll with me now down Well I Never Street and we'll find out more together.
First things first, then. Okay, so it's not that different. (But you said... - Reader's voice) Shut up. Not basically. You still have to herd loads of dumb lems to safety by getting them to use a few simple actions, and you still don't get any more direct control over them. Also, you're back to having just nine actions, mostly taken from the original game. The only new one is the turner, which instructs all lemmings meeting it to turn through 90 degrees, and it's difficult to see how the game could have worked in 3D any other way, so that's not the big issue. The big change is in the lems' environment(s), and you can call me Atticus Finch if it's not a lulu. (Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, yes it is. - Ed)
Instead of flat 2D screens which were basically all the same with different scenery, you've got dozens and dozens of Doom-style 3D worlds, all with their own features and laws. There are Egyptian tombs riddled with secret passageways, enormous statues of lemmings which the little ones climb around on like ants, fantastic Aliens-themed corridor complexes with spinning fans and locked cells with more lems in, pleasant Victorian mazes full of gardens and cottages, medieval castles with spiralling turrets, obstacle-strewn army assault courses and lots, lots more.
Negotiating these brave new worlds is a cakewalk, too. The numeric keypad controls up, down, left, right, in, out, zooming, rotating and changing speed, and the function keys select the various lemmings. Or you can do it all with the mouse, or use any combination you like (if you're using the keyboard you can make all the icon bars disappear for a better view, and you can dispense with the largely useless map too). You can, thankfully, move around while you're paused as well, a pleasing indication that - unlike some previous lems games - the puzzles are the problem in 3D Lemmings, not handling the controls.
In fact, in everything except the actual puzzles, 3D Lemmings goes out of its way to make things easy for you. If you mess up a screen, the next go starts with an exact action replay of the previous one, which you can interrupt and join in at any time. This feature was first seen in All New World Of Lemmings, but in a massively irritating manner whereby completing a screen with the help of the replay was deigned to be 'cheating', and didn't enable you to get to the next level until you did it all over again 'properly'. This was clearly the work of a SCALY MINION OF BEELZEBUB, and has been put right in 3D Lemmings - you can finish a screen any old way you bloody well like, and it still counts.
Another one of the old problems of Lemmings was that you couldn't accurately pick out a single lemming in a crowd, and hence wasted countless frustrating attempts trying to do things with the wrong lem in the wrong place going in the wrong direction. ANWOL allowed you to pick out a single lem and mark him with an arrow above his head, but then didn't actually let you do anything with it, which missed the point by several hundred thousand miles. Here you can mark any lem you like, then simply click on the relevant icon to make him do the action right there and then, which is nothing short of a godsend. If you want to make doubly sure, you can even be 'in' the lemming (Eurch. - Ed), looking through his eyes as he goes about, doing whatever it is that lemmings actually do. You can even turn his head to look right and left as he walks, his view juddering around convincingly as he goes.
And there's more. You can practice with any of the lemmings' actions on special practice levels, and you get to test out all the other game features too, so you never have to be caught out by something you haven't seen. Even the menus are friendly, giving you the chance to get out and go back at almost every turn.
And just before I get round to the Actual Game Itself, a word for the aesthetics. And the word is 'stupendous'. The graphics are uniformly lovely, with touches of scenic detail in every kind of world. The music, and I say this is a long-time loather of computer game music, is just gorgeous (I have to admit to loading the game up a couple of times just to listen to the tune from Castle Lemmalot in the background), with loads of different tunes, many of which have more than one, er, 'mix', the static intro sequences to each level are wildly pretty and the animated sequences at the start and when you finish a skill level are funny as well as beautiful.
So, the game, then. (Sorry, out of roo- no, only joking. - Ed) What's to say? The puzzles are great, sneaky and clever stuff with red herrings and shortcuts galore (in fact, here's a free tip - when you get to Dot To Dot, you can skip from 4 to 9 by building a bridge a bit too far (A Bridge A Bit Too Far - what a film that was. - Ed) then blowing it up. You'll know what it means when you get there), and full of things that are so sodding obvious when you spot them, you wonder what alien force had possessed your brain for the last 30 minutes. And yet, there's nothing as stupidly annoying as in the earlier games (especially the first and third ones) - at the time of writing I've completed 62 of the 80 levels, and only had to phone Psygnosis in total defeat once (and that pretty early on, with the maddeningly simple level 36). There's massive variation too, from the mindtwisting strategy antics of The Rescue Mission (where you have to free imprisoned lems from a claustrophobic Aliens-type underground base, planning your route with extreme care and forethought), to the straightforward It's A Knockout fun of Let The Race Begin. Every one a winner, ladies and gentlemen.
I suppose I should find a fault now, for objectivity's sake. And there is one, so here it is. Some levels feature teleports or springs which catapult the lems through the air. If you speed the lems up to get to the end faster once you've done everything, the teleports and springs don't work properly (the lems go through so fast some of them get missed). Perfectly good plans were messed up by this on a couple of occasions, which is getting shafted by the mechanics of a computer game, not the hazards of a lemming's world, and as such is COMPLETELY STUPID AND WRONG. It's a small and usually easily-remedied problem (just don't speed up when there are springs around) but, like a bird poo on a beautiful sports car, it spoils the perfection, so 1 percent off. The other five missing percent are accounted for by the fact that you WILL finish it eventually (it's only taken me 2 days, albeit 11-hours-of-solid-play-a-day-and-I'm-not-kidding days, to do slightly over three quarters of it), but that's just technical quibbling about a game I've been more entranced by than practically everything (no, scrub that - actually everything) I've seen on the PC to date.
I like it. Can you tell?
Hugely, tremendously entertaining game that's all but impossible to put down. No matter how sick you are of lemmings, don't even think about missing out on this.
This is one of my favourites, from early on in the Tricky levels. Here's a closer look, including a totally gratuitous plot which I've just made up.
1. The little fellas are aboard a jet plane, doubtless off for a relaxing holiday on some Norwegian cliffs.
2. Suddenly, a swarthy Middle Eastern-looking lemming stands up, squeaks "Free the blockers!" and explodes with a bang, blowing a hole in the rear of the plane.
3. Luckily, the lems' airline has a contigency policy for just such an occasion, and as the plane loses power rapidly, another jet is sent up to meet it, attaching a tow rope dropped from the first plane. (Look, just go with it, alright?)
4. The lems crawl out of the stricken plane, and make their way along the roof (to avoid the fire, natch), then drop down and walk back through, er, the luggage hold, yes, that's it, the luggage hold.
5. Reaching the back of the plane, they grab onto the rope and slide down to the waiting jet, landing precariously on it's wing.
6. From the wing, they climb up onto the second plane's roof (the, er, doors are jammed, I should think), then make their way to the tail.
7. Burrowing carefully through the tail section (the plane, of course, being able to fly using just it's rudder, probably), they leap onto a specially-placed cargo net at the back, and make their way in through the hold to safety. Hurrah!