Survival is one of the most basic of all instincts deep inset within every species, yet for over twenty years and many different titles within this franchise we have been told that Lemmings are different. With a blatant disregard for their well-being and oblivious to their surroundings, if real Lemmings shared the same suicidal tendencies as their digital counterparts, they would have become extinct many years ago.
They aren’t blessed with a tremendous amount of common sense, unfortunately. From the moment they enter the world, they immediately set off to the right continually walking and only stop and turn if their path is blocked, often with disastrous consequences if faced with the perils of water, height or sometimes even more sinister contraptions. Thankfully, though, there are able to follow instructions given by you and through using a combination of 8 different skills you can ensure their survival.
The core Lemmings gameplay really hasn’t changed in over 20 years and despite this latest version for the Vita being built from scratch with a great new art style, a new skill wheel and many touch controls but underneath all of that the game remains the same. Presented with 100 levels of varying difficulty – from easy through to hard, with tricky and taxing in between – you have to use the different skills tactically to direct the horde to the exit. For the benefit of those that haven’t played Lemmings before, I’ll explain those skills. You have a Climber, who can scale vertical walls with no problem, and a Floater – which often needs to work in tandem with the climber – and allows a Lemming to survive a great fall. Bashers remove obstructions horizontally and Miners scoop diagonally downwards, whilst a Digger will excavate the earth directly below. Stoppers ensure that no other Lemmings can go past them, Bombers allow you to detonate a single Lemming within five seconds. The final skill is the Builder, who can construct a pile of steps. The real catch, however, if that often not all of these skills are available to you within a level, you have a limited amount to use to achieve your aim.
With a star system in place to reward how quickly you not only solve the level, but with how many Lemmings you managed to save you soon find yourself replaying levels over and over to get the best score, and push yourself as to how you could have done better. Harder difficulties are initially locked behind this star based system, and a fair few stars will be needed before you will be trying the more challenging levels. The game also infrequently throws a little more chaos into the mix, with the Mischievous Lemmings. In complete contrast to your primary aim, these naughty little creatures have to be stopped from reaching the exit, whilst you are up against the clock trying to rescue the others. Trying to micro manage two elements of gameplay simultaneously is very challenging and really ramps up the tension, especially on later levels.
In addition to the score system, there are also a selection of objectives for you to complete at your leisure, ranging from simple ones like letting a Lemming float for 4 seconds right up to more difficult ones, such as a Lemming using every single skill. Completing these tasks will reward you with coins allowing you to customise the appearance of your creatures to your liking.
This new version doesn’t just bring a nice lick of paint to the proceedings, it also adds in aforementioned touch based controls. The theory is simple enough. Touch the Lemming you want, the choose the corresponding skill and away you go. The skill when works quite well, but it is massive, and takes up much of the screen, and even though it can be moved it will often be getting in the way. Selecting your Lemming works well enough unless you have a few bunched up together and then has varying degrees of success, which can obviously become frustrating – especially with the fine lines between one and three stars. Thankfully you can also use dual controls to fine tune which one it is you want to employ, using the direction pad to select left or right of the active rodent. Other manual controls are the Left Shoulder (Pauses), Right Shoulder (Fast Forward), Triangle (Nuke all Lemmings) as well as the analogue sticks for looking around the map. Everything else is touch based, including zooming in or out. As a whole it works well.
Across the four main difficulties (and the tutorial) you have 100 levels, with a mixture of new creations and old favourites and those familiar with previous entries will definitely feel a little nostalgic with some of the tunes playing. The game also features 27 trophies – including a platinum – and there is quite a bit of replay value with the stars and objectives, however previous series elements, such as level creators or a multiplayer mode are disappointingly absent.
So, should you buy it? The game has been built from scratch for the Vita, has some very lovely environments and plays exactly as you would expect. The launch price of $9.99/€9.99/£7.99 is easily impulse territory for anyone looking for a taxing and enjoyable puzzle game, and even more so for anyone who loves Lemmings.