Version tested: PlayStation 2
"Lemmings is a charming, simple, ingenious puzzle game that deservedly built an empire (and this was before empire-building regressed to the traditional rape, pillage and then beat-them-up-in-the-alley-to-get-your-money-back model)."
That's a little snippet from the conclusion of our Tom's review of Lemmings for the PSP way back in March of this year. I'd suggest, for my sake, you go back and read it again, replacing 'PSP' with 'PS2' for future reference. It seems rather odd now: we were all strangely excited about the series' resurrection back then, weren't we? If the glut of comments is anything to go by, it's probably true. Must have been a slow month.
Suffice to say, I'm not going to waste words explaining the Lemmings concept all over again for what is more or less a straight port of the PSP game, and, as such it works well. Anybody who still can't get their heads around the fact that this can be played without a mouse really needs to offload those last few pounds of sceptical baggage. Pad control is fine and as accurate as a Lemmings game ever could be, especially with the ability both to zoom in a tad and issue commands when paused. Just be warned that the problem of picking out the direction desired of a Lemming when several are walking back and forth in a small space still remains to this day.
So with that out of the way onto the exciting part: the EyeToy feature. I was more than a little intrigued when Kristan offered this one to me, piquing my interest with the mistakenly delivered epithet of 'Eyetoy Lemmings' (once I'd ruled out it wasn't another bloody compilation of mini-games). I was childishly excited when I took a shufty at the back of the box and saw a little kid using his arms to build a Lemming bridge. And I was thus deflated when I realised this was but twenty short levels stuck, bonus feature-like, onto an old PSP game.
Yet, from what we can take from the brevity of the experience, it almost, almost works. Throwing away all the traditional job icons, you instead direct and ferry Lemmings alongside manipulating scenery with your body. Bridging gaps with your hair, blocking paths to danger with the side of your head, uncomfortably cupping Lemmings in the crux of your elbow as they threaten to spill to their death, and - most satisfying - blatting the lot of them with a swat of the hand when they refuse to do what you want: it can all be done. As can waving your arms at certain hotspots to flick switches, wind up catapults, and clear blocked paths, etc.
Because the Lemmings regard you as an obstacle on a 2D plane, you have to be constantly aware of your body. It's not like most head-on EyeToy games and having dozens of vulnerable little sprites walking all over the screen requires a physical strategy. Pop up on top of them and your bumbling bulk will crush them out of existence. Instead you have to plan, carefully contorting your frame - though not stupidly so - to accommodate the layout of the levels, often ducking below the TV and poking necessary limbs up like a fleshy periscope.
It can be frustratingly imprecise at times, not at all helped if your lighting and background conditions aren't perfect. And if the number needed in the exit to win is lenient, it's in opposition to the seemingly random times said bad lighting allows a group of Lemmings to leap out of your cupped hands and dash themselves on the harsh rocks of your shoulder bone.
Yet for the times it does work, it's great. You'll get a little kick out of Lemmings marching up the slope of your finger enough times to be satisfied with the meagre portion of levels provided. Though, let's be honest, this is nothing more than a tech demo; a proof of concept for what might be possible in the future.
There's vast potential remaining in the EyeToy for more innovative software and we'll applaud any worthwhile attempt to keep the dust off of it for another year. From what we can surmise, Sony's keen to continue using it as a viable tool in their next generation PS3 strategy and, with a little more refinement, Lemmings is as good enough an experiment as any to return in a starring role as a dedicated peripheral title. It'll never escape its novelty origins (even now there's signs of it growing tired), but in the same way that Narbacular Drop became the (hopefully) excellent Half-Life 2's Portal, a little bit of spit and polish behind this could work wonders for a standalone release.
That's all speculation, however. In the here and now, you've got a short, rough showcase attached to a straightforward PSP port. Which unfortunately means I have to finish this review by saying something bland like Lemmings is a fine puzzler and I'd recommend this version to curious newcomers, whilst simultaneously informing veterans that (beyond the EyeToy bit), it's nothing to get excited about.
Or, you know, maybe suggest you type "play lemmings" into Google.
6 / 10