The Lemmings are - quite literally - evergreen. Over 16 years have passed since I set foot in London's Kensington Royal Garden Hotel to attend a low-key Psygnosis press junket where Dave Jones' genius-level games concept was first unveiled. No key note speeches, no long-winded demonstrations, no hard sell. Psygnosis and DMA Design knew they had a hit on their hands and just let us play the game and appreciate the extraordinary concept. Taking a look at this PlayStation 3 rendition of the classic, it's astonishing to see just how little has changed in the core gameplay compared to the 1991 Commodore Amiga original.
The objective remains identical - Lemmings drop down into a hostile game environment, and it's your job to shepherd them through to the exit, doling out skills and abilities to defeat the obstacles in your path. If there's a wall blocking your path, let a Lemming dig through it. If he's falling to his doom, give him an umbrella and let him float down to safety. If there's an immovable object in the way, strap explosives to your rodent-hero and blow him up to give the others safe passage - you get the idea. This version also features additions to the gameplay from various Lemmings sequels in the form of power-up icons, cloners and teleporters. All good stuff.
Coming from Team 17, the developer of the accomplished PSP version, it's no surprise to see that this Cell-powered rendition has much in common with its handheld sibling. This is most blatantly in the redrawn cartoon-like graphics, boosted significantly with 720p HD clarity and sweet animation, along with the console-friendly control method. But behind the slick visuals, Lemmings is something of a perilously empty vessel when compared to Team 17's original miniaturised blueprint.
There's no escaping the fact that what is the most recent, best looking version of Lemmings on one of the world's most powerful gaming platforms is also the most bereft ever released in terms of depth. There are 40 stages here, varying from the ridiculously simple to the most brain-rendingly obtuse. It's not a bad selection, but even the ancient Amiga version had triple that amount, along with 20 more multiplayer-specific levels. Not that there's any multiplayer action at all in PS3 Lemmings, the best you can hope for is to challenge the best times on the internet leaderboards. In an age where online gaming is key to a game's long-term value, this is a big disappointment. The PSP's map editor is also absent, and thus the ability to share maps with other players is also lost.
Indeed, as staggering as this may sound, I feel somewhat short-changed by this £3.49 piece of software. PS3 Lemmings is a game of compromise with savagely slashed down amounts of content justified by a stupidly cheap, ultra-disposable 'no brainer' price-point. And therein lies the dilemma in assessing this game. Make no mistake - £3.49 is fine value for money considering the quality of the core gameplay and the attention to detail in the PS3 upgrades. It can easily be argued that £3.49 is cheap enough to excuse just about any failing when you consider how much you are getting for your money, and how long those 40 levels will keep you occupied. It's just a little annoying to know that SCEE and Team 17 are holding back on us, that this game could have been so much more. Why not follow the ethos of Tekken: Dark Resurrection and make the game all it can possibly be? Why omit key gameplay elements and levels when you've already coded them on PSP? Why not at least provide the rest of the game as another £3.49 booster pack? Sony is doing a superb job in redefining the value proposition for downloadable software - but all things being equal, I'd rather take a £6.99 complete game as opposed to a depleted rendition that's half the price.