Do Lemmings like cliffs? Sod that - do Cliffs like Lemmings? That's what I want to know. To this end, I've spent some of Sunday afternoon perched on my bed, laptop resting on my knee, Googling various strings along the lines of "Lemmings review author Cliff" and "Lemmings by Cliff" and "Sodding BY Cliff not GETTING OFF". Sadly I haven't found what I'm looking for, but I did find some fascinatingly dyslexic fan-fiction modulating between Lemming house sales and geologically informative pornography. I also happened upon a surprisingly large number of reviews of the old-days versions for PC, Amiga, Spectrum and the like. And sadly, despite the nice things Team 17 has done to the PSP one, flicking through a few of those I know I won't be able to give it such a sparkling report.
Then again, that's hardly surprising is it? It's another genius brief from the publisher that last week announced it was going to help fatten the PSP catalogue with a gang sodding warfare game. Nice one Sony. After being tossed from publisher to publisher with Worms, Team 17 must be wondering what it did to deserve all this. And to be put to work on a handheld port of a DMA Design game (in other words, Rockstar "GTA" North) must be doubly galling. Back in the days when Worms and Lemmings sat side by side on the Amiga and PC and everything-else shelves and nobody scoffed at pitching a 2D game idea, both were respectable software houses on the up, and yet here we are in 2006 and GTA rules the world while Team 17 runs the rule over a game its creators left behind yonks ago. "Don't ask anybody at DMA what their favourite game is," DMA PR man Brian Baglow told Edge once. "Is it Lemmings? No it f***ing is not!" They were tired of working on it then. In January 1997, so practically ten years ago.
And yes, I do think I can be forgiven all this ranting because if you don't know what Lemmings is by now then hi Mum thanks for reading. It's hard to get a precise feel for how many copies Lemmings actually sold (Sony quotes 5 million "fans", others claim more many than 20 million sales in one form or other), but its cross-generational exploitation means its been tossed over the tops of more consoles than Uhura on Rohypnol. I was chatting to a friend earlier and even she'd played it, and her sphere of gaming knowledge I'd previously considered to be a bubble surrounding Sonic the Hedgehog.
Its charm is in its elegant simplicity. Little fuzzy lemmings fall out of the sky and wander to the right. As they go you can give them certain abilities and instructions - to climb, to parachute, to dig, to bridge, to stand still and reverse the direction of the lemmings behind, or just to blow themselves up. With judicious use, these functions can be used to reach an exit doorway that might be unassailably higher or splatteringly lower than the starting point - and of course the goal is to get as many lemmings as possible through without letting them perish on the way. As levels become complex and the number of times you can use a particular tool lessens, the challenge increases and pausing to scheme becomes important.
This is as true of the PSP version as it was of the Amiga back in 1991 or any other version over a decade ago. What's changed here is that you use console controls instead of a mouse to play. Team 17's solution is intuitive enough; you use the d-pad to position a cursor, which responds quickly and yet measurably enough, use the shoulder buttons to flick between your choice of tool, and X to action it. You can also zoom in and out a bit using triangle, which is useful although not essential - and it's worth pointing out that while the PSP's wide screen resolution gives you a bit more vision to left and right, it also makes for very tiny lemmings. Those of you who like to think of things in genocidal terms (PSP owners several hundred boredom-soaked quid down probably do by now) can now also enjoy splattier sound effects and a sort of Wormsy styling.
Playing it, then, is very straightforward. Team 17 has made logical design decisions throughout: when you're obviously finished, you don't have to manually detonate 'blocker' lemmings who remain rooted to the spot; fast-forward on circle is a shift-key style affair rather than a toggle, so you can zoom through the slow bits; there's a level editor that's simple and easy to use and online download facilities that will presumably start working when the game launches (no luck with our review build, sadly).
But you know, DMA Design weren't the only people bored of this in 1997. Obviously there's a disclaimer to that. 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), and teasing your way through the PSP version's 150-plus levels (split between old and new ones that draw inspiration from the better of the old) is no mean feat, particularly as your memory of them's likely to be hazy by now. But we've all done Lemmings at one time or other, there's nothing new about this, and as much as it might sound like a good idea in your head it's a nostalgic itch you can scratch without spending £30 on another PSP game that makes you wonder why you ever doubted the DS would kick it all around the playground until its shiny little face was thumbsmeared to death. To be honest it's a bit sad that I have to sit here imploring you that there are better ways to spend your money than on this fine game, but then such is the PSP, really.
Still got Google open? Type "play lemmings" and scratch yourself that way instead. For pity's sake, you can play this in DHTML.