Wednesday, March 23, 2011

REVIEW: Follow the Leader -Lemmings (1991)

As a new video gamer during the George H. W. Bush administration, I really can only recall a few games that stuck with me from that time through the next Bush presidency and beyond. I was still working on a vocabulary that was bigger than crying and monosyllabic nonsense, but it took only a few years into my life to pick up a controller and know what to do with it. Not to kill the suspense, but this is one of those games.

I'm guessing that at some point, you've played Lemmings. Whether it's been on one of the original consoles in the Desert Storm era, as some bastardized, airbrushed version on a smartphone or nex-gen system, or as a blatantly ripped-off, stripped-down and re-colored remake, it's a game you immediately recognize once you start playing it. You really only have one objective: get all of your lemmings from start to finish without killing them off.

How you do it is part of the puzzle. You're allowed to give your lemmings special powers, like the ability to communicate or change the environment to get the other lemmings to the end (where they presumably throw a big lemming pizza party). Dozens of levels later, you're either on the verge of frustration-induced rage or swelling pride. Alternately, you might be enjoying finding new, creative ways to knock off your lemmings, which in itself is probably its own mini-game. And, for those of you with leaky tear ducts, in some cases you'll have to sacrifice a few lemmings to save a bunch of the other ones (or lose a few to an inconveniently-placed cliff or pit). Have your tissues handy.

There's nothing that makes you set aside some shoot-em-up war sim or copy-pasted J-RPG, since it's not a new concept even in the heyday of parachute pants and Billy Ray Cyrus. It's a simple enough concept (get from start to finish in different ways--and WIN!) that the entire game catalog of the Nintendo Wii is based on (attracting casual gamers who don't want to be overloaded with side objectives and--ugh--dialogue), but deep enough in problem-solving (or lemming mashing) that gives you a challenge and makes you use your brain. Yes, that's right, you actually need to plan ahead and think in a video game--something that went the way of the Super Scope, the Vision Cone, and the Game Genie back around the time of dial-up internet.

You'll love this game if: You played through Mass Effect with a really high Paragon rating; if you like puzzle games; if you like finding creative ways to kill things (after all, this was one of the first games launched by what is now Rockstar North, creators of Grand Theft Auto)

You'll hate this game if: You want your video game to lay down, roll over, and play dead for 20-30 hours, and still give you 1000 Gamer Points. I'm on to you, Call Of Duty series.

5 out of 5 bits