Review - Lemmings Chronicles, The (DOS, 1994)

The lemmings are back and bigger than ever!

Well, okay, technically, they're just closer, but they sure LOOK bigger. Psygnosis and DMA Design have released a new installment of their best selling puzzle game series, The Lemmings Chronicles, and it's a marked improvement over both of the previous games. Imagine the sophistication of Lemmings 2: The Tribes combined with the simplicity and focus of the original and you'll get some idea.

It's just possible that some of you think I'm talking about the other kind of lemming, the mammals infamous for getting together and having cliff diving parties. No, I mean the pink kind with green hair who will blunder stupidly to their deaths unless you instruct them otherwise. A large group of these rather silly looking animals drops from the sky, and it's your job to get them to the exit door without killing too many of them. You can teach a few of them special skills like jumping, building and digging. If you get stuck, you can blow them all up and try again with more lemmings. For some people, the "nuke" maneuver is the highlight of the game.

Lemmings 2: The Tribes was not just a collection of more levels, but a genuine evolution of the game. The "classic" lemmings came face to face with their cousins from 12 different tribes, including space, medieval and beach lemmings. Some folks thought that the game went a bit too far with its collection of over 50 different skills. Keeping track of these abilities was at times more complicated than the whole rest of the game.

The Lemmings Chronicles is a conscious attempt to scale down the game while keeping the high level of challenge. At the end of Lemmings 2, all twelve of the tribes have united and flown away in a blimp ark to find new homes. This new installment follows only three of the tribes on this quest: Classic, Shadow and Egyptian. It doesn't take a lot of business savvy to realize that this leaves nine tribes and three potential future sequels along the same lines.

Don't get the idea that dividing up the tribes this way has left the player with any less challenge. Each tribe has thirty levels to conquer, and two difficulty levels, called (rather judgmentally) "child" and "adult." The child level has exactly the same puzzles to solve, but with fewer monsters.

What? Enemies?!? That's right, gentle reader. The lemmings are not alone in their new habitats. There are several vicious beasties that would love to feast on lemming stew. This is quite a change from the previous installments, where the only thing working against the lemmings was their own basic stupidity and the slow reflexes of the player.

Even the basic gameplay has improved. In the previous games, every skill that was doled out came from a limited number. For example, there were only so many times per level that a lemming could jump. It was up to the player which ones would and when. In the new game, the skills are divided into basics that every lemming can do, like blocking and jumping, and tool-specific skills. The tools for these actions are lying around the levels, and the first lemming to come across one will pick it up. Now you just have to tell him when to use it. This might have been a lot more complicated, since the lemmings tend to bunch up in groups, and it's hard to pick out a specific one. Right clicking turns the worker lemmings bright red, so they are easy to locate and instruct.

Blocking, while a very important strategic element, has also meant the senseless deaths of far too many lemmings. In the first two games, a blocker couldn't be told to stop blocking, so the only way to clear his path was to nuke him. Thankfully, this pink fuzzy carnage can finally cease. In Chronicles, a blocker can simply start walking again. Can those little guys actually be learning something?

Sound has always been the weak point of the Lemmings series, but this has also been vastly improved in Chronicles. There are several more sound cards supported than before, but more importantly, the music is all CD audio, so it sounds the same with any set up. And it sounds great!

If you are reading this wondering if there's any reason in the universe why you shouldn't pick up this game if you already own the previous two . . . there isn't one. Trust me. It's true that the game gets very difficult very fast, and this might be a tad frustrating for series newcomers, but if you've tackled The Tribes, this should be a breeze. If you haven't played a Lemmings game before, you will still probably enjoy The Lemmings Chronicles, but you might as well go back and start with the original. Yes, they are frustrating and addictive, but there's no such thing as a bad Lemmings game.

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