E3 06: Lemmings Preshow Hands-On

Psygnosis' classic puzzle game is coming to the PSP, complete with updated graphics, new levels, a level editor with Wi-Fi support, and more.

Remember Lemmings? Originally released for Amiga computers, Lemmings was a refreshingly innovative puzzle game boasting a surprisingly fast pace, unique gameplay, and a comical yet darkly amusing presentation. Each of the game's dozens of levels simply tasked you with directing a throng of lemmings to an exit, from point A to point B. The problem is, these lemmings are dumb as dirt and will steadfastly march forward...often to their deaths, unless you do something about it. By flagging certain lemmings with special abilities, such as redirecting other lemming traffic or building a bridge, it's possible to help the little guys to safety. Most of them, anyway. The Lemmings formula is unmistakably original and now it's coming to the PSP, complete with some exciting new extras--we got a chance to check it all out at SCEA's pre-E3 event. Interestingly, this version of the game is being worked on by Team 17, most famous for its Worms series of strategy games, which were clearly inspired by Lemmings in the first place. Considering Lemmings' original developer, Psygnosis, is long gone, who better to carry the torch?

These little guys may look happy, but inside, they're suicidal. Stop them from going overboard with a few well-placed moves.

Lemmings' status as a classic puzzle game should suggest to you that it's still fun to this day. To that end, Team 17 didn't mess with success, and instead seemed to focus on updating the visuals (while staying true to the original look), effectively mapping the control scheme to the PSP, and adding some solid extras. The result seems like it's going to be very well suited to the PSP. The game's crisp, colorful graphics retain the cute look that the Lemmings series is known for, but have clearly been modernized. Incidentally, the PSP's panoramic screen is perfectly suited to Lemmings, given that most of the levels are rectangular in shape. Even though the lemmings themselves appear tiny onscreen, they're animated nicely and easy to pick out from the background graphics. Also, lemmings in different roles are pretty easy to identify. For example, you can spot little umbrellas in the hands of floater lemmings, and climber lemmings have red hair to set them apart.

The challenge in each level comes from having a limited number of uses of each special type of lemming. Many levels are open-ended enough to let you explore different types of solutions, but some of the later ones can be fiendishly difficult, requiring careful planning as well as perfect timing. Since levels are split up into multiple difficulty tiers, though, it's easy to find the type of challenge you're looking for at any given time.

The original Lemmings relied on mouse-and-keyboard controls, but things have to work differently on the PSP. Fortunately, it seems like the controls have translated nicely. The D pad is used to move a cursor around onscreen, while the analog stick scrolls the level. The shoulder buttons let you pick different lemming jobs, and you can also pause the action if you need to quickly get from one side of a level to the other. There's even a fast-forward feature, for when you've set things up properly and just want to sit back and relax--quickly--while your lemmings go about their merry way to the exit. The controls were surprisingly easy to pick up. Also of note, Lemmings featured some excellent music back in its day, and the updated soundtrack seems to live up to the source material.

Though the visuals are updated, the original Lemmings gameplay remains well intact, and still seems quite fun.

As if 150 different levels (including 20 brand-new levels from Team 17) weren't enough, Lemmings for the PSP lets you create your own. The level editor is actually pretty involved at first glance, so don't expect to create a level in only a matter of minutes. However, putting in some effort might be well worthwhile, since you'll be able to share your work with others wirelessly using both ad hoc and infrastructure modes.

Lemmings is scheduled to ship for the PSP in late May. While the PSP's library contains any number of fast-paced action games, the quick tempo but bite-sized gameplay of something like Lemmings might just be a better fit for those of us who use the portable game system for gaming on the go. From what we've played, it appears as if the old Lemmings charm is still there in this updated version and that noticeable care was put into restoring the game for longtime fans as well as for new players. Stay tuned for our full review nearer to the game's release date.

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