Thursday, 25 December 2014

Xmas Lemmings (Amiga) (Demo)

Xmas Lemmings 91 title screen amiga
Aww, they even dressed up the 'TM' with a bit of holly.

Welcome to a special Christmas edition of Super Adventures, where I'm playing a special Christmas edition of a game you've probably heard of. I figured that I should put the effort in to find something interesting to look at this year, something with a bit of festive charm to it... but mobygames and a team of experts couldn't come up with anything suitable that begins with the letter 'X', so you're getting this instead.

There's actually a few Xmas Lemmings and Christmas Lemmings games around, with the first two being 4 level demos made to promote Oh No! More Lemmings, and the last two being proper retail releases with 16 levels each. But I'm only playing the earliest of them, which I found on an Amiga Format coverdisk (Issue 30, on sale Christmas 1991 if you're curious).

Oh, plus I should mention that I have played Lemmings plenty of times before and I'm very familiar with it. I'm crap at it mind you, but I know what the buttons do.

So the difficulty level is 'fun' is it? Does that mean that the harder levels aren't fun any more?

I like how they've put a map up there at the top to give me a preview of the level, but it's a little too small to really be much use to me. I mean I can't even tell which bit's the entrance and which is the exit. There's little house shaped things all over it.

There you go, there's a proper map mate. I paused the game and stitched it together from screenshots. You may click on it to observe the image in its true majesty.

I guess I'm starting from that gift floating over on the left under all the Christmas lights, so to reach the delicious oven baked exit I'll have to cut through two snowmen and a diagonal rock wall, and then bridge a moderately sized chasm. Well I mean it won't be me doing it, I'm just here to enable the rodents.

But who am I? A guardian angel? The god of lemmings?

The mouse cursor at the start was a lemming's arm, so either the player is casually using a severed limb to hit buttons, or they're some kind of semi-omnipotent lemming mastermind. Either way I'd better get on with it as I've got a quota to meet.

Hey the entrance has a 'DMA Design' label on it. Of course, who else would a gift box full of lemmings be from?

Right, I've got 25 lemmings to save this on this stage and five minutes to do it in, with a 'Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer' remix playing the whole time. Seems easy enough as long as I can actually hit the lemmings I'm aiming at. That first dude just walked right under my cursor without being turned into a basher!

Oh damn I just noticed how terrible the skill bar looks. That's my bad, the developers must have used a higher resolution on that slice of the screen and it got mangled when I resized the animation. Here, this is what it's supposed to look like:

There's a row of seven skills for me to assign to any one of my witless creatures, which will give them the knowledge, equipment and motivation to carry out that action for a certain amount of time. Builders can only put a dozen or so steps down, diggers, bashers and miners will dig, bash or mine until they hit fresh air, but the rest of them will carry on doing what they're doing forever; which is a lot more fun for the floaters than it is for the blockers.

Oh, plus there's the 'bomb' button, which turns a hapless innocent lemming into a suicide bomber with a five second fuse. You know, for the good of the herd.

No no no no, what are you doing? I asked you to bash through a snowman, not right through the bloody ground! Now lemmings are dying man, they're dropping to their deaths because of you. These poor idiots will carry on walking forward until they hit a wall or die as that thinking device housed between their ears is basically just there to store the actions I assign to them and keep the lungs and heart going.

Man, that happy bouncing snowman down there sure raises questions about the one I just carved a tunnel through. Am I complicit in the murder of a sleeping sapient snowperson, or was he already dead before I got here?

Well my pickaxe plan had a predictable outcome, without even a single pixel shaved off the platform's perilous precipice. I wasn't quite expecting the lemming to shatter on impact though; that was a bit weird.

Lemmings don't actually throw themselves off cliffs in real life by the way, unless they're being launched off by unscrupulous documentary filmmakers. I'm sure you already know that the suicidal lemming urban legend is all kinds of fake, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

Awesome, my new plan actually worked! I got the pack up and over the accidental tunnel using a builder, then used a digger at the end to create a safe step for them to drop from. That poor little digger would've kept on going until he ran out of icicle, but a timely application of the miner skill snapped him out of his obsession and knocked him off the ledge.

If I'd started digging just one pixel too soon it could've turned out very differently though. You really don't get much of a margin for error in this game sometimes, and without a rewind feature or quicksaves, a fuck up like this could mean restarting the stage from the beginning.

Of course watching lemmings getting killed off in dumb ways is kinda half the point. I mean the animation test that first inspired the game was a lemmings slaughter:

The original Lemmings inspiration animation!
It's just not as much fun watching it happening to my lemmings! Actually that's a point, I haven't come across any instant death traps in this demo so far. I guess they were actually trying to entice people into playing the game with this preview, not drive them away screaming.

Alright, onto the next crisis.


SOON.


Oh bollocks. Build faster you asshole! C'mon man, they're coming!

Builder, builder, builder, builder, builder, builder... shit I can't believe I used up all 20 already. Sucks to be the guys who turned around at the top for no good reason, as they're walking off to their death. They're not even meant to do that!

In retrospect I probably should've used a few blockers here for crowd control, sacrifice some a few lemmings to save the many, but I've never been any good at blocking in games.

There you go, that's 25% of the game successfully completed! Any minute now. Man, I'm really missing Lemmings 2's fast forward button right now.

25% of the demo, but only 52% of the lemmings. Though the game still thinks I'm awesome.


LEVEL 2.


Next level seems to be more of the same, only coming the other way.

Man, I'm having to be ridiculously fast with the mouse to give attention to everything going on here, using the minimap to quickly skip to where I need to be at the moment I need to be there. I'm starting to think I'm neglecting the pause button; I can't click lemmings or icons when the game's paused, but I can pan the map and use it to get into position. There's also shortcut keys for the tools and pause button so skilled players can show off.

Alright I've gotten this guy where I need him to be and the other lemming are safely trapped between blockers, so now I just have to continue this bridge up to...a diagonal row of pointy icicles. Crap, this isn't going to work is it? 

Even if I get his bridge to finish right up against the side, he'll only end up bashing an icicle or two before falling through the gap on the other side. Catastrophe! Disaster!

Shit, I was distracted and missed my chance to order him to keep building, so he threw his hands up and stepped off the bridge. Wait, this is actually what I want him to do! All I need is a small bridge right at the end to get over that gap and then I can bash through the support and get through to the exit from the other side!

That's... not a basher is it? Well, fuck. Once he's a blocker that's it for him, he'll block until the day he dies, and there's nothing I can do to save him short of digging the ground from under his feet.

The others are too grouped together right now, so if I try to bring another lemming out I'll likely end up with a dozen coming this way. Plus I'll have to blow this guy up and then sacrifice another one to block the crowd. Fuck it, this has gotten too messy, I'm going to clear the slate and start again from scratch.

Sorry guy, it's 'nuke 'em all' time. Don't blame me, blame the guy who implanted explosives in you all.

That's some nice 2D terrain destruction there, reminds me of one of those classic tank artillery games... or Worms games, as they're called these days.


SEVERAL EMBARRASSING MISTAKES LATER.


Man, they look like an army of Ronald McDonalds all bunched up like that.

Well that's a win! Shame I really screwed up the timing on those last two, though in my defence the first of them actually did make it through the door! Seriously, look closely, he leaps inside and then fall back out again so that he can explode.

Still, 90% isn't so bad. Hang on, I just need to take a bow.


LEVEL 3.


I'd suspected that was too high, but I had to know for sure before wasting my limited supply of moves to get them down a couple of floors. I don't have many skills to spare this time around as this stage is taken right from Oh No! More Lemmings, which is notorious for being bastard hard.

Though despite the visuals, the game's playing a catchy cover of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer again. That's three levels in a row. On a four level demo.

Okay, I've used two of my precious diggers to reduce my altitude and trapped the group behind a blocker so that a solitary hero can save the day.

Fuck! I just realised that I'll eventually need to blow that blocker up to set them free so they can walk to the exit. The explosion's going to blast open a hole in the floor, then all the lemmings will drop through it and I won't have the bashers left to get them back out! Man this game could really use a rewind option... oh well, I'll nuke the lot of 'em and start again.


SEVERAL ATTEMPTS LATER.


There you go, every action in my plan carried out with precise placement and timing.... except the fucking bridge which turned out to be a pixel or two too close to the barrel. Nuke 'em all, start again!

Wait wait, he managed to step up onto the barrel after coming back from the blocker. He's actually made it past!

I thought I was doing really well here, until I glanced downwards and caught sight of the timer. I've got mere seconds to get 98% of my lemmings to the exit. That means I can afford just one casualty and that's the blocker I already disposed of. It also means that those fuckers casually strolling off to the left are going to cost me the level unless I do something ingenious and I do it bloody quickly.

C'mon, c'mon, c'mon... fuck. Hey, I created a situation that would have saved 98%! I cleared a path to their salvation and they were all merrily on their way. Not my fault the mothership left without them or whatever.

Well I could always retry that from the start and try to begin building that bridge a pixel or so to the left this time, it's only 3 minutes of gameplay to reply, but those are some long minutes and I'm all out of willpower. Besides, this wouldn't be a quick look if I ended up finishing the damn thing!


CONCLUSION

I don't generally gravitate towards puzzle games, so when I say that I didn't enjoy Xmas Lemmings '91 all that much, please understand that it's not the game's fault, it's just how I am. Well okay, maybe it's a little bit the game's fault.

It's been deliberately designed so that you can move around the level while it's paused, but it freezes the world and you can't interact with anything, so the game's about reflexes as much as it is about working through a problem. That doesn't sound like much of an issue, but after the fifth or sixth time replaying the entire level all over again because I clicked a lemming a little too early or a little too late and ended up dropping them in a hole, I began to lean towards the opinion that it doesn't benefit from being so frantic. You do get a lot of lemmings to play with on a level, but the game encourages you to trap the main group and use a lone scout to get things done, and once the lemmings are all gathered up together like that it can be bloody difficult to get a replacement agent out of the pen without releasing all of them.

Also there's a lot of educated guesswork involved in using some of the more diagonal skills, like when you have to visualise in your head the line a bridge will take or the path a miner will cut. It would've been cool to have some kind of indicator appear over the level to show where you'll end up. Because the alternative to certainty is guesswork, trial and error, and that isn't all that fun after the first few of minutes of a level have been replayed enough times to become a tedious routine.

But hey, it's a few more levels of Lemmings, and even I don't personally love that game as much as some do, I can't deny that it deserves to be considered a genuine classic.


That's all I can think of to say about Xmas Lemmings, so Merry Christmas and all that, and I hope you'll be back in a few days to see me moan about some other beloved game from your childhood.

10 comments:

  1. Is that just me, or does that lemming on very right from main menu have three hands?
    You werent that bad, you should see me playing Lemmings (well, you cant as I havent touched it in years), I sucked so much at it. I hated it that they usually gave you too little of blockers, so you had to react very fast.

    Hey, I was looking forward to see you moan and complain about Wolfenstein 3D, ...
    but it looks like it wont make it this year. So I hope you didnt decide to single out entirely from your playlist?

    Merry christmas to you too. ;)

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    Replies
    1. No, you're right, it's a mutant lemming!

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    2. That's amazing, I totally missed that.

      Sorry about Wolfenstein, but I was running behind schedule and had to cut the W games short to get an X game up for Xmas. I'll try to make up for it next year.

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  2. I never played any of the Christmas Lemmings but I do recall the Cannon Fodder/Sensible Soccer crossover minigame, also from Amiga Format. That was bastard hard too.

    Merry Christmas Ray!

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    Replies
    1. I remember that one too, which is reassuring considering that I wrote about it only three Christmases ago.

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  3. How about Lemmings: The Sands of Time? A Lemmings game with the rewind option. Or would we all just end up grumbling about the kids of today, solving puzzle games without having to learn to be mouse ninjas or tearing their hair out?

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    Replies
    1. I think one of the Lemmings games actually did have a rewind feature, maybe All New World of Lemmings. It should've been ALL the Lemmings games though!

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    2. They did add the rewind function, and I missed it? Oh dear. Thanks for the information, and the screaming will stop eventually.

      There's a way to turn the Lemmings clusterfuck into an asset, by the way: two-player, head-to-head Lemmings. Each player has lemmings of their own color and an exit of their own color, and the two lemming teams drop onto the same field. The players can only give orders to their own lemmings, but they're trying to get lemmings of any color into their exit. This means the players will work together to carve a path through the level for about thirty seconds, then switch to sabotage.

      A match lasts for twenty levels. The game mode's great fun. Never play it.

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    3. I did have a go of two-player Lemmings once, though I think it was probably me versus myself with a mouse in each hand. I lost.

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  4. When lemming turns against lemming, we all lose. Especially the diggers carving their way through bridges.

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