First published in 1991 on the Commodore Amiga, Lemmings was an instant hit with puzzle fans and went on to massive mainstream success with numerous sequels. The game puts the player in control of a herd of up to 100 lemmings that bear no physical resemblance to the real-life rodents but do have the same wanton disregard for their lives. It's your job to get these critters from start to finish by equipping certain members of the pack with skills such as digging, bridge-building, and blocking to avoid the obstacles placed in their path. Apparently born out of an animation created by designer Mike Dailly over a lunch break, Lemmings is a game-design classic that is as compelling now in its newest iteration on the PlayStation Portable as it was 15 years ago.
In this newest version of Lemmings, there are 120 levels taken from the original game, as well as 36 levels that have been specially designed by developer Team 17. Extra levels can be designed using the editor and swapped wirelessly online via the infrastructure mode or locally via ad hoc. Sony also promises more levels through the Lemmings Web site, and as of right now, two levels are available for free (the indication is that more will be available for a fee in the future). It will also be possible to link the PSP and PlayStation 2 versions to share custom-built levels both ways.
The original Amiga version of Lemmings relied on the subtle control of a mouse, so the control system on the PSP has been heavily adapted. The D pad moves a cursor around the screen, and if this cursor is close to an individual lemming, a square reticule will be drawn around it. If you then press X, that particular lemming will perform the task that's currently highlighted along the bottom of the screen. The shoulder buttons cycle through eight skills that often have a limit in their usage. The triangle button zooms into the map, whilst the circle button speeds up time. The analog stick is used to pan the camera left and right across the map, but it's a shame there is no option to use it to control the cursor. In practice this system works just about perfectly, and surprisingly, it never feels like a poor substitute for a mouse.
In certain levels, lemmings can be cramped in a small space, and it can be difficult to assign individual tasks. While you could end up burrowing in the wrong direction, this is an intentional design of the gameplay rather than a fault of the control system, and this has been the same since the original on the Amiga. The one problem with the interface is that you have to cycle through all of the eight skills to get to the one you want, even if they're not available. This is particularly annoying at the start of the game when you only have access to a couple of skills, but you still have to scroll through the other six.
The biggest change in gameplay terms, and potentially the most controversial, is the ability to assign skills to lemmings while the game is paused. Once you restart the game they'll perform their tasks immediately, taking something away from the challenge of the game. If you use this technique liberally you run the risk of losing the frantic and unforgiving feel of Lemmings completely. The choice is yours.