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Lemmings on CD-i: "Great puzzles, but other platforms' versions are better"

>> Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's not a game-killing botch like Axis & Allies, which squandered great source material on a clumsy game, but the CD-i adaptation of "Lemmings" has a few flaws which will frustrate many players. That's a pity, since "Lemmings" is arguably the best computer puzzle game ever devised, and CD-i puzzlers deserve better. The premise is equal parts adorable and sick. A door in the sky opens and the lemmings -- little green-haired guys in blue cloaks -- fall out, hit the ground and start walking. Unless they hit something they can't climb, they'll continue right into the ocean, lava, lemming-smooshing traps, etc. If they do hit something, they turn around and walk the other way, probably into more danger.

It's your job to save a certain percentage of the stupid little guys, by assigning skills to members of the horde. The tools at your disposal are indicated at the bottom of the screen, along with the number of times you can use them. For example, if the lemmings are heading towards a pit, you can choose the staircase-building tool and pick the lead lemming; he'll start building a 12-step staircase the other lemmings can safely climb over. You also get three varieties of digging: horizontal, down, and diagonally down. The lemming will continue digging until he gets into the clear, hits steel, or dies. To control the flow of lemmings, you can also use a "blocker", who turns around any lemmings who run into him. And an "explosion" tool tells a lemming to explode, following a five-second countdown. Two skills stay with lemmings as long as they're alive: climbing and parachuting. The latter skill allows lemmings to fall from heights that would otherwise kill them. A lemming with both of these skills is called an "athlete", and is particularly useful to send out in advance of the horde to dig tunnels, build bridges, etc.

The playfields can be several screens wide, meaning you need to be careful to know what's happening in several places at once. You scroll by pressing your cursor against the edge of the screen, holding button-two to scroll faster. A tiny map at the bottom right shows the entire level, with a box indicating what's on the main screen. Clicking on this map or dragging the box around provides a way to quickly change your view. What's always been ingenious about Lemmings is the ways in which the level designs challenge your creativity. Early levels develop your resource management skills, teach you to send out "scout" lemmings to prepare tunnels and bridges for the horde, etc. But later levels challenge you to think about your options in non-intuitive ways -- the digging and staircase tools become a way to turn around a lemming, the bomb becomes an excavation tool, staircases built the wrong direction become ways to catch falling lemmings.

Lemmings has been a classic on every platform for which it's been released -- which seems like every computer and video-game system on the market since the early 90's. That's part of the problem for the CD-i version. It compares unfavorably with other versions, even those developed for less powerful hardware. The first thing I noticed, having played the Macintosh and Atari Lynx versions, is that the lemmings themselves are tiny on the CD-i screen. This makes the action hard to see and difficult to control at times, since it's nearly impossible to pick out a specific lemming unless he's in the clear.

If anything, the lemmings should have been larger on the CD-i. Computer players sit right in front of their screen, making small objects perfectly visible, while video-gamers often sit halfway across the room. Not for nothing do CD-i controllers have 12-foot cords. Also, the control problem is exacerbated by what appears to be a slight delay in response to pressing the button. I've noticed about a quarter- to half-second delay. The practical upshot is that if you've selected the digging tool and you're waiting for a lemming to reach a wall you want to tunnel through, you'll hit the button as he reaches the wall... and then be shocked as he turns around and then starts digging the wrong way! The CD-i version retains the charming music of other versions of Lemmings, and it's got a much more sophisticated timbre and higher sound-quality on the CD-i. In fact, it sounds like the music is being played back from a studio recording of some sort, rather than clinked out in bits and boops by a sound chip. On the other hand, since that limits the ability to switch back and forth between verse, bridge, and chorus, the shorter musical clips get repetitive when played through a dozen times on one level.

With 120 levels, this isn't a game you'll finish quickly. At the end of each level, you're given a 10-letter code that can be entered to continue the game later at the highest level you've reached. These codes are the same as for the PC and other home versions. I really don't like these systems, despite their popularity in games with dozens of levels. First off, the type-style used in every version of Lemmings isn't easy to read -- you may botch a password by confusing the nearly-identical D, O, and Q characters. And 10 letters for 120 levels is overkill -- there are 141,167,095,653,380 possible combinations. "Chip's Challenge" on the Lynx and PC only needed four letters for 148 levels. Heck, I've seen adventure games that save your location, inventory, and game status with 10 characters, not just a level number.

But beyond that, the CD-i could have used the player's storage to save games, completely eliminating the annoying task of writing down passwords for every level. The space consumption would be trivial, assuming one byte for the level number, 10 bytes for the player's name. I think the only advantage of the password system is that it allows players to get codes from friends, magazines, or the internet to cheat and skip levels they haven't been able to beat -- hardly an advantage.

So, should you get "Lemmings" for your CD-i? That depends. If you've played through the 120 levels on another system, the answer is no -- there's nothing more to see here other than a charming intoductory animation. If you've played through part of the game on another system, you're probably better off avoiding the frustrations of this disc and going back to your computer, video-game, or portable. But if you haven't played it, and like many other CD-i owners you're an inveterate puzzler, and you've already finished Merlin's Apprentice... then I think CD-i Lemmings runs neck-and-neck with Dimo's Quest as your action/puzzle game of choice. Dimo has more accurate controls, and better graphics and music... but like Lemmings it has tiny characters, and Dimo's level designs are nowhere near as clever.

Besides, what other game has on-screen characters who yell "oh no", grab their heads, and burst into lots of colorful little bits? Flaws aside, Lemmings remains a unique combination of wits, cutes, and sick humor.
Credits: Chris Adamson

2 reacties:

Austin June 29, 2011 at 4:22 AM  

I played this last night and found it to be worse than I remember it. After coming from most of the other versions available, the slowdown is almost unbearable. It's far from unplayable, it's just.. something that you don't expect in Lemmings. Also, I think part of the reason for the "small" Lemmings is that the screen size in general is shrunk compared to the original PC game and ports--it doesn't take up the full screen space. I find it hard to recommend this one to anyone that owns any other platform from this era, but like the reviewer stated, if you are desperate to play it on your CD-i, it IS still Lemmings, afterall. Even if it's not the best incarnation of it, it's still an enjoyable game.

Austin July 9, 2011 at 1:48 AM  

After giving this one more time these last few days, I must also comment that a mouse is almost mandatory for this game. The control is so, SO much smoother, much like playing on a PC. :)

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Games 0-F

3rd Degree - PF Magic
7th Guest, The - Philips Freeland Studios
Accelerator - SPC/Vision
Adventure of the Space Ship Beagle, The - Denshi Media Services
Affaire Morlov, L' - Titus
Alfapet - Adatek
Alice in Wonderland - Spinnaker
Alien Gate - SPC Vision
Alien Odyssee - Argonaut
Aliens Interactive CD-i - Dark Vision Interactive
Ange et le Demon, L' - Smart Move
Apprentice, The - SPC Vision
Apprentice 2, The - Marvin's Revenge - SPC Vision
Arcade Classics - Philips ADS / Namco
Asterix - Caesar’s Challenge - Infogrames
Atlantis - The Last Resort - PRL Redhill (Philips ADS)
Axis and Allies - CapDisc
Backgammon - CapDisc
Battle Chess - Accent Media (for Interplay)
Battleship - CapDisc
Big Bang Show - Infogrames
BMP Puzzle - Circle (for ZYX)
Brain Dead 13 - Readysoft
Burn:Cycle - Trip Media
Caesar's World of Boxing - Philips POV
Caesar's World of Gambling - CD-I Systems
Cartoon Academy - Bits Corporation
CD-i mit der Maus - SPC Vision
CD Shoot - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Change Angels Kick-off - HMO
Chaos Control - Infogrames
Christmas Country - Creative Media
Christmas Country - The Lost Levels - Creative Media
Christmas Crisis - DIMA
Clue - 3T Productions
Clue 2 - The mysteries continue - 3T Productions
Connect Four - CapDisc
Creature Shock - Argonaut (for Virgin)
Crime Patrol - CapDisc
Crow, The - Philips POV
Cyber Soldier Sharaku - Japan Interactive media
Dame was Loaded, The - Beam Software
Dark Castle - Philips POV
Dead End - Cryo
Defender of the Crown - Philips POV
Deja Vu - Icom Simulations
Deja Vu 2: Lost in Las Vegas - Icom Simulations
Demolition Man - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Demon Driver - Haiku Studios
Discworld - Teeny Weeny Games
Dimo's Quest - SPC Vision
Domino - Wigant Interactive Media
Down in the Dumps - Haiku Studios
Dragon's Lair - Superclub / INTL CDI
Dragon's Lair 2- Time Warp - Superclub / INTL CDI
Drug wars - Crime Patrol II - CapDisc
Dungeons & Dragons - PF Magic
Earth Command - Visionary Media
Effacer - CapDisc
Escape from Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Evidence - Microids
Falco & Donjon & The Sword of Inoxybur - BMi / Zephyr Studio
Family Games I - DIMA
Family Games II - Junk Food Jive - DIMA
Felix the Cat - Philips Sidewalk Studio
Flashback - Delphine/Tiertex (for US Gold)
Flinstones Wacky Inventions - Philips Funhouse
Fort Boyard: The Challenge - Microids
Frog Feast - Rastersoft

CD-i Games Index G-M

Go - CapDisc
Golden Oldies - SPC Vision
Golden Oldies II - SPC Vision
Golgo 13 - Japan Interactive Media
Great day at the races, A - CD-I Racing, Dove Films, Total Vision
Guignols de l'Info, Les - Canal+ Multimedia / INTL CDI
Heart of Darkness - Amazing Studio (for Virgin)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The - Philips Kaleidoscope
Holland Casino CD-i - HMO
Hotel Mario - Philips Fantasy Factory
Inca - Coktel Vision
Inca 2 - Coktel Vision
International Tennis Open - Infogrames
Jack Sprite vs. The Crimson Ghost - PF Magic
Jeopardy - Accent Media
Jigsaw - Novalogic
Joe Guard - DIMA
John Dark: Psychic Eye - CapDisc
Joker's Wild!, The - Accent Media
Joker's Wild Jr., The - Accent Media
Kether - Infogrames
Kingdom - The far reaches - CapDisc
Kingdom 2 - Shadoan - CapDisc
Labyrinth of Crete - Philips Funhouse
Laser Lords - Spinnaker
Last Bounty Hunter, The - CapDisc
Legend of the Fort - Microids
Lemmings - DMA Design / Psygnosis
Lettergreep - Wigant Interactive Media
Lingo - SPC Vision
Link - The faces of evil - Animation Magic
Lion King, The - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Litil Divil - Gremlin Graphics
Litil Divil 2: Limbo Years - Gremlin Graphics
Lords of the rising sun - Philips POV
Lost Eden - Cryo (for Virgin)
Lost Ride, The - Formula (Lost Boys)
Lucky Luke - The video game - SPC Vision
Mad Dog McCree - CapDisc
Mad Dog McCree II: The lost gold - CapDisc
Magic Eraser - Circle (for ZYX)
Mah-Jong - Japan Interactive Media
Making the Grade - 3T Productions
Man Before Man - Cryo
Marco Polo - Infogrames
Mario Takes America - CIGAM
Master Labyrinth - AVM AG/HQ
Mega Maze - CapDisc
Memory Works, The - Compact Disc Incorporated
Merlin's Apprentice - Philips Funhouse
Microcosm - Philips Freeland Studios
Micro Machines - Codemasters
Monty Python's Invasion from the Planet Skyron - Daedalus CD-i Productions
Mutant Rampage - Body Slam - Animation Magic
Myst - Sunsoft (for Cyan)
Mystic Midway - Rest in pieces - Philips POV
Mystic Midway 2 - Phantom Express - Philips POV

Compact Disc Interactive

Compact Disc Interactive

Games N-Z

Name that tune - Philips Fantasy Factory
New Day - Bits Corporation
NFL Hall of Fame Football - Philips POV
Othello - HMO
Pac Panic - Philips ADS / Namco
Palm Springs Open - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Pool - SPC Vision
Pinball - CapDisc
Plunderball - ISG Productions
Power Hitter - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Power Match - Two's Company
Pursue - BEPL
Pyramid Adventures - Compact Disc Incorporated
RAMRaid - PRL Redhill
Return To Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Riddle of the Maze, The - Fathom Pictures
Riqa - Bits Corporation
Rise of the Robots - Mirage Technologies
Sargon Chess - Spinnaker
Scotland Yard Interactive - AVM AG/HQ
Secret Mission - Microids
Secret Name of Ra, The
Shaolin's Road - Infogrames
Skate Dude - Viridis
Smurfen, De - De Telesmurf - Infogrames
Solar Crusade - Infogrames
Solitaire - BEPL
Space Ace - Superclub / INTL CDI
Space Ranger - Studio Interactive
Special Operations Squadron - SPC Vision
Sport Freaks - SPC Vision
Star Trek - Philips POV
Star Wars: Rebel Assault - LucasArts
Steel Machine - SPC Vision
Striker Pro - Rage
Strip Poker Live - Greenpig Production
Strip Poker Pro - Interactive Pictures
Super Fighter - The Super Fighter Team / C&E
Super Mario's Wacky Worlds - NovaLogic
Surf City - Philips Sidewalk Studios
Tangram - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Taco's Toyroom Troopers - Creative Media
Tankdoodle - Creative Media
Tetris - Philips POV
Tetsuo Gaiden - Creative Media
Text Tiles
Thieves' World - Electronic Arts
Tic-tac-toe - BEPL
Tox Runner - ISG Productions
Treasures of Oz - Philips Kaleidoscope
Ultra CD-i Soccer - Krisalis
Uncover featuring Tatjana - SPC Vision
Uninvited - Icom Simulations
Video Speedway - ISG Productions
Vinnie the Pinguin - Pandemonium Labs
Voyeur - Philips POV
Voyeur 2 - Philips POV
Whack-a-Bubble - Creative Media
What's it worth - Marshall Cavendish Multimedia / Spice
Who shot Johnny Rock? - CapDisc
Wordplay - BEPL
World Cup Golf - US Gold
Zaak Sam, De - Toneelschool NL
Zelda - The wand of Gamelon - Animation Magic
Zelda's Adventure - Viridis
Zenith - Radarsoft
Zombie Dinos From The Planet Zeltoid - Philips POV

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