Review by Rottenwood

Reviewed: 06/20/04

A Boatload of Lemming Goodness

The 'Lemmings' franchise has pretty much disappeared from the gaming landscape, which is very depressing to me. The best entries in the series have combined a unique and entertaining premise with mind-bending puzzles and extremely catchy music. Leading the hapless lemmings to safety was always satisfying, and even if you failed, the critters would usually die in a highly amusing way. Sure, it's probably bad karma to laugh at the grisly deaths of little digital rodents, but I won't tell if you won't.

While the original Lemmings is a bona fide classic, 'Lemmings 2: The Tribes' is where the series hit its peak. A greater variety of skill types and puzzles are available here for you to enjoy. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story behind the game is simple and functional. 12 different tribes of lemmings are trying to get to their beloved ark, which will take them to Happy Lemming Land. Or something to that effect. Anyhow, it's your job to guide each tribe through 10 levels of increasing trickiness, and lead as many lemmings as you can to the safety of their ship.

The problem, of course, is that the lemmings are rather dumb. They just walk straight forward without a care in the world, and they'll walk right off a cliff or into a deadly trap without blinking. It's up to you to get them safely to the exit, using the skills you've been provided. For example, you can use a 'builder' skill to have a lemming construct a little staircase over a pit, or a 'floater' skill to give a lemming an umbrella to let him survive long falls. While each stage offers its own unique challenges and puzzles, the basic idea is usually the same: keep the majority of the lemmings occupied, while a choice few move on ahead and construct a safe passage.

The fact that the once-generic lemmings are now in tribes is a cute little gimmick. Each tribe has its own look and background theme; for example, the Circus lemmings have colorful stages featuring cannons they can shoot out of, and other circus-ish things. The wily Shadow lemmings operate at night in their black gear, the Beach lemmings have their stages at the beach, and so on. There's even a tribe of Classic lemmings based on the critters in the original game, who can only use the old-school skills. The difference in themes is pretty much only window dressing, but it's a nice touch that helps the levels feel different from one another after a long playing session. Each tribe also has its own selection of music tracks, adding to the flavor. The songs of the Classic tribe are terrific remixes/compilations of the great music in the original 'Lemmings,' which is great fun for fans of the series.

While distributing skills to the right lemming at the right time can test your mouse reflexes, 'Lemmings 2' is a puzzle game at heart. You'll probably pause most levels as soon as they begin and survey the landscape, looking for the best way to get your lemmings from the starting point to the exit. Skill management is also key, as you'll usually have a rather limited amount of skills to use, forcing you to be as efficient as possible. You'll probably say "if I only I had ONE MORE (insert skill name here)!" many times before you finish this game. You might also swear a lot, if you're so inclined, as the levels can get very tricky towards the end. The Sports tribe levels are especially annoying, especially the last one, so you'll probably want to get those out of the way first so you can save the good stuff for later.

At the end of each level, your efforts are appraised by the Lemming Medal Committee, or whomever is in charge of these things. If you complete the level while losing the minimum number of lemmings, you'll get a gold medal. (The minimum is usually zero, of course, but a few stages require that a lemming or three give their lives to the cause.) If you get a gold medal in all 120 stages, you'll get a special ending and a great feeling of satisfaction. Of course, some people feel MORE satisfied by killing a few lemmings here and there in horribly inventive ways. Your mileage may vary.

'Lemmings 2' is a great-looking game, although obviously dated by today's standards. The levels are bright and colorful, and watching the lemmings walk over huge human objects like sand pails and tennis rackets is good fun. The tiny lemmings are surprisingly animated, especially when getting crushed/blown up/drowned/etc. You've got to love those poor little guys.

The game's soundtrack is downright fantastic for the most part. The music in the Classic, Highland, and Outdoor stages is especially good, and you'll find yourself humming along as you work out a strategy. And who doesn't love the lemming yelps of joy or agony? Great, great stuff.

With 120 levels of puzzle-solving ahead, 'Lemmings 2' offers plenty of gaming value. Add in lots of personality and some memorable music, and you've got a terrific piece of software on your hands. If you're tired of shotguns and generic RTS gaming, give 'Lemmings 2' a spin. Your brain (and funny bone) will thank you.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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