TLHBO — The Lemmings Have Been Owned!

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They’re back. That cute army of hopeless rodents that majestically bestrode the early-’90s gaming scene have returned to bring their unique emergent gameplay to a mobile audience. And despite offering only 28 levels, and a less intuitive interface, the design genius still shines through.

For those who missed out the first time, Lemmings is a sort of platformer/puzzle game hybrid. On each level you must guide a set number of mindless critters form the entrance to the exit, avoiding falls, lava pits, and water. To create diversions around the many traps, you must call on a selection of eight different roles (such as digging, parachuting, and building), which can be assigned to individual lemmings. The beauty of the game is that when you come up with a method of saving the creatures, you can never quite believe that anyone else would do it the same way. While each level guides you toward certain tactics, the puzzles are beautifully open-ended.

The mobile conversion is almost perfect. Sound is restricted to the old cry of “Let’s go” at the beginning of the level and the death cry of doomed lemmings throughout, but that’s no real loss. Also, the first 10 levels are just there to get you used to the game mechanics, so really you have only 18 levels of true Lemmings gameplay. However, these are 18 of the most infuriatingly compulsive levels you will encounter on a mobile game this year, so you’ll be hacking away at those eighteen levels for quite some time. That said, there isn’t any shortage of Lemmings levels to be adapted for mobile, and more could have easily been included.

Without mouse-led point-and-click control, you’ll need to rely heavily on the pause mode, which lets you scroll around each level and assign skills to your lemmings while they’re frozen in time. To veterans of the Amiga original, this may feel a little like cheating, and it breaks up the flow of the game, but it’s essential on the later levels: Attempting to guide the cursor over the tiny skill icons or the miniscule lemmings themselves while 20 of them waddle toward a lava pit or fatal fall will only result in some kind of stress-induced breakdown.

Despite our few reservations, Lemmings is definitely a recommendable title. It’s a great fit for mobile. The game doesn’t rely on visuals, or sound, or a decent interface — the stumbling blocks of most console-to-cell-phone conversions. It instead relies on what we referred to in the opening paragraph: pinpoint, pixel-perfect design brilliance.