Release Date: 1991
Platform(s): Amiga, ST, PC, Other Ports
Developer: DMA Design
Few games other than Tetris can claim to have appeared on as many formats as this historic action puzzler. Dave Jones, the founder of DMA Design, claims to have lost count at twenty, and that was before the numerous PlayStation and mobile iterations were added to the list.
Famously, the idea was conceived almost by accident, when artist Mike Dailly was experimenting with the animation of tiny characters in an 8 x 8 pixel grid. Programmer Russel Kay saw the results and pronounced: "There's a game in that." And there certainly was.
At first glance, perhaps, Lemmings looks like a standard late-1980s platformer, its sparse yet neat visual style presenting teeny, teeming sprites.But it is, in fact, a masterpiece of sandbox design, allowing players endless ways to complete each level. Over a vast series of levels, the player must guide a set number of tiny lemming characters from the entrance to the exit, avoiding hazards such as lava pools and large falls. Instead of directly controlling the critters, however, there is a range of eight skills that can be designated to individuals via a point and click interface.
The builder skill, for example, allows a lemming to construct a staircase across a chasm, while bashers, miners, and diggers all create differently angled holes in platforms to create new routes. It is up to the player to decide how, the available skills should be used to solve each level.
Press coverage at launch was very enthusiastic, and 55,000 copies flew from shop shelves on day one (impressive at the time). The ensuing conveyor belt of sequels and conversions led to subsequent sales of more than fifteen million units. Alongside contemporaries such as Worms and Populous, it's a defining work in the British game design canon.