It’s been said, and rightly so, that too many PSP games have been thoughtless ports from the consoles. Sure, they have good graphics and sound, but the controls have often been designed with two thumbsticks or other gameplay mechanics in mind, not the one-stick-wonder PSP. But finally, for the PSP’s one-year anniversary, Sony has released a game designed with the PSP in mind. And it happens to be fun, too.
Lemmings for PSP is the reincarnation of a franchise born 15 years ago. During the past decade and a half, games like Lemmings 3D have appeared on the PC with limited success and unlimited kitsch factor, but none has really carried the torch of the original. All that has changed with this new PSP version.
The gameplay in Lemmings for PSP doesn’t try to go “next-gen,” doesn’t try to be cute, doesn’t even try to venture into the world of three dimensions. Instead, it sticks to the path that made the original game so fun, with a focus on side-scrolling mazes that require nothing more than puzzle-solving skills and the ability to figure out which type of Lemming (basher, climber, builder, parachuter, bomber, blocker, etc.) is necessary to lead the lemmings safely through the course and to the exit.
Amazingly enough, the controls for leading those lemmings couldn’t be more intuitive. The shoulder buttons cycle through the various types of lemmings, the triangle zooms-in for precision delegation of duties, the thumbstick lets players scan the entire course, the d-pad moves the cursor, and the circle fast-forwards the action once the path is complete. Controls designed specifically for the PSP don’t happen often, so this setup is worth celebrating almost as much as the fact that the game itself is fantastic.
Lemmings for PSP has four different difficulty settings, each of which is comprised of 30 levels. All of these levels and difficulties are available from the get-go, and even within each difficulty setting, players can play the 30 levels in any order they choose. This opens the game to casual players and Lemmings experts alike, and it lets players test their skills at their own pace. Within each setting, the 30 levels get progressively more challenging, but if players find the first five levels to easy, they’re welcome to jump immediately to level 10 and see if that’s more in line with their path-defining talent.
Outside of the “campaign,” Lemmings also lets players create dozens of their own courses using hundreds of environmental structures and decorations (basically, everything the game designers used). Players can even determine which types of specialized lemmings will be available for each map, as well as how many. While designing, players can hit the Start button to playtest their level at any time, and the fact that testing the level in mid-creation involves no load time is remarkable (especially for the load-happy PSP). Then, when the map is done, would-be level designers can share their creations online.
The learning curve isn’t too steep for creating maps, but a few things stand out as somewhat awkward. First, players have to create the ground. This may seem like a no-brainer, but after carefully creating an entire course, it’s easy to sit there, baffled, for a good 45 seconds trying to figure out why lemmings are falling straight to their death. In the grand scheme of things 45 seconds isn’t that long, but when you consider the 30 minutes-plus you put into creating a course that’s now useless (since you’ve placed all the pieces), it can be a bit frustrating.
Second, when it comes to placing those pieces, removing them from the map isn’t as intuitive as one would hope. Unlike many games’ map editors, which let players select individual pieces and move them around, moving or deleting map elements in Lemmings can be as puzzling as the main game itself. The first four maps we created, in fact, had multiple entry points, even though only one was used, simply because figuring out how to remove or move the first one wasn’t all that obvious.
Those are really the only snafus with Lemmings, though, as the gameplay, graphics and sound are great. Even when zoomed-in, the graphics never lose their fidelity, and at times they even improve. The display is so clear, in fact, that the minimap shown before each level actually serves a purpose: letting you plan your strategy and determine which type of lemmings you’ll need to pass each obstacle.
Lemmings for PSP isn’t a challenging game, even by handheld standards, but it’s an incredibly fun one for franchise novices and veterans alike. It also shows what Sony’s handheld system is capable of delivering when developers design a game for the PSP.
- Gameplay: 9
- Perfect Lemmings puzzles for novices and experts alike. The map creating tool can be awkward, but it’s a nice addition anyway.
- Graphics: 9
- The franchise has never looked this good. Seriously.
- Sound: 8
- The soundtrack isn’t as memorable as the original, but the sound effects get the job done.
- Replay: 9
- 100-plus levels, a map editor and the ability to share maps online? Yep, that’s a lot of game.
- Overall: 9
- There’s really not much to discourage any Lemmings fan who owns a PSP from buying this game.
— Jonas Allen