For me Lemmings is video games. Put a picture of a little man with flowing green hair and a blue body suit in front of anyone on the street that doesn’t remember the end of World War II and in all likelihood they’ll know what it is. That’s not just because it’s wonderful. It is, wonderful that is, but it also represents one of the many moments in video games where game designers just got it. They got how to design games so that they aren’t impenetrable, so that they aren’t obscure or immature, and so that they’re appealing to everyone. In short it could easily be argued that Lemmings was really the first game to be targeted at a mass market. Call it casual, call it non-hardcore, call it dumbed down. I don’t really care. But it was an amazing piece of software that appealed to hordes of people and as a result has had an enduring run appearing on PC after PC and console after console. The little men with green hair and blue suits were unstoppable and getting them to the exit was all the rage through the early to mid nineties.
But what if I told you that Lemmings in fact have green hair, green suits and green skin.
At least that’s what a Lemming looked like on the humble green-scale Game Boy as all of the life and colour were sucked out of the sprites in order to fit them into the humble handheld, along with the graphical detail that made Lemmings so charming. Despite this though – and some other shortcomings such as all too frequent sprite flicker – Lemmings was an impressive technical feat all things considered. Some fantastic and creative use of the four shades the Game Boy was technically capable of made the game look far more advanced than it was, and although the port made obviously concessions in frames of animation and detailed backgrounds, the places where the developers did focus their attention show an incredible attention to detail.
Some of the design choices just suit the system. The zoomed in Camera for example allowed for far more detail in the Lemmings sprites themselves than would’ve been possible if it was having to animate more sprites at any one time. The result of such concessions is that Lemmings on the Game Boy is a far more attractive and impressive game than would’ve been the case had no thought been put into accommodating the lacking hardware. The version is far from perfect, but despite having access to the Amiga 500 version of Lemmings and its sequel the Game Boy version won out by virtue of its convenience. I wouldn’t recommend you play this version over the incredibly pretty PSP remake released in 2006, but as far as handheld curios go, Lemmings is certainly up there. Just get a pen and paper ready because you will be writing down plenty of passwords.