Have You Played… Lemmings?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Lemmings was probably the defining game of my first PC, but I loved it before I’d even played it.

I loved it so much that my bedroom was decorated with Lemmings cut out of a promotional plastic bag I’d been given by someone at school. I thought that blue tunic/pink face/green hair combo was just the greatest, and I doodled rough approximations of it wherever I could too. I was at an age just after cartoons but just before Aliens and Robocop, so Lemmings hit the bullseye of where my young head was at. Fundamentally cutesy, but lifted into vague transgression by the idea that these little dudes died in bloodless droves.

The game, first experienced in my case as the freeware spin-off Christmas Lemmings, provided on a complimentary floppy disk bundled with my family’s first PC, did not disappoint. The naughtiness of getting them killed (or killing them), the triumph of solving the fiendish building puzzles, the uncommon kinship of doing with my father, the degree to which the contents of the screen could be reshaped and destroyed: Lemmings felt like a game from the future.

I suppose it was my first encounter with anything like a sandbox, even though level solutions were somewhat fixed: this idea that I could control a game’s world, rather than simply follow a pre-determined direction. I think Lemmings 2, as much as I loved the cheery art of all the different tribes, lost that somewhat, by focusing far too hard on character and, like so many games of the time, trying to get on the Mario and Sonic toon-cool bandwagon, rather than expanding possibilities.

Lemmings took few prisoners, too – it was coldly logical , unforgivingly demanding. It’s never a game I race to write about, but I suspect it was absolutely foundational in making me a PC gamer.

You can play Lemmings in your browser via Archive.org, though the legality is grey-area.

95 Comments

  1. cheesyboy says:

    I had lemmings on Gameboy when I was about 11. Played through it all until hitting Mayhem 4. Spent hour upon fruitless hour trying to figure out how to do it and never achieved it.

    Dug out my old Gameboy about 5 years ago and found my level codes written on a scrap of paper in the plastic cartridge box. Had another go on Mayhem 4 and still, even with my adult powers of reasoning, could not do it.

    I turned to Google.

    The truth destroyed a small part of me. The level was bugged and simply could not be done. So much time… wasted.

    • welverin says:

      At least it wasn’t you?

      • cheesyboy says:

        Hmmmmmm… having given it some thought, I’d definitely have preferred to have found out I’d missed something obvious. At least the pain and self-loathing would have all been validated, rather than misdirected.

        I could have thought “well, if only I’d tried a bit harder” rather than “if only I hadn’t tried so hard”.

        I might go back to it with the code for Mayhem 5. See what it was all about.

  2. rabbit says:

    <3 lemmings

  3. Gnoupi says:

    And there you go, my brain is going to play CanCan.mid for the rest of the afternoon

  4. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Yup. Played it quite a bit. Never finished the game, though.

  5. machstem says:

    And what, pray tell is that? You’ve peeked my curiosity..

  6. TomxJ says:

    Love Lemmings! I’m amazing it hasn’t been copied to to the point of being its own genre, although i suppose it is some sort of proto-tower defence game.

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      Godwhacker says:

      As I recall it was copied loads, though I can’t remember any of the clones. Worms was in a similar vein I suppose, and Team 17 are still making that

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      DantronLesotho says:

      I would say it’s been copied a bit. Dr. Robotnik’s mean bean machine, The Simpsons Krusty’s fun house, Mario & Wario, to name a few were sort of in the same vein. I would even venture to say that manufacturing games like Infinifactory, Factorio, and Spacechem, etc, are similar types of games because you’re essentially creating a functioning production line.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Mean Bean Machine is a Puyo Puyo clone; you must be thinking of something else.

        Mario Versus Donkey Kong is a bit Lemmingsish, but it probably owes more to Flicky. Every time I think of something that’s similar to Lemmings I remember that it’s more like another game, so perhaps Lemmings is unique after all.

        • Borgrim says:

          The game i think is the most like Lemmings is King Arthur’s World for the SNES.

    • Sucram says:

      Flockers and MouseCraft came out last year and both are reasonably good takes on the Lemmings formula.

      • TomxJ says:

        As is World of Goo, I’m not saying there hasn’t been any, I just thought it was so popular when I was a lad I thought we’d be swimming in ‘Save ’em ups’

      • Adeptus says:

        There is a game called Clones, that is very much a Lemmings… clone…
        (still not as good as the original though)

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      syllopsium says:

      There is Pingus, the ‘Lemmings with penguins’ clone of Lemmings, it’s not bad, but needs more levels.

    • ansionnach says:

      The Humans and its sequels were inspired by Lemmings. Don’t think I ever played them very much, though.

      Only played the demo, but Troddlers must have been inspired by it as well.

      Sleepwalker and Diggers weren’t that dissimilar, either.

      On a basic level, Lemmings resembles Pipe Mania in that the player must ensure a safe path for something to get from A to B. A much earlier game like this is the arcade game Loco-Motion (1982) from Konami. Probably apparent from the name, but this time it was a train you had to clear the path for.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      There’s a mobile game called Spirits that is a pretty decent Lemmings clone.

    • LionsPhil says:

      If we’re listing things that aren’t quite Lemmings but have some common ground, there’s Ducks, an old DOS game by Tim Furnish.

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    Bluerps says:

    I remember playing a small set of levels a couple of times, but never the rest of the game. I don’t mean the Christmas versions (though I played at least one of those too). Maybe it was a demo, or a shareware version, that contained only the first couple of levels, or something like that.

  8. arioch says:

    I loved it single player back in the day.. Most of my memories of it involve the 2 player mode on my amiga though – it was the most brutal, infuriating, argument inspiring brilliance since Spy vs spy!

    The 11 year old versions of me and my friends had so many falling outs after digging out the ground directly under each others portals… :]

    • Seboss says:

      Oooh yes, two players mode was rough. We were playing on my friend’s Amiga and I always had to play with the Navigator joystick while he was using the mouse. There was no way I could react fast enough to his treachery with that thing!

  9. Seboss says:

    That’s uncanny. I was listening to the Amiga music not two hours ago: link to youtube.com

  10. Seboss says:

    I think Lemmings 2, as much as I loved the cheery art of all the different tribes, lost that somewhat, by focusing far too hard on character and, like so many games of the time, trying to get on the Mario and Sonic toon-cool bandwagon, rather than expanding possibilities.

    Exactly. I’m glad I’m not the only one to feel that way.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Conversely I thought New World of Lemmings was ultimately a better game than Lemmings 2 – it actually tried something different with the gameplay. Mind you, Lemmings 2 has a wicked soundtrack.

      • ansionnach says:

        I liked All New World of Lemmings. Most of the reason why it’s easier is that they’ve made it easier to select the right lemming.

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    Lexx87 says:

    Am I being thick – I can’t work out how to play the game. The mouse doesn’t work, and arrow keys let me move the hand across the starting options but nothing seems to let me select.

    Can someone help thicko over here.

    • Sin Vega says:

      You have to click on the skill buttons at the bottom and then click on a lem. Think of it as issuing orders, but you select the action first, not the lemming.

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      Skabooga says:

      archive.org’s emulation of games varies wildly in quality. Some will run perfectly, some will start up but not recognize any sort of input, and some fail to load altogether. Because this is the emulation of the Sega port, I think the game expects that you are using a joystick. I was able to select options and play using the “alt” key, but if that doesn’t work for you, try a different browser, maybe, and see if that does anthing.

    • ansionnach says:

      If you want to play Lemmings you need to play the DOS or Amiga versions. DOS version has shortcut keys to the skills, is smoother and loads quicker. Amiga has the two-player mode and technically better music (I prefer the PC music, though). The Game Gear version linked is scaled down to an extent that I’d say it isn’t even Lemmings. Other console ports were better, but I don’t think the Mega Drive and SNES ones supported the mouse, even though they had one.

      If you really must, the controls are the cursor keys, left ctrl for button 1 and left Alt for button 2. “1” is start. Maybe not all of these are used – they’re the Game Gear controls. Pressing tab brings up a menu you can use to change everything.

  12. Yachmenev says:

    Love the game. It was unique and challenging, with great art and a memorable soundtrack.

    The style of this game should be revived for indies and mobile games at least. There’s a lot of potential for new similiar games there.

  13. tehfish says:

    Ah, so many memories :)

    Definitely the first PC game i ever played, if not the first electronic game…

    Loved it as much as for the actual game itself as buggering around with the lemming suicide commands to try to get the prettiest explosions / most level damage (and as this was on a mighty 8mhz Amstrad 286, to also see how much i could make the PC slow to a crawl)

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    Lexx87 says:

    I had this on the Amiga 500 – before i’d even heard of ‘PC’ :D

    Absolutely adored it.

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      phuzz says:

      Using how we define ‘PC Gaming’ these days, the Amiga was totally a PC.
      I think a lot of us here grew up with Amigas (and a few unlucky souls had to make do with an Atari ST. Poor benighted folk)

      • Sin Vega says:

        Honestly, I know more people who had an Amiga than who had a Nintendo or SNES. It was never big in the US, but in the UK and in quite a few places in Europe, it was a much bigger deal.

      • LionsPhil says:

        They were personal computers, they just weren’t 100% IBM PC Compatables.

  15. iambecomex says:

    One of the games I showed my nephew on the Amiga the other year. He loved it, so I left it on the bookcase, which was apparently too close to the tv. Apparently, all those warnings about not leaving discs near speakers were there for a reason :(

  16. LionsPhil says:

    This (on the ST, fie upon you Amigaites and your awful soundtrack) was pretty much The game of my youth.

    But since that’s the case for a lot of people, here’s a shout in favour of digging up and trying 3D Lemmings (or Lemmings 3D, it seems to vary) instead, because it did an awful lot right and interesting for that early transitional period where games were trying out expanding their horizons for the first time. (It’s also got great music.)

    • Baf says:

      I seem to recall that Lemmings 3D was the first Lemmings game to have a “Replay” feature — that is, a control that automatically repeated what you did on your previous attempt up until you reach the point where you decide to take control and do things differently. Once I’d seen that, it was frustrating to not have that feature in all other Lemmings games.

      I suppose that if you were designing Lemmings nowadays, you’d do that through a Rewind feature instead, like in Braid or Prince of Persia.

    • theapeofnaples says:

      The ST soundtrack was better than on Amiga? I need to look this up, clearly.

      (played the PC version the other day and the soundtrack is fairly terrible)

      • LionsPhil says:

        The Amiga version was cursed by superior technology: it was tracked, but with awful samples, some of which weren’t even tuned correctly, whereas the ST beeped along with its cruder but more tuneful Yamaha chip.

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        tigerfort says:

        The correct version, musically speaking, is that for the Acorn Archimedes. Full software sound reproduction on substantially more powerful hardware.

        (Sadly, many of the “Oh No!” extra levels were unwinable on the Archie, as the keyboard shortcuts for selecting Lemming types weren’t implemented, and there wasn’t time to get the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen and back between actions. None of the originals relied on absurdly fast clicking, though, so those were all fine. Just very hard, in a few cases :)

        • LionsPhil says:

          Yeah, that’s a good version. Good ol’ A3000s.

          …but where’s She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain gone?

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            tigerfort says:

            Yeah, there are a few tracks missing from that video, alas.

        • ansionnach says:

          Took a look at the Archimedes version of Oh No! a while back. Seems all the level codes are different, as are some of the levels.

    • ansionnach says:

      Another shout for 3D Lemmings. Probably the best game in the series other than Oh No! More Lemmings. Very taxing puzzles even though they’ve removed a lot of the hassle of lemming selecting and having to replay the whole level up to a harsh filtering point.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I’ve never played 3D Lemmings, but have read reliably from several reliable people reliably that it’s an unusually good game, and the best of the series in many ways.

      Unfortunately, I also hear that it’s a bastard to get running today, what with coming out during the transitional early 3D/dos-windows period.

      • ansionnach says:

        Were those who told you it’s hard to get running today equally reliable? Even though I love it I can understand it being a love it or hate it game. It’s very easy to get running, though. Run in DOSBox at max cycles or something like 20,000 or 30,000, which are standard enough. I’ve seen many people argue that even the easiest, hassle-free DOS and Windows games are impossible to get going. When I describe exactly how it’s done the response is often something like: well, some people are incapable of doing anything. I wonder who feeds them!

        • LionsPhil says:

          There are two big quirks from the last time I tried (which was in a Sunday Papers some time a few months back): if you have the CD versions, you must make sure you rip the CD with audio tracks, or it fails to start; and you must make sure the speed is set correctly as noted, else it fails to start (rather than just running too fast or something).

          But yeah, once you’re past the “fails to start for no apparent reason” bit, it works just fine.

          • ansionnach says:

            Yup, I’ve just confirmed this. I’ve always used the MIDI music instead of the CD audio but the CD check seems to look for the audio tracks anyway. Playing the game is as simple as putting the CD in the drive and mounting it in DOSBox with something like:
            mount d d:\ -t cdrom
            (where the d:\ bit has to be the path to the CD on your real machine)

            This will pick up everything on the CD, including the audio. I’ve also made a backup in case my CD ever goes kaput. It has to be made in CUE/BIN or some format that supports multiple tracks (not ISO). Free software like Imgburn will prompt you if you’re doing it wrong so it should be hard to make a mistake here!

            If you want to keep it all on your hard disc you’d need to do the standard thing to mount your image:
            imgmount d c:\games\l3d\l3d.cue -t cdrom
            (where c:\games\l3d\l3d.cue is the cue sheet or whatever of your image)

            The game is highly speed tolerant so any cycles setting in DOSBox that’s above the minimum spec will do. Max works fine. Anyone who defaults to 20000 – 30000 (good general values) should be happy.

            Usually only games designed for the XT in the 80s need reasonably precise speed tuning. A tool I’ve come across that can help here is TOPBench. I set the speed based on memory. If anyone comes across a game that runs like lightning, use TOPBench to set the cycles to what’s needed for the game and then bump them up a little more.

            Perhaps the game that’s tricky to get running is the very first Lemmings and all its variants? It won’t work at all if cycles are above around 5500. It also won’t work if you boot directly into DOS to run it (most games I’ve recently tried to work on my i7). Maybe the funny thing about the first Lemmings is that even though it’s one of the fussier games, it might work fine for people who never change DOSBox settings, seeing as it defaults to 3000!

          • LionsPhil says:

            IIRC the Christmas Lemmings releases also have fun timing issues where they won’t detect the (emulated) soundcard if the speed is set too high—I guess there’s a timing loop in there that elapses before it can get a response or something. Slow down DOSBox enough and crude PC speaker beeps become glorious OPL2 synthesis.

          • ansionnach says:

            You’re right – that’s why you need to slow down any game based on the original Lemmings engine (Lemmings, Oh No!, Covox Lemmings and Christmas Lemmings 1991-1994). I love the OPL synth soundtrack. Even though the Amiga one has its charms, and may technically be better, the DOS one is my favourite.

            You should see what happens your computer if you boot into DOS and try to run Lemmings on a modern machine. Crashes in a very bizarre way, with the PC Speaker locked into emitting the most frightful din.

            3D Lemmings and its winter demo run fine with no tuning on everything above the 486DX-33MHz minimum.

        • Sin Vega says:

          I can’t remember to be honest, but it sounds like you know more about it either way. Probably the trickiest one that I didn’t eventually give up on was Rocket Jockey.

    • Turkey says:

      I only played the demo of Lemmings 3d, but I remember it being a pretty huge chunk of the game. I think it had at least 4 different themes.

    • PostieDoc says:

      Amiga Master Race, peasant!

  17. Baf says:

    Lemmings was a real innovator. People have largely forgotten its true importance: it was basically the first game of any significance outside of point-and-click adventure games to figure out how to really take advantage of the mouse.

    Remember, this was released in 1991. A mouse wasn’t even required hardware in PCs in those days, and consequently most PC games didn’t even support one, let alone make it essential. Most PCs ran MS-DOS, not Windows. The mouse-heavy FPS and RTS genres hadn’t been invented yet, and it would take some time for mouselook to become standard in FPSes. Games that supported a mouse generally either used it for clicking on buttons, or as an awkward analog joystick substitute. And it wasn’t at all obvious how else a mouse could be used, because we were all thinking of games in joystick-centric ways. A joystick is ideal for controlling the movements of an avatar, so the first question on any developer’s mind was “How do I use the mouse to control the avatar?”, and the best answer anyone had come up with was click-to-move-here, which only worked well when precise control of movement was unimportant, as in point-and-click adventures.

    Lemmings didn’t try to shoehorn mouse controls onto a player avatar. It showed us that the mouse affords forms of interaction that make the whole idea of the player avatar unnecessary.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      A mouse wasn’t even required hardware in PCs in those days, and consequently most PC games didn’t even support one, let alone make it essential.

      Maybe not for your average IBM-PC Compatible but the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST all shipped with mice included & it was most definitely a required peripheral for those PC platforms.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Yeah, it originated on the Amiga, which came with a mouse as standard.

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        Phasma Felis says:

        Baf is still right about it being the first significant mouse game outside of the point-and-click genre, though.

  18. Risingson says:

    Fantastic game. I think I played around 100 levels when I definitively gave up.

    It is also one of the most ported games ever, if not the most.

  19. criskywalker says:

    It’s such a shame that there’s no modern version of this game. This would be a perfect game for the ipad! So many fond memories on the Amiga 500! :-)

    • finc says:

      I asked the creator of Lemmings about this on Twitter, he said it can’t be ported currently as it is owned by Sony who “don’t make mobile games” (his words)

  20. ansionnach says:

    I’ve played and completed all of the Lemmings puzzle games, including the Christmas disks. Excepting Lemmings Revolution, which I haven’t quite finished (it’s terribly buggy).

    My favourite is either Oh No! More Lemmings or 3D Lemmings. 3D Needs to be played by more people. It’s a superb game and I suspect that the reason why most people didn’t “get” it was that if you couldn’t think laterally in three dimensions you might as well get the boat.

  21. Sin Vega says:

    Weird thing about Lemmings: I loved it and used to decorate things with cartoonishly violent, needlessly elaborate and silly lemmings. I played the strange sandbox mode of Lemmings 2 lots too, turning half the lems into (say) swimmers to swap their palette, then waging chaotic wars with them, firing mortars and arrows and all sorts of nonsense all over the place. But I was utterly hopeless at playing it properly, and frankly didn’t even enjoy doing it very much.

  22. Hedgeclipper says:

    Ahh I can still hear that plaintive little “oh no!” today whenever I see Lemmings mentioned

  23. drygear says:

    This game is also the subject of one of my favorite episodes of Game Center CX.

  24. peterako1989 says:

    Lemmings 2 the tribes was the one from childhood.

  25. Jellyfoosh says:

    Lemmings was the very first game I ever played. My uncle booted it up on DOS and I never got bored watching hundreds upon hundreds of the little guys kill themselves. That sounds quite strange actually, when I put it into words…
    I did eventually learn to play the game though, even finished it :)

  26. Adam Dawes says:

    I remember seeing a three- or four-level demo of Lemmings on the Amiga at a Commodore show, which must have been towards the end of 1990. It blew me away, it was just such a perfect idea.

    The several-month wait for the full game to be released was torture, but so totally worth the wait. Lemmings rates as one of my top five games of all time.

    But really, play the Amiga version, not the PC version.

    • ansionnach says:

      There’s not much to choose between these versions other than the two-player mode. PC version has shortcut keys for all the skills. Even though I’d expect that most would prefer the Amiga music, I like the PC soundtrack more. I even think the PC one is a bit smoother. There are no loading times, either. PC shades it for me, but either is great.

      Some say that Lemmings was originally an Amiga game and ported to ST and PC. This is incorrect as the game was developed simultaneously on all three platforms. The first demo was made for the PC and the game’s palette was chosen because of the EGA palette, which was a PC video standard.
      link to javalemmings.com

  27. wwwhhattt says:

    And in Dundee, where they were created: link to i.imgur.com

    • Josh W says:

      There’s something vaguely ominous about those, I don’t know why.

  28. Nixitur says:

    What I find amazing is that there’s a community of pepole who make custom level packs for Lemmings. I’m not sure how big or how active it still is, but I’ve seen some devious levels.
    As for playing it myself, I’m just no good at it. I am utterly incapable of multi-tasking, so I find Lemmings to be completely overwhelming. I do enjoy watching it, though, like on roundthewheel‘s Youtube channel. He’s scarily good at the game and seeing a solution unfold is very satisfying.

  29. cpt_freakout says:

    Another Lemmings child here. I used to ask Santa Claus for Lemmings action figures and all sorts of impossible Lemmings-themed stuff, and I did so for like two or three years before giving up because I never got any of it. Probably puzzled my parents quite a bit…

    Anyway, I was such a fan that I even played (and thoroughly enjoyed!) Lemmings Paintball. I watched a video of it not too long ago and man, it looks terrible, but that’s childhood fandom for you I guess.

  30. Amake says:

    I beat Lemmings on the SNES. I phoned Club Nintendo to ask for the passwords, skipping around 60% of the game, and then the walkthrough for the final level which filled four entire fax pages, and it still took a whole day, and was probably the least earned victory in the history of struggle, but I beat it.