Lemmings is one of the best video games of all time, and seemed in the 90s to be on the verge of becoming an explosive media phenomenon. Its tiny animated characters are fab: adorable yet down-to-earth, capable yet doomed, a smorgasbord of sarcastic bite and hurt/comfort neediness. After publisher Psygnosis was bought by Sony, though, the Lemmings soon vanished into the corporate archives. The creators went on to make the Grand Theft Auto series. But perhaps their first mega-hit could have its day again.
‘I would have loved to take the characters and do something different with them,’ says [co-creator Mike] Dailly. ‘But we never got the chance. When you get down to it the original game was brilliant, and the sequel had brilliant tech. But the characters themselves are what makes the game. And they should be used for more, for far more.’
In today’s nostalgia-hungry industry the return of Lemmings is hopefully a matter of time. Updating a classic is never easy, of course, but the game is so original and well-loved it’s amazing no-one has tried to do what Championship Edition did for Pac-Man. That may be Lemmings’ beauty and its curse. There is not a single element of the game that could be removed without changing the whole thing. Adding more stuff, as with the sequel, doesn’t make it better. And how can you update visuals that are iconic because they’re 8×10 sprites?
Well, there are hard marketing problems when your entire premise is “100 literally identical characters, constantly and comically brutalized”.
Looking through old promo art, they never quite cracked the problem of turning the unilemming design into a group of personalities who might appeal to human beings on a level beyond abstraction. This would be no easy feat when your concept makes the Smurfs seem a diverse bunch—and every individual distinction you add chips away at the original stark premise.
My dark fan conspiracy theory solves this problem. Lemmings are captive slave Womble children and the two universes should be united into the most overwhelmingly British animation of all time.