Sitting in a comfortable space between Xbox Live's emphasis on online play and original IP, and Wii Virtual Console's dedication to affordable classics, PlayStation Network is already poised with a promising line-up of first generation titles. To prove that the service can do retro, Sony has chosen the seminal Amiga puzzler Lemmings as a launch title for PSN.
For anyone who has not stumbled upon Lemmings on any of the countless formats it has appeared on over the years, the premise of the game is simple. Players must work their way through dozens of simple mazes, each no more than a few screens in size, guiding a mindless flock of lemmings past the pitfalls and obstacles that prevent them reaching the doorway that marks the end of each level.
Lemmings pour in on one side of the 2D level, and can be bestowed with various abilities, such as digging, climbing and bridge building, as they blindly wander where the landscape takes them. Through a process of trial and error, you must find out when and where to set them to work to guide them to safety.
The formula of Lemmings is proven and popular, and while new levels here replace the originals many have played through a dozen times before, once again Team 17 has created an engaging and well balanced puzzle game. Almost everything else that is core to Lemmings remains the same. The abilities available are unchanged, with only the infamous 'nuke' button absent this time round. Thankfully, to quit a level you still have to detonate your crowd of obedient rodents with a colourful explosion of pixels and yelps, but in 2007, political correctness seems to have deemed the mushroom cloud button a little too insensitive.
What is truly disappointing, though, is not the end of nuclear warfare in puzzle games, but the fairly heavy graphical reworking that Lemmings has become victim to. Good graphics don't make good games; so bad graphics shouldn't necessarily make bad games. But what defined the success of the original Lemmings was the enormously irresistible character your tiny sprites projected. When one or one hundred of your plucky and staggeringly stupid lemmings plummeted to a gruesome death, or became engulfed in flames, you really felt the guilt. Saving your lemmings was so important to you it made the game so much more important and so much more playable.
Part of gaming folklore is that the original Lemmings team created the game after a heated discussion in a pub about how few pixels you could use to animate a sprite that would have enough character to mean something to the player. For some reason, what they developed as a result of that evening of drinking captured gamers' hearts for over a decade.
Almost 15 years on, and the lemmings have evolved into something quite different. Glossy, over-animated and frankly ugly, this time round saving them doesn't feel quite so important. In fact, it's almost quite nice to see them go, as they meet their fates in the equivalently unpleasant levels.
Additionally, Lemmings is crying out for a mouse. It was designed to be played with one, and despite a simplified control scheme, the PSN version proves again that joypads don't make good mice. In the early levels this is never a problem but, as you advance, the analogue stick just doesn't give you the responsiveness you need.
If you've never played Lemmings before then snap this up, but if you're already familiar with blockers and climbers, your PSN pennies are probably best spent elsewhere.