Lemmings is a lot like Tetris: no system is complete without an iteration of the iconic puzzle property. Ever since acquiring the rights to the franchise alongside legendary publisher Psygnosis, Sony has made it its mission to chaperone the series onto several of its systems, culminating in an EyeToy compatible edition and a handful of Team 17 remakes for the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3. Such is the ubiquity of the brand that the PlayStation Vita already plays host to a couple of iterations of the seminal strategy sandbox, but Lemmings Touch, er, brings a touch of something fresh to the platform holder’s flagship handheld format. The question is: is this revival good enough for Stan Bush, or does it fall flat on its furry tush?
The game’s underlying concept should need no introduction: you play as an omniscient being, tasked with guiding the titular rodents from one side of a maze to the other. The green haired heroes may lack intelligence, but they are an industrious bunch, responding to your every whim on their way to safety. Depending on the level, you’ll need to dig, bomb, or climb your way to the exit, taking advantage of the various tools available in each area. Part of the challenge is not only finding the optimal route to the goal, but also doing so without losing any lemmings; collateral damage may be necessary on occasion, but you’ll still want to finish the stage with as many mammals intact as possible in order to achieve a top score.
In fact, your time and critter quota is imperative in this edition, as developer d3t has paid particularly pertinent attention to the smartphone space. Much like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, this version will see you earning stars depending on your performance, which in turn will unlock levels and more challenging categories. There are 300 of these to acquire, across five increasingly impossible tiers. Perfecting a stage starts out relatively easy, but quickly becomes a real stretch on your skills. Fortunately, the structure means that you can earn a couple of stars from a level and still progress, allowing you to return to a more difficult maze at a later date. You’ll almost always have a wealth of arenas to select from as well, meaning that you’ll rarely hit a metaphorical brick wall.
Of course, the headline addition here is the manner in which the title takes advantage of the Japanese giant’s multifaceted machine. While the PlayStation Mobile edition of the release also employed the unit’s touch screen, the developer has concocted a much more refined solution with this release, allowing you to bring up a radial menu by tapping one of the green haired goblins. This gives you access to a familiar palette of tools – umbrellas, pickaxes, and spades – which when chosen will equip your selected creature with the kit that they need to succeed. The toolbox can be dragged around the screen when required, giving you more estate to observe the vibrant visuals and also your route to the exit. You can also pinch the display to zoom in and out.
It’s a solid solution, but one that doesn’t quite have enough precision to make the experience sing. Occasionally you’ll find yourself accidentally tapping on the wrong objects as the action gets hectic, and when you need to be absolutely exact with your inputs, even the most minute mistake will force you to reach for the retry button. This isn’t helped by the fact that the developer has taken it upon itself to introduce some new objects, such as bridges which can be dragged in the saccharine sweet Candy Land and bricks which can be dropped onto the heads of red lemmings – a new mischievous iteration of the obtuse animals, which you must keep away from the exits at all times. As such, you’ll find yourself playing Vita twister at times, desperately trying to maintain control of everything on the screen.
That sense of panic is probably part of the appeal, but when the margins for error are so small, it can be a pain trying to stay in control. You’ll find yourself gurning rather than grinning in later levels, and while it’s beyond satisfying when you reach your intended outcome, there’s not a huge amount of incentive to keep replaying when you’re forced to wrestle with the controls. Fortunately, these issues aren’t present at all times, and you’ll certainly find plenty to smile about in the less demanding arenas. The presentation itself is colourful catharsis, too, serving up several different settings such as Ancient Egypt and Outer Space. It looks the part, and while the soundtrack is a little on the twee side, it still offers the kind of upbeat backdrop that the brand is best known for.
Moreover, there’s more to the game than the great escape, with a set of additional objectives encouraging you to experiment with the way that you play. Complete these sub-challenges and you’ll accrue coins, which can be spent on customising your characters. While many of the options revolve around rather redundant colour changes, you can also augment your animals with different items, with a couple of the Trophies even encouraging you to turn the titular rodents into different characters. It’s hardly the kind of addition that’s going to hold your attention for long, but the inclusion is appreciated, and it does force you to reconsider your playstyle if you’re eager to unlock something specific. The usual roster of statistics round out the package, though it’s a shame that the level editor from the PSP release hasn’t made the leap.
Lemmings Touch has definitely got its umbrella equipped, but it doesn’t make the most graceful of landings in spite of that fact. This latest edition’s clumsy controls will obstruct your enjoyment at times, and while the top-notch puzzles and vibrant visuals will certainly tunnel through some of these issues, the input problems will still chip away at your patience like a pickaxe as you progress.