Written by  :  Nowhere Girl (4168)
Written on  :  Nov 14, 2018
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars
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Have Lemmings become smarter?

The Good

"The Lemmings Chronicles" feature a seemingly small, but important change compared to the previous games. All of them had a set of eight skills which could be awarded to Lemmings. "The Tribes" introduced more skills, but still not more than eight would be available at the same time. Some were completely different than previously, but some were very similar to each other - for example, the "Flamethrower" skill has similar results to ordinary bashing. Now Lemmings are from one point of view easier to control... and, at the same time, more difficult from another point of view. There are only five action icons - "walk", "block", "jump", "use skill", "drop skill-related item". The first three show one interesting thing: Lemmings have now become smarter. They will still walk headless into danger, but you can change their direction just by using the "walk" icon - and the first three icons can be used an unlimited number of times! The jumping ability lets Lemmings jump over small obstacles or gaps, or over a blocker. And the "walk" icon does yet another thing: it can free a blocker! A blocker just resumes walking if this icon is used. As a lot of players will recall, in the previous games the only way of saving a blocker was to bash under him so that he would lose footing. Now a Lemming can easily be blocked for a while so that he doesn't get in the way and then you can let him walk again.
The most substantial change is that now other skills can only be awarded to Lemmings who have picked up necessary items, such as bricks for building, spade for digging, suction cups for climbing and so on. There are several skills available and they are more versatile. The original game, "ON!ML" and the Christmas games included three digging skills - the Basher would dig horizontally, the Miner diagonally and the Digger vertically down. Now all these skills are controlled by the single spade icon. Now you can dig in any direction except vertically upwards, can change directions... The same goes for building - a Lemming builder can build stairs (up or down, depending on the area and the player's choice), but also horizontal bridges or even a stack of bricks which acts like a wall or blocker and prevents other Lemmings from going further. However, you need to keep track of which Lemming picked up the skill icons. It's possible to mark a Lemming by right-clicking him, but it only works for one Lemming at the same time. Still, once you get used to it, it's not very difficult, especially since the Lemmings are now slightly larger and there is typically a smaller number of them - rather around 20 or 25 and not 50 or 80 like in some levels in the first few games.
It's possible to save a game and if you click "Map room" instead of "Play next ... level" afterwards, you can also choose an already completed level, not necessarily the one after the last completed level. In the options settings you can also tone down the game's difficulty level (and that bit of gore the Lemming games inherently have). Some levels now have monsters, such as the Potatobeast or the Lemme Fatale (an important change, but still something kinda similar to traps in the first game, except that the monsters can move) - in the "Kids" setting you just turn them off. The graphics look very nice. Well, some underground levels of the Shadow tribe are quite boring, but generally the graphics are nice, detailed and they have a lot of background features. The Classic tribe is particularly interesting. In the original "Lemmings" (and, later, "ON!ML") there were several different level graphic designs and then, in "The Tribes", all levels for the Classic tribe featured some of the least interesting graphics from the original game - the version with yellow bricks, wood and a kinda Egyptian-like exit. Now the Classic tribe has landed in some kind of overgrown industrial facility - with dominant shades of green and gray, often a spooky forest in the background, pipes, pools of green acid and eyes of some mysterious creatures peeking from the undegrowth...

The Bad

The game requires a lot of getting used to. Remember how skills worked in the earlier games. Climbers and Floaters (and Athletes) retained their skills everywhere they could be needed. A Basher, Miner or Digger would continue until they either reached the other side, ran into impassable steel or were changed to another skill. Only Builders would build no more than twelve steps in one go. Now every skill has limited usefulness. A single build icon lasts for eight bricks. Also dig icons work like this - a Lemming can only remove a given number of terrain "units" and then another dig icon is needed to continue the tunnel. Even climbing will only work as long as the Lemming still has suction cups. And sometimes the default appearance of the skill icon changes into an image of the skill itself with a number underneath - but I still don't know how to show it on demand.
Some more things are different. In the previous games Lemmings would always pass through stairs when walking from the other direction, which allowed all those zig-zag staircases in tight spots... In fact, extremely careful (and difficult) brick placement was required to make the front of stairs an obstacle. Now Lemmings won't walk through stairs from the other side. Not necessarily a bad thing, but players need to keep this in mind when planning level strategy.
Apart from the monsters, "Lemmings Chronicles" include another "non-player character": the mole. It doesn't harm Lemmings, it just starts crazily boring through the ground like a drill. Sometimes it's very hard to guess where it will go and to use the mole's actions to your advantage. So it seems that, because of the possibility of unlocking blockers and changing direction, in theory it's always possible to save all Lemmings. I'm never satisfied with sacrificing a Lemming or two and in the others games I always try to save all, using methods such as sending a scout and trapping other Lemmings in a trench (instead of using blockers). But, in practice, for example in Egyptian level 13 I have only been able to save the Floater because I have no idea how to make the mole free the others.

The Bottom Line

The database TV Tropes lists "Lemmings Chronicles" as an example of an "aborted story arc". Indeed: "The Tribes" introduce twelve tribes of Lemmings and "Chronicles" continue with three of these tribes where the previous game had left. Theoretically, there should have been three more games, each with three other tribes exploring their islands. It's a pity that they were never made because, from the purely esthetic point of view, "The Tribes" are a disappointment for me. The idea is wonderful, it's very diverse and inventive... and yet the effect just often looks bland and boring. The Egyptian, Shadow, Beach and Outdoor tribes in particular have amazing environments, the others are not so good. The hypothetic continuations of "Chronicles" could have created better, cuter, more refined versions of the environments for Space, Polar, Highland tribes and so on. Unfortunately, at that time 3D was "becoming a thing" and that's the direction the Lemmings took next - and for me 3D, too, was a big step backwards in terms of beauty. Good old pixel graphics looked much better...