There has always been more to Lemmings than meets the eye. The 16-bit platform game where the player attempts to guide a large group of lemmings, through perilous obstacles to their destination was unique when it was released in 1991. Videogames were progressing from 8-bit to 16-bit and artistry was a key selling point for games like Shadow of the Beast and Defender of the Crown so it was highly unlikely that a simple game like Lemmings would be picked up for distribution. Indeed, the game was pitched to several companies before landing at Psygnosis. The entirety of this tale is told in the new documentary Lemmings: Can You Dig It? which has been crafted by Exient Studios – current publisher of the Lemmings mobile game.
Told through interviews conducted via video calls, Lemmings: Can You Dig It? starts from the very beginning. From After-School clubs to founding a small videogame company to the development of what would eventually become an overnight sensation, each part of the tale is exciting to hear. Of course, this may not be true if you have no interest in the history of video games, however, those who do will be justly rewarded. It’s a delight to see the very first test animations and sketches as well as hearing how the iconic soundtrack came to be. It’s a 2-hour nostalgia trip that warms the soul. It doesn’t stop there though, diving into the development of the more recent mobile game which was designed to honour the original.
It brought back a lot of fond memories for me. Lemmings is the only game that I ever played on a floppy disk, thanks to my grandad’s Acorn branded computer. I had access to it once a week, after school on a Wednesday, and I made the most of my precious minutes with these green-haired little creatures. Levels started off simple, quickly becoming more difficult, with a public-domain laden soundtrack that remained easy on the ears. Each of the 8 types of Lemming had a unique animation but the joy was in deciding which Lemming was given which skill. It led to many deaths, which also came with unique animations and a strange amount of guilt. I had picked this specific lemming to be the stopper, meaning I had chosen him specifically to die. Can You Dig It? covers all of this, with an extra nugget of information on how these stoppers could have been saved, which is information it would have been great to have all those years ago.
That computer is long since gone. My grandad finally upgraded to a laptop and I eventually ceased those Wednesday afternoon visits. My relationship with Lemmings lived on, through the mobile games but it’s that original 16-bit iteration that I loved the most. It deserves every one of its 30 years and it deserves to be around for many more.
Lemmings: Can You Dig It? is currently on the Exient Youtube channel, linked below: