I always feel like I could never play Lemmings again. I don’t think I have any good rationale for this – but it just feels correct in my brain. I remember so very many incredibly happy hours trying to work out methods to get the purple/green creatures from the left to the right of the screen, and feel very fondly about the franchise. Not least that freebie Christmas Lemmings given away on floppy discs on the fronts of magazines. But it’s also become entangled in my memory as so very fiddly.
I think perhaps I just find real life far too fiddly as it is. The idea of stressfully trying to manage fifty suicidal creatures from dozens of deaths right now seems too much. And then along comes Underland, which manages to feel a lot like Lemmings in a lot of ways, and yet there are only two lives to worry about.
The story is that two astronauts returned to Earth after a failed mission to find an inhabitable planet, only to discover Earth’s no better. The remaining population have all had to move underground, and now these two must try to reach them. Your job is to use various tools to create a path from the left to the right of the screen, so the pair can reach the next lift down further into the planet.
Tools are items in the levels, rather than deployed a la Lemmings, over which you can take direct control. There’s the giant spinning blade that can carve through the rock, but afflicted by gravity as it is, it’s a cumbersome thing to wield. Or there’s little TNT wagons, that, well, explode when you trigger them. And canons that fire a limited number of explosives. That sort of thing. All are slightly unpredictable, and make for entertaining moments of improvisation as your perfect plan goes wildly awry.
The astronauts are extremely vulnerable, but at least under your direct control too. While so many Lemmings-like things happen – like the curved shapes blasted into rock, and horrible moments when you realise you’ve just poured the deadly green ooze directly into your heroes’ path – they are at least not inexorably marching. However, the game’s biggest weakness is the enormously irritating feature that you can’t move them together, rather having to stroll each from one side of the screen to the other individually – which is to say, you have to do everything twice.
Underland is tough pretty quickly, which I like about it. I’ve had a couple of levels where I’ve thrown up my arms and said, “But this isn’t possible!” before almost immediately noticing a way it’s entirely possible.
It’s sometimes a clumsy game, often by design, occasionally not, and some may not be too enamoured by the repeated attempts a level may take given to the slightly haphazard movement of some of the tools. Personally it made me laugh more than frown as I accidentally goofed everything up, and the instant restart (hit R, you’re back at the start of the level) made it much more attractive.
It’s also worth noting the excellent underground spooky sound-effects, and some lovely music. This all adds up to a very fun little game, with just enough Lemmings to remind me of happy times, but not so much that I can feel it triggering my anxiety. Oh, and good gracious, it only costs a pound. Which is silly. Put that price up!
- Bursted Games
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