"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," said a dying Spock with trademark inarguable logic in 1982's Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.
As he went on and snuffed it (thereby regrettably saving the Enterprise crew so that it would return for another four, ever weaker films), Spock probably had too many other things on his mind to realise that such a statement could be a decent premise on which to base a video game.
Thankfully, nine years later – and, we're fairly certain, in no way related to the Vulcan's near-final words – someone else did. And so Lemmings was created.
In the video game sense, lemmings are little mindless creatures with green hair, blue robes and simple, featureless faces. They are also the most stupidly determined beings you're likely to encounter. Lemmings think nothing of walking into oblivion, lava pits, revolving blades, mechanical spikes or any of the many other hazards that populate the world they inhabit.
Handily, their cruel maker structured that world as a series of levels – 120 handpicked originals and 36 newly created for PSP (though new ones can be created and uploaded/downloaded, as explained in PG tips below) – in which the objective is to safely shepherd a minimum number of lemmings from start to finish. Not the easiest task, given how treacherous stages quickly become and the fact that you can have up to 100 of the suicidal critters to look after.
Lemmings are not entirely useless, though. Each level offers you a limited number of abilities that you can assign to various lemmings that make it possible for the horde to reach their goal – abilities such as being able to dig through the ground, climb sheer walls, bash their way through stone pillars, build staircases, block the way for other lemmings, hold umbrellas to survive long falls and even self-destruct.
Who does what and when is not only critical due to limited resources, it's also entirely up to you. Early levels inspire confidence, with only one or two actions required and plenty of reliance on the fast-forward button (a smart addition that eradicates the otherwise frustrating boredom of being forced to wait for all lemmings to make their way along the path you've created to the stage exit). But soon you'll be battling to keep on top of things, assigning the correct function, at the correct time and to the correct lemming, all to the relentless release of its ever-advancing peers.
By the time you reach the later levels, you're juggling an impossible number of permutations, the most likely outcome of which tends to be a string of lemmings meeting their doom, often in perversely satisfying fashion.
You soon realise that despite its seemingly sedate pace, this game is a real test. Employers could save themselves a small fortune on expensive time and resource management courses by getting their staff to play Lemmings instead.
It's only during the more complex stages that the control system suffers. Developer Team 17 has done an admirable job of adapting a game originally designed to be played with a mouse to feel at home on PSP, but there are obvious limits – controlling the on-screen cursor with the D-pad is never going to be as immediate an alternative, for instance.
Even with the helpful addition of a zoom button, it can be difficult to select a specific lemming during crowded sections – a mistake which if made during the peril-filled later levels more often than not results in disaster, and a necessary stage restart.
Still, that's not such a bad thing because, despite the control issues mentioned above, for the most part Lemmings remains an excellent game whose quick-fix level-based structure is perfectly suited to pocket gaming – it certainly feels uncommonly at home on PSP.
Its appeal to those who have experienced it on any of the many, many other formats it has graced will inevitably be less than to someone coming to it with fresh eyes. But that hardly affects the quality of the puzzle action Lemmings consistently delivers which, even today, boldly goes where no other puzzler has gone before.Lemmings is on sale now.