If I were ever asked which of my favorite childhood games has aged best, I wouldn’t have to think twice: Lemmings 2, of course! Not only is it miles better than any of its sequels, but in my humble opinion, it even surpasses the original. Twelve Lemming tribes with individual design tailored to their respective cultures and ear-wormy background chatter want to be rescued in 120 levels. Not only have the cute pixel graphics aged well, but the difficulty level also feels appropriately challenging and the lemmings thoroughly adorable. Admittedly, from today’s perspective, the 51 abilities, which you have to figure out from pixelated symbols without tooltips, are not an insignificant entry hurdle for newcomers. You should read the manual, which was still included with the game in printed form in 1993. With one hitch… all the abilities of the suicidal protagonists were patiently explained in it, but not the peculiarities of their environment. It was teeming with deadly traps, trampolines, teleporters, catapults and much more.
Luckily for me, Lemmings 2 was the first video game my parents ever bought me, so I was able to spend a lot of time playing it. I bit my way through level after level, memorizing every corner and always hoping that I wouldn’t confuse “save” and “load” again (which happened frustratingly often due to my lack of English skills). But apart from the language barrier, I loved everything about the game and felt I had internalized all the mechanics. Even later, when DOS had long since given way to the DOS box, I picked up Lemmings 2 as one of a few titles with a certain regularity. It never lost its charm, and I always got that “one more level…” feeling again, while I hummed the delightfully silly melodies to myself. And then the euphoria, if you finally got a little further after countless attempts! Of course, my goal was to save as many lemmings as possible, and thereby eventually win the gold medal in every level.
One specific level has been a particular headache for me over the years. Sports 6: “Blow Back…. “. I couldn’t manage to get gold in it, even though it wouldn’t occur to me how I could do anything differently. Over and over I went through my options… there were 10 jumpers, 10 stompers, and an ability that let me fill up a hole in the ground with sand. Plus a bunch of steam fountains that sent the lemmings flying into the air. A trampoline, a couple of traps, two possible goal flags. And no matter how hard I tried, there were always fatalities to mourn, which – as the maliciously flashing silver medal clearly showed me – could have been avoided with a better strategy. But I simply did not come up with it. I analyzed the level from front to back and back again without cracking this puzzle. The tribe of sports lemmings evolved into my most hated tribe because of it, and I don’t want to rule out the possibility that it is indirectly to blame for my sports grumpiness that persists to this day.
In 2020, the world was gripped by a pandemic. Perhaps you heard about it. It made us spend more time at home in front of the PC with a clear conscience, but it was also accompanied by a certain loneliness. I tried to compensate for this by starting to stream my favorite games for my circle of friends on Twitch. My first project was a challenging one: Finally play through Lemmings 2 100%! Even the sport levels! Come on, you can do it!
When I got to my hated level, the first attempts went as expected. Lemmings died, and a strategy to avoid this wouldn’t show up. Then suddenly I noticed something that turned my world upside down… one of the steam fountains stopped fountaining. The lemmings could just walk over it, which opened up a whole new set of paths for me through the level. HEY?! What had happened? I hadn’t even been aware all these years that you could deactivate them at all, and as far as I remembered, it hadn’t been relevant for any other level. It didn’t take long to find the culprit: a small red object, eight by five pixels, that I had always thought was a moderately imaginative part of the background design. Maybe some piece to tie boats to, what did I know. It was located in a remote part of the level, which one of my lemmings had reached only because I had let him jump on the off chance at another place. After a trip over a trampoline, he passed the red object, which turned out to be rotatable and deactivated the steam fountain by running past it. So this was supposed to be a valve!
And so, after more than 25 years, I finally played through Lemmings 2 completely with gold medals, because I understood the red spinning thingy by pure chance.
Lemmings 2 was published by Psygnosis in 1993. As in its legendary predecessor, the objective is to navigate a larger group of pixel creatures through dangerous levels by using brain power and a certain amount of dexterity. If you don’t give them any special abilities, they simply run straight ahead until they fall into a ravine or perish in some other way.
This post is also available in: German