Taking an existing franchise that is both instantly recognizable and much loved by it’s fan base and massively changing it all is a risky move. On one hand you have the opportunity to extend or increase your core audience by allowing those who maybe didn’t get on with the previous games genre to now be able to identify and embrace this new game type or genre. On the other hand you can drastically alter the entire vibe or feel of this existing brand beyond the point of repair, all to often we have seen this with platform heroes taking up Go-Karting or original mascot’s like Pac-Man Suddenly gaining limbs and staring in massive 3D adventures.
Gaming fans are a tricky breed, they like what they like, crave more but different yet still the same. It’s a truly mind boggling mentality that often brings me to the conclusion that most fans of videogames have the most bizarre set of double standards that thanks to the rise of Social Media and the ability to actively engage developers and publishers simply confuses those making games. The end result is often something neither side wanted but both hoped for, it can ultimately destroy an entire videogame franchise, but sometimes it can produce that special moment of pure gold.
For a long time the name Psygnosis and Lemmings were world famous as both a premier UK games developer and publisher and a series of puzzle based platformers where you helped guide these cute little Lemming safely home. It was an addictive yet simple formula of using a certain amount of abilities on selected individual Lemming in order to complete the task of guiding the group out of danger. It worked a treat and from it’s origins on the Amiga 500 home computer it was a global sales success with sequels and even expansion packs (even retro games had DLC).
Upon starting the game itself it’s made clear to you that you have the standard 3 lives, a classic for any platform game that pretty much everyone by now is used too. Reading the instruction manual prior to playing also told me that Lomax has the option of 3 continues as well, so all in all 9 lives. The central theme surrounding Lomax is that of him being a Knight, except he is a really crappy one because he’s afraid of heights, can’t swim and is easily scared, this both superbly plays on the traits of Lemmings or at least the perception of them and also superbly ties the one hit kill gameplay element into the adventure. It’s very much like the system used in Ghouls & Ghosts in that if you have no power-up in place such as armour, you are exceptionally venerable.
Our hero has a basic spin attack, which by pressing the ‘X’ button twice will make him frantically spin around on the spot and if you use the D-Pad will result in seeing Lomax dash all over the screen taking out enemies. Comparisons to stuff like Taz-Man are obvious however it’s not just a cheap copy and paste of an existing gameplay formula, this works perfectly. The Spin attack is what you use to essentially smack enemies away, in order to make them good again, weird but I’ll let it pass. I suppose it’s like a slap to the face when someone is being hysterical, it’s a sudden shock that resets a persons thinking and thought processes.
Running, jumping and crouching is all there in it’s standard platform game fare and Lomax is also pretty good at climbing vines and ropes. The game has a ton of this which is a bit funny considering the bios of Lomax is that he is scared of heights - lol. As you progress through each level using the spin attack you will come across pots scattered all over the place and this is where the power-ups come into play. The destruction of these pots will often yield a helmet, this headpiece very much acts in the same way armour would in a Ghouls & Ghosts game. Instead of being hit once and dying, the helmet acts as a second hit point. It also introduces the secondary attack for Lomax.
Pressing he ‘O’ button unleashes the helmet and attacks nearby foes (if aimed correctly) which in conjunction with your basic spin now makes you a very effective killing machine. What’s even cooler is that helmet will come back to you in a boomerang style. Taking a hit from an enemy however means losing this essential power-up returning you to the one hit death scenario and rendering you much weaker to your opponents. It’s not Kasperov Chess style strategy but it does make it a slightly more thought provoking platform game than many others I can think of (I’m looking at you Bubsy).
The real genius with the control system however is the use of special ‘Abilities’ which are mostly a superb nod back to the origins of the game. At certain stages you will come to an area with a huge chasm to cross and no bridge in sight. At this point you use your control pad to open up a sub menu and pick the ‘Build’ icon to make Lomax, in classic Lemmings presentation, make small platforms. In other areas you will find yourself at a dead end, you can see the other side but there’s a massive wall of earth in the way, what are you gonna do? Pull up the sub menu, select ‘Dig’ and once more in a fantastic nod back to it’s origins, Lomax, will carve his way through the blockade. All in all there are 6 of these abilities that are each collectible at key moments to allow you to continue your adventure. No strategy involved, no RPG elements, just a cool way to highlight the games true origins and connect it to it’s forefathers so to speak, awesome!
This all changed however with the introduction of the new 32-Bit home consoles. With Psygnosis being THE primary UK games developer for the launch of the Playstation 1 console there was a lot of pressure for the studio to deliver new experiences. Wipeout was an instant and overnight mega-hit and Destruction Derby was also well received with both reviewers and consumers alike. Their biggest franchise however, Lemmings had no fared so well. The shift to 3D had rendered the game clunky, counter intuitive and in all honesty a bit of a failure on all fronts. New tech consumers wanted graphics over gameplay as this era kicked off and it looked for a while as if Lemmings would fall victim to being another in a long line of game franchises that would fail to move with the times and evolve.
Thankfully somebody in the building had a change of heart because out of the sales and critical mess that was Lemmings 3D it was decided to take the concept and give it all a bit of a shake-up into not just a better looking game but one that slotted into both a known and well loved genre (2D Platformer). The game would still be part of the Lemmings family but it would have it’s own central lead character based on said creatures from existing franchise. Rayman was still showing that excellent quality side scrolling platform games could both sell tons and showcase the power of a console. In 1996 ‘Lomax’ or ’The Adventures of Lomax’ if you lived in North America (it seems those Americans needed the obvious lemmings tag) was released by Psygnosis for the PS1 console. At the real cultural and hype apex of the system it was the perfect fusion of something old, meeting something very much new and all in a package gamers could digest.
Lemming Land has fallen under the spell of ‘Evil Ed’ who has come along and transformed all of the land’s lemming inhabitants into monsters. Lomax luckily escapes this nasty spell and so therefore sets out to bring back his fellow Lemmings, save the land from this evil curse and ultimately give Evil Ed a right good old kick in the face. It’s a simple story that makes sense and sets up just enough of a scenario to make you want to pick up the controller. With no intro sequence detailing the story, which is a real omission from a presentation aspect, the game simply boots up, plays some music then after a few seconds starts a gameplay demo.
So far much of this is very much standard issue platform genre with some cool twists to connect it to something from a completely different genre and that’s a perfectly fair and just observation. In fact if Lomax was just this then it would be nothing more than another game lost in a pile of copy and paste 2D plat formers. Where Lomax stands apart from almost every other game on the system bar Rayman is split between two key factors, it’s soundtrack and the graphics elements.
Lomax is gorgeous! For a machine designed around pushing 3D polygons all over the screen to see a 2D side scrolling plat former look this stunning and be animated so superbly is both a surprise and an absolute treat. Everything is pixel art at it’s best however considering the two people behind this game also made Flink and Lionheart on the Amiga 500 shows you that this was no fluke. In fact in all honesty this looks very much like Flink however it’s overall a better game with vastly superior animation. With multiple layers of parallax scrolling, large and detailed sprites and simply breathtaking backdrops this is eye candy from start to finish, so much attention has gone into creating, what is in essence, a living and breathing oil painting. All praise aside this is easily one of the nicest looking games the Playstation ever produced. It moves so smoothly with animation that wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney movie game like Aladdin. Whoever said the PS1 had no good looking sprite based games clearly never loaded this up because quite honestly… WOW!
Enemies are varied and of equally well executed graphical standards and nothing looks out of place at all, the backdrops and foreground action blend superbly. One level has you running around on shipwrecks with waves crashing around you and lighting effects that will make you actually stop playing just to see it all move. As you complete levels Lomax will vanish into the same kind of trapdoor that lemmings appear from in the original games, yet another superb love letter to it’s origins. As you clear each area you also get a lovely mini map of the game world showing your progress which is very Rayman and Ghouls & Ghosts but doesn’t feel like a rip-off, instead it all somehow feels original and fresh.
The second reason Lomax stands on the shoulders of so many is down to it’s music score. It’s like having choirs of angels sing you to sleep, except you won’t nod off. Every level has a music piece that is instantly memorable. A mixture of atmospheric to fit the location and catchy to ensure you hum it well after play has finished. To me it feels very much like someone put an orchestra inside my PS1 and forgot to let them out, it’s sonic heaven and if for no other reason would get this game a large number score. It just so happens that both graphically and musically this is Psygnosis showing off again. A premier developer creating a premium experience, when they felt like, Psygnosis were completely untouchable.
Verdict:- Lomax is like taking a supermodel and mixing it with Einstein, then just to top it all off it adds John Travolta to the mix and goes dancing down the street. It’s perfect. It does absolutely everything you could ever want from a platform game and it does so by not destroying or turning it’s back on it’s roots. It knows exactly what it is and proudly smiles at the world knowing it’s got you by the balls!
Games like this are rare for many reasons, not because of value attached to get it but because of the sheer number of smiles that will hit your face playing it, this is a memory builder, a love letter to the fans and a game that all Playstation owners can look at and be happy they purchased a console to play it, yes, it’s that good! Playing it made me feel like I should Thank Someone, like when you get a fantastic Xmas present and you’re supposed to write a letter to the sender. With that in mind… Dear Psygnosis, Thank You!
Second Opinion:- From a console with over 3 thousand games you would think that it would be easy to find numerous 2D platformers that were great, turns out there’s not that many. Lomax is right up there, not just because it get’s everything right but because it’s a great game to play.
Many moments of smiling are locked away in here and your Playstation controller is the key… Go turn it!
Transbot Scores:- 9 out of 10
With 44 levels to cover it’s a fairly substantial videogame, it can be a bit tricky at times however it’s nowhere near as annoying as Rayman is and the addition of password saves means it’s an adventure that can easily be completed. That’s not to say this is a bad thing because far too often games fall down because once you complete it you feel no need to play it again, with Lomax however you WILL go through it again, it’s simply too bloody amazing not too.
A superb spin-off from it’s origins it managed to superbly right the many wrongs of 3D Lemmings and give fans something different yet completely safe. It took risks for sure but they all paid off because the game is brilliant. Every single aspect compliments the other to the conclusion that The Adventures of Lomax is very much better than the excellent sum of it’s parts. It ticks every single box one could ask for and then puts a few more on the page and ticks them too, this is Psygnosis and it’s two developers in full flow, Jedi’s in their prime! With one or two presentation aspects aside there is very little to fault here, it plays like a charm, completely intuitive and nothing about it stands against the experience. The camera is great, the game world background art and sprites are incredible. Animation is astounding, seriously look at the water moving then remember this is 1996. For me this is one of, if not the, benchmark for the genre on the Playstation 1 console.
It’s quite heartbreaking to know that although this was very well received at the time by reviewers it actually sold terribly, this has helped make it a bit of a hidden gem for the system and a game that without doubt one day in 20 years or so will be picked out as a shining example of why nobody should ever underestimate the power of playstation. A 2D game on a 3D console that makes Sega Saturn fans cry it’s an essential play and in my mind one of the best things that one of the historically best developers ever did. If that doesn’t help convince you to give it a try then common sense very well may be lost on you. Play this… Yesterday!