With all the sequels, remakes and clones, Lemmings for a while almost became part of gaming’s wallpaper, and so it’s hard to remember how fresh the concept was back in 1991. The aim was simple: guide a bunch of tiny bipedal lemmings home, helping them navigate hazards along the way. The lemmings automatically doddled along, and you could assign individuals special powers, such as digging, blocking, or building a ramp.
Initially an enjoyable and sweet-natured game, later levels could have you tearing your hair out as you screamed DON’T GO THAT WAY, YOU STUPID IDIOT at the screen, watching forlornly as the lemming you needed to make up your quota nose-dived to oblivion. Fortunately, catharsis came via the ‘Nuke’ command, which blew up all the remaining little buggers at once. Oh no!
The first in Bullfrog’s long-running real-time tactics series has you order a bunch of cyborg goons about an isometric landscape of corporate dystopia, intent on killing off executives from rival firms. Hostile takeover doesn’t really cover it. And there’s more than a hint of satire in the manner you can ‘persuade’ civilians and scientists to join your company's cause (their other choice being ‘death’). At the time, its scope and living world made it compelling, unique and ahead of its time; the rest of the gaming world’s long caught up, but Syndicate still manages to hold its own, especially if you’re looking for ‘alternate’ means to get ahead in the boardroom.
7. Speedball 2
We don’t know about you, but the future of sport looks pretty exciting, as armoured lunks dash about arenas, smashing metal balls into rivals’ faces, while refreshments are hawked in the distance by someone yelling ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM! over and over.
At least, that’s how Speedball 2 has it, borrowing heavily from Rollerball and early 2000 AD future-sports strips. For such an old game, there’s surprising depth, too, as you attempt to somehow transform the Luton FC of this future world (the appallingly named Brutal Deluxe) into champions.
Considered the earliest ‘god game’, Populous has you scroll about hilltops populated by uncivilised rabble. Your powers initially make you wonder whether the game should have been by Codemasters and entitled Advanced Landscaping Simulator, since you can only raise and lower land. The larger the flat areas, the bigger structures your little folks can construct, until they’re all living in houses and castles.
Your followers breed like rabbits, gain you 'mana', train up knights, and want to keep spreading. You can then send knights on to duff up the opposition and take over their land, providing a helping god-like hand by using mana to fling firestorms, earthquakes and volcanos at anyone you want rid of.
9. Turrican 2
There’s a smattering of Metroid in the DNA of Turrican 2, with you bounding about huge side-on platform-filled worlds, blowing up anything that goes for you. But Turrican 2 is very much an Amiga game, from its urgent Chris Huelsbeck soundtrack through to the rich and diverse level design that keeps hurling new challenges at you.
Perhaps the best bit is never really knowing what’s coming next. More traditional level design gradually ramps up the difficulty level over the course of a game. But in Turrican 2, you can be ambling down a corridor and suddenly find yourself desperately fending off a screens-high adversary, or discover the entire game’s suddenly transformed into a breakneck horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up. Top stuff.
Every era of videogames is transformative and in some way leaves the past behind. With the 16-bit computers, there was a desire to provide deeper and more complex experiences, but Datastorm had no truck with that. Instead, it harked back to classic arcade blasters, merging Defender and Dropzone into a lightning-fast feat of horizontal blasting action. Making use of the host hardware, it also had you face bloody great big foes like the terrifying screen-high space squid and intergalactic space skull, the latter of which still makes us think its pilots had a pretty major insecurity problem.