Review: Commander Keen: Episode 1 (~3 hours)

The six PC Commander Keen games don’t get enough credit. In the 90’s, talk about platformers was limited to Mario and Sonic. But the PC, as early as 1990, had a great platforming series of its own, Commander Keen. A collaboration between iD Software and Apogee, the first game has a lot going for it. But there’s room for improvement as well.

The story can be selected from the main menu before you start the game. It’s a big block of text that’s rather comical, about a boy named Billie who goes to Mars on a spaceship made from household items, like a vacuum cleaner and a car battery. The aliens on Mars, called the Vorticon, steal four parts of your ship, and you’re trying to get them back.

The first level presents you with red platforms and grey walls. There is a harmless enemy in front of you, and a lot of things to collect. Commander Keen was a collectathon before the word collectathon was coined. There’s a high score list, which is mostly determined by how seriously you take collecting things. It’s a lot of lollipops and imitation Pepsi cans. Less frequent are slices of pizza, teddy bears, and books written in the Vorticon language. Every collectable gives you points. In addition to putting your name on the high score list, points can give you an extra life.

Unlike Mario, which is a two-button game, and Sonic, which is basically a one-button game, Keen is a three-button game. You have a jump, a pogo stick (which I think might be optional), and a raygun. Once you get a feel for the jumping, the game gets a lot easier. The pogo stick allows you to jump to higher platforms. Enemies can rush toward you, but the raygun takes care of most of them.

Unfortunately, the game has way too many grey walls and red platforms. This is my biggest complaint. It’s better than NES graphics but worse than Genesis. I’m not going to be too critical of graphics. This is the first game of six. The team at iD really got their act together in the latter half of the series. Also, The famous SoundBlaster card is put to good use here.

There are a number of secrets, including a hidden level, accessible from a warp point inside of another level. The levels are short. The game has lives but doesn’t have continues. I played with an SNES-style USB controller, which made the game more fun than using a keyboard.

I’m aware of Keen’s relevance. Mario was the most influential. Sonic was all about speed. Europe had their own home computer scene going in the 90’s, with their own platformers. But this is a start to a six- game platformer series from a reputable developer, iD Softwae. I had a lot of fun.


1 Comment

  1. I like the idea of a hidden level that you get to via another level. Also, I’m a collectathonner myself (I collect stuff that I find with my metal detector), so I think I would enjoy this game!

    Liked by 1 person

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