Review: Commander Keen 2: The Earth Explodes (~7 hours)

This is a faithful sequel to the original Commander Keen. Gameplay is very similar to the original, but Keen 2 has more of what the original offered. The traps are more perilous, the enemies are more frequent, and there are, in total, more things to collect. Commander Keen 1 & 2 are the best (and most similar) of the original trilogy before Keen 3 goes off the rails a bit.

After Keen returns from Mars in the first game, he notices the Vorticon Mothership in the sky, seemingly ready to attack the Earth. Keen boards his trusty spaceship and lands on the mothership. If he defeats the Vorticon, they cannot destroy the Earth. It’s a little reminiscent of Star Wars and the Death Star, but that’s fine. The story is mostly there to reinforce what you see and do in the game. The Vorticon are controlled by the “Grand Intellect.” You can talk to Vorticon Elders aboard the ship, and they share the wisdom of the Grand Intellect with you.

Again, gameplay is similar. You collect chocolate bars, soda cans, cake, and cheeseburgers, which add to your score. Hitting score markers gives you extra lives, and overall score counts for the high score board. Presumably, there’s a maximum score in the game, so it might be fun to try to get a score that can’t be topped.

There are Vorticon Grunts and Vorticon Elites in this game which serve as some of the more challenging enemies. In truth, these enemies look like wolves in jumpsuits. Similar looking Vorticon were in the previous game, but didn’t appear as frequently. The Grunts and the Elites require a different number of shots from your pistol to be dazed. Unlike the first game, making sure you have enough ammo is now critical. Other enemies include a Vorticon that you can stand on while it scales walls called a Scrub. Finally, there’s a Guard Robot, which is always firing shots, generally guarding a set of collectibles. It’s pretty hectic around these things.

On the mothership, you find that the Vorticon stole things like the Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower. These prized items are stored in machines, guarded by one or many Vorticon Elite. Beat or avoid them, and shoot the machine to reclaim some of Earth’s greatest man-made creations. Finding these machines gives the game a new sense of purpose. I counted eight in all, from start to finish.

Graphically, it’s running on the same engine, but it’s not quite as boring as Keen 1’s red platforms and gray walls. The platforms are now blue, and the backgrounds are checkered. But there are new additions, like fire pits to cross, bridges that can be extended, and tunnels that can be entered. Even so, the visuals still aren’t very exciting, but the series starts to look fantastic by Keen 4.

Keen 2 is a longer game than the first, and truthfully it feels like the developers are giving you more of what the first game offered. There is precise timing to Keen’s every move, and mastering the controls and defeating Vorticon can be a lot of fun. Keen 3 is sort of the only oddball in the six game series. With Commander Keen 1-5 available on Steam at a low price, Keen 2 is a fun one. It’s largely the same as Keen 1, but offers more.



  1. Sounds like a mega-version of Keen. Your review is written with Grand Intellect . . . er, I mean, it’s well written! Interesting that the prizes are cheeseburgers and sodas, not cubes of tofu and a kale salad! Good job with the review!


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