Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars
Review by Clownboss
"The base from which ID Software rose to fame."
If you're an FPS(First Person Shooter) fanatic, then the name ID Software might sound familiar to you. It's notable for creating revolutionary titles such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake. However, predating all that is a little-known 2D platformer series, Commander Keen, which gave ID Software it's initial glory. The series consists of 7 games in total, and this is the very first one, made in 1990.
The game revolves around a kid genius, Billy Blaze, the grandson of the Wolfenstein 3D hero, BJ Blazkowicz. He is Commander Keen, the defender of Earth, fully equipped with his football helmet and his Bean-with-Bacon Megarocket, ready to spread justice the galaxy with an iron fist. Of course, he does all that undercover, when his parents are out of the house and his babysitter is asleep. When he tried out his rocket by having a test flight to Mars, the Vorticons, a race of blue dog-headed humanoids, stole the necessary ship components while Keen wasn't looking, so now he's stranded on the surface of Mars. It's Keen's job to get the 4 ship pieces back, restore the rocket and get back home before his parents do!
Most video game plots weren't elaborate in the late 80's and early 90's, and this one is no exception. However, it provides the player with that cutesy saturday morning cartoon feel and light humor which any kid under 12 would find amusing. And for the older people, it reminds the player of how the good old days were like, so I'm giving the plot a generous 9/10.
This is a standard 2D platformer vaguely reminding of MegaMan. The controls are simple, and consist of walking around, jumping, firing, and a pogo stick. The pogo stick helps you jump higher, and your raygun is powerful, but the ammo is scarce, meaning you'll have to spend your shots carefully. The objective of each level is to get to the end, and if possible, get the necessary ship part.
Throughout your way, you'll encounter enemies, such as Gargs, who are easy to beat, and Tank Robots, who are indestructible and can shoot at you. You'll also find Yorps and Butler robots, friendly inhabitants of Mars who do nothing but walk around the area pushing you. You'll also see many hazards, including fire pits, alien tentacles, ice-cold water and alien flora waiting to devour our hero. There's no difficulty setting in this game, and while completing the necessary levels is quite easy, completing the optional levels and getting all the treasures can be quite challenging. In my opinion, this is when the game gets really fun. Expect to die a lot in optional levels.
You can die easily in this game. Keen has no lifebar or anything, and one hit equals one kill. Therefore, the game can pack quite some adrenaline. I always remember how nervous and scared I was whenever I'd play the Keen games as a 9-year old. You begin with 4 lives, but you can easily get additional with each 20 000 points, which you can get by collecting goodies throughout the game. That gives you some aspiration to focus on score.
The only other throwback is that the game is really, really short. You can complete it in less than 10 minutes if you know what you have to do. And an hour or two if you want to complete every single level. It also holds little-to-no replay value, unless you want to make a No pogo or No ammo challenge, or a speedrun. I give the gameplay an 8/10.
The controls are really good and simple. The jumping controls are incredibly fluent and, dare I say it, better than Mario. You can easily access any platform if you're skilled enough. The one throwback is that the default control for the raygun is a combination of the Jump and pogo key, meaning you can accidentally waste ammo if you try a difficult pogo maneuver. I give the controls an 8/10.
What's impressive about this game is that it's the very first side-scroller to use 16-bit EGA graphics. The colours are very bright and cheery. And while the monster and character sprites are cute and cartoony, the backgrounds seem bare and empty. There's also no HUD of any kind, and instead you'll have to use the Space bar to see the status screen. I give the graphics a 6/10.
There's absolutely no music in this game, aside from several short preludes and such. And all other sound effects include walking, jumping, firing the weapon, etc, but these sounds are all bleepy and can annoy when they're loud. They're produced inside the PC hardware itself, and don't come out through no standard audio output, unless you use the DOSBox emulator. These sounds serve as a reminder of what PC gaming used to be like in the older days You can mute them if you want to. I personally love to replace the lack of music with some of my favourite mainstream songs. I give the sound a 4/10.
You can't buy or rent this game, it's free. Shareware, that is. You can download it easily on the internet, or you can buy the complete series from Steam for $5(Except two titles are missing: Keen Dreams and Aliens Ate My Babysitter). But I still recommend trying this game whenever you have the time to do so, as it was pivotal for the future career of ID software and thus paved the way for the FPS genre. It's short, so you can beat it in a workday morning.
-Cute, childish storyline.
-Very fun and challenging.
-Amazing jumping controls.
-Low replayability; short.
-Lack of music and annoying sound effects.
TOTAL SCORE: 7/10
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/10
Game Release: Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (US, 1990)
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