Review by RPGamerdude

"They did it! They finally did it!"

They did it! They finally did it!

Introduction:

This, as you might guess by the title, is the fifth Commander Keen game. While it is a direct sequel to Episode 4, Episodes 4 and 5 really have no relation to Episodes 1 to 3. Episodes 1 to 3 constituted the trilogy “Invasion of the Vorticons.” After those, it looked like the series could end, story-wise. Episodes 4 and 5 are a separate story called “Goodbye, Galaxy!” The only relation to Episodes 1 to 3 that 4 and 5 have is that the main villain of the overall story is the same (though he's not the final boss of Episode 5). Episode 4 had Commander Keen rescue the Oracle's Council Members, who then told Commander Keen where to find the new threat to the galaxy. In Episode 5, Keen stops the race known as the Shikadi from using a space station to blow up the galaxy.

There's also an Episode 6, which is, again, its own story. But that's a story for another day.

Gameplay:

I've been a huge Commander Keen fan since I was very young, and I was ecstatic when I found a modern-day to get the first five games. I was introduced to the series over ten years ago, and for some reason, I just didn't want to stop playing. The gameplay was very simple for me to pick up. Commander Keen moved with the arrow keys, jumped with the CTRL button, and pulled out his pogo stick with Alt. Simple enough. CTRL+Alt made him use his weapon, if he had charges. He's gone through several different guns, but they've all done basically the same thing: shoot stuff on command.

There was a change made to this when Episode 4 came out. Several changes were made, in fact. First, there was an all-new graphical style for the game, which was a lot more cartoony. Also, Keen could now fire his gun with the spacebar, which was really convenient, and made the Impossible Pogo Trick easier. But, the game played basically the same. The upgrades were nice, but it still felt like Keen.

Speaking of the Impossible Pogo Trick, here's what it means: Episodes 1 to 3 had Keen fire his gun on a simultaneous press of the CTRL and Alt keys. And if Commander Keen had his pogo stick out already, holding CTRL would make him jump higher on his next bounce. The Impossible Pogo Trick is this: When you pull out your pogo stick, press CTRL after you let go of Alt but just before Keen flies into the air. You'll get that height boost on your first jump. The reason it's called the “Impossible” Pogo Trick is because the player needs great key timing to avoid firing his gun. That's why this would be much trickier in Episodes 1 to 3. It was very useful for getting somewhat tricky, but more controlled jumps when you needed them.

Also with Episode 4 came the ability for Commander Keen to grab onto ledges. I can't tell you how many times I've needed to use that. It helps when going into enemy territory that's on a ledge, especially if that enemy happens to be a Robo Red! Robo Reds, by the way, are impossibly to defeat with shots from Keen's gun.

One more thing about Gameplay, before I forget: Episode 5 is the only one that makes Keen go through every single area of the game except for one. And that one area left out is a secret level that is only available on Medium or Hard mode games. So don't wimp out on Easy! Being forced through everywhere is one reason I love this Keen game in particular. That's why I called this review, “They did it! They finally did it!” I really wish I had reason to go through every single level of every other Keen game.

Story:

The story has got to be the biggest reason I keep coming back to this game. In this game, I get to systematically destroy a space station and the aliens who inhabit it by destroying their various power supplies. There's never really much in-game story to the Keen games, but there's a ton of backstory to each one. In the previous episode, Commander Keen had to rescue the Oracle's Council Members from various locations in the Shadowlands. The Oracle members then showed him that the Shikadi have a Doomsday Device: The Omegamatic. That's why the game's title is, “The Armageddon Machine”. If Keen doesn't destroy this, the entire galaxy is done for!

In the end, the Shikadi escape using a getaway rocket on the surface of the planet Korath III, the planet that the Omegamatic is orbiting. However, if the player plays on Medium or Hard, goes to the secret level (which is a location on Korath III) and destroys the mysterious fuse there, the rocket will fail to launch at the end, and the Shikadi will be arrested en masse. Sadly, though, Mortimer McMire, Keen's rival and the main villain of the series, still gets away. But, that just means more games! Unfortunately, the series died out after six games, so we really don't find out what happened to Mortimer.

Graphics/Sound:

The graphics of Episode 5 were similar to Episode 4, and they were probably made with the same engine/code style/whatever. For 1991, Commander Keen was actually pretty good, I think. 1991 was also the original release of Final Fantasy IV, if I'm not mistaken. Honestly, I think Keen 5 looks worlds better than FFIV. And to me, it still looks good, even today. Hell, I still like the visuals of Episodes 1-3. Each game is pretty brightly-colored, and doesn't really use a lot of different enemy types. There's maybe 10 or 20 types of enemies in each game (I think 20's kinda pushing it, though), and each game is still believable enough not to question why X enemy is in Y environment. And like I said before, I think the upgrades made between Episodes 3 and 4 were good ones. And in Episodes 4 and 5, if you let Commander Keen stand still long enough, he'd do things like scowl at the player, sit down and read a book, and maybe a couple of other things.

The sound of Episode 5 fits the environment of the Omegamatic perfectly, I think. The first level is to get you into the game, and the music sounds kind of childish to reflect this. In the second level, you're in a security area, but you haven't met any Shikadi yet. The music kind of reflects the mundane-ness of this area, too. The Defense Tunnels sound like guard stations (as they should; they're Defense Tunnels) that you're not supposed to be walking through. The various areas that power the Omegamatic really give off a technological feel, and the music always makes me think of some kind of computerized system of gears going and making everything work. The last area has this sinister-yet-epic feel to it, and it's an incredibly hard level as well, no matter what difficulty you're on. The only two musics I won't understand are the second-to-last area (which just sounds crazy) and the Korath III music (which is…bagpipes? What?). But other than that, this is very well-done.

Play Time and Replayability:

The game, on a first run on Easy, will probably take a few hours quite easily. But a few hours is not all there is to this game! There's two more difficulty levels! Medium and Hard present their own challenges, including loads more Robo Reds, and even some enemies not found in Easy. This game could easily take 24 hours to fully explore, and that sounds like a decent-length game, I think. It's very replayable, especially if you want to see how many different routes there might be through a level.

Final Recommendation:

Absolutely get this game! And there's an easy way to do it: Steam. That's right. The first five episodes of Commander Keen are available on Steam. The catch? It's gotta be the price, right? Wrong! The entire package, with all five episodes, is only five dollars! I'd've gladly paid $15 for just Episode 5! If you don't get the package for any other reason, get it for this game. You will not be disappointed. And if you don't play the others, you're really cheating yourself on a couple of good stories, too. It's readily available for dirt cheap! After you've read how good this game is, can you really resist getting it for 5 bucks? It's too easily worth it. There is no catch. It's just as I've described.

My rating is 9/10, just because of those two music tracks whose existences I do not and will never understand. GameFAQs' 9/10 rating describes this perfectly: “Outstanding – very enjoyable and engrossing, almost perfect”


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/02/08

Game Release: Commander Keen Episode V: The Armageddon Machine (US, 12/31/91)


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