Review by Timmy Big Hands

Reviewed: 06/19/03 | Updated: 06/19/03

The best in a crappy series

Commander Keen is an oddity in the history of PC gaming. It is an odd little story about a grade school boy genius who puts on his brother’s football helmet, puts some garbage and crap lying around his house together and makes a rocket ship. Like most careless boys would, he crash lands on Mars and sets out in search of the necessary arts to get back home. While he’s there he collects candy, food and toys, jumps around on his pogo stick, slaughters Martians with his ray gun, and collects pieces of his ship. I never knew that a football helmet was enough to protect you from the oxygen free atmosphere of Mars, but since this is an educational game, now I know.

Considering that this is a game that came after the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3, gimpily hopping around and very awkwardly shooting off a ray gun as Commander Keen is distinctly un-fun. The graphics, the sound effects that emanate from the internals of the computer, and Keen’s horribly awkward movement and combat make this a game that really doesn’t need to be played by anyone who has access to any of the console platformers. If games like this are what was supposed to be console gaming’s major competition, it’s no wonder that PC gaming has never managed to take a majority of the gaming public.

When playing the game, you use the arrow keys to move, one button to jump, one to use the pogo stick, and you press both together to fire your gun. The pogo is admittedly very useful to making those tricky jumps, but it still isn’t very enjoyably implemented. Making long-distance platforms jumps with the pogo is extremely hard, because judging and controlling the distance of jumps is next to impossible.

Enemies are a pain to deal with also. Too many times I have tried to press both buttons together and ended up jumping or bouncing on my stupid pogo stick and ended up on the business end of a green Martian’s mouth. That ain’t fun. The game isn’t that hard, but the enemies and Keen’s tendency to die after only one hit can cause a pretty high level of frustration. Take, for example, one level that is a giant maze with four keys to find that takes about a half hour or so to beat. (I’m not exaggerating) The level isn’t too tough, but after a half hour of playing, you’re bound to make at least one dumb mistake. There is nothing less enjoyable than playing a level for 20 minutes, then taking one hit and having to replay the whole damn thing over again. Make it stop!

There have been two different Keen trilogies. The first is characterized by terrible, unresponsive control, crappy internal sounds, and unbelievably ugly EGA graphics. This episode being the first would cause some to say that it is the most seminal, but this is actually the best of the three, largely because episodes 2 and 3 are next to impossible to beat. However, the level design and backgrounds aren’t nearly as imaginative as the later games. Comparisons to the sequels aside, this is the best in a crappy series, but since this game came out years after Super Mario Bros. 3 and is about as playable as Donkey Kong, I would strongly suggest staying far, far away.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

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