I am one of few people who can say they have never owned a console. That's not to say I haven't played my fair share of console games, but always using other peoplesâ€™. While everyone else was playing Super Mario on the Nintendo, I was coding Basic on something that barely resembles a modern PC. To start with, it had no mouse, and it most definitely didn't have a sound card. Commander Keen was the first ever side scrolling platform game to hit the PC and really made people stand up and realise that the PC was capable of actually playing games and not just running applications for work.
Commander Keen was also the first game ever launched by iD software, better known for its later 3D shooters such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and the Quake series. This was released in conjunction with Apogee software, giving away the first part of a trilogy as Shareware.
Apogee became the company to go to in order to get shareware games, and I spent more time than I'd like to remember playing through the countless platform game releases. I feel I should mention the original Duke Nukem platform, as this was amazing fun.
Commander Keen was based on Mars, starring eight year old Billy Blaze, who seems to spend his life saving the world. Inside each level, you do the normal things like collect lollipops, teddy bears and books for points. There are aliens that kill you, aliens that annoy you, and aliens that scare the hell out of you.
The particular monster above would charge towards you as soon as your character came on screen and used to panic me like you wouldn't believe (and still does). Luckily it was only a zap from your ray gun away from death.
Quite unique to Commander Keen was the use of a pogo stick. It was harder to control than running around as it would be bouncing the whole time, but more height could be attained and it was great fun to use. To use this, you press ALT, and CTRL is jump. Pressing both ALT and CTRL simultaneously would shoot the gun. I used to find it frustrating that I would be on the pogo stick and want to jump to a high platform and then turn off the pogo stick mid-air and it would end up firing the gun. This was fixed when Commander Keen 4 was released on a new engine, when the space bar was used to fire the gun instead. I don't have time to talk about Command Keen 4 and above, but it was every bit as good as the original and more.
Commander Keen was really the first game I played that sucked me in, with a plot, amazing graphics, multiple levels that were all very unique and sounds that really pushed the PC speaker to its limit. It was incredibly well finished. What amazes me, is how I can forget everything I learnt in Geography class, but to this day I remember all the secrets, all the tricks and the levels with amazing pixel perfect accuracy. If I mute the sound, I could do impressions of each sound effect to pitch perfect accuracy. The â€œpo-lopâ€ as you pick up a lollipop, or the â€œtucka-tucka-tucka-tooooo-up!â€ as you die.
Probably the most irritating aspect of Commander Keen was that you died the instant you hit an enemy. This meant you couldn't go charging through the game particularly fast, but instead you'd stop and think before you made your next move. This pushed the adrenaline levels even higher â€“ especially when you came across the Vorticons, where you had to react particuarly fast and shoot them three times.
I played this again recently, and I was still as scared of the Vorticons as I was when I first played it. But it was also just as enjoyable. Go and get the first episode and give it a go, tell me if I'm wrong.