Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons is a trilogy consisting of three different episodes. This review covers episode 1 of the series, Marooned on Mars. Commander Keen was released by ID Games in 1990 and developed a strong following. It essentially did for the PC what Mario Brothers did for the Nintendo. Commander Keen revolutionized PC gaming and many clones followed shortly after.
Episode 1 was released as shareware, a popular marketing strategy before demos became the trend. In Commander Keen, you play Billy Blaze, a boy genius who builds a rocket ship and travels to Mars, where he must stop the aliens from invading Earth. Yet, at the same time, he must get back to Earth before his parents wake up.
The opening screen shows a menu in front of a simulated scene from the game itself. After starting a new game, you find yourself standing next to your spaceship, which crash-landed near the south pole on Mars. Unfortunately, four of the components were broken in the landing and it is up to you to find a vacuum cleaner, antifreeze, joystick, and battery to fix your ship and return to Earth.
You are able to navigate the surface of Mars on foot and visit a number of different buildings, which may or may not contain the parts you need to fix your ship. There are also smaller levels that help you discover the secrets of this strange alien race known as the Vorticons.
Each level is platform based action. You are initially unarmed, but you can find a ray gun to shoot any aliens that get in your way. Some aliens are harmless, while others will savagely attack you on sight. There are also robots that cannot be harmed and must be evaded.
Like some other games, there are locked doors that require special keys hidden in the level. This requires you to explore the levels to find all of the secrets. Inside of the levels you will also find food items such as cola cans and mac & cheese. By gathering these food items, you get points added to your score.
You have limited lives so you can only die a finite number of times. If you aren't careful, you may lose the game, but luckily you are able to save and load your progress. If your score gets high enough, you will also be awarded bonus lives.
If you are lucky enough to beat the game (no problem for seasoned platformers), you will be treated to a nice animation to close the episode. It also gives you a cliffhanger for episode 2, but I won't spoil the story for you. After you die or win, your score will be recorded in the high scores list if it was high enough.
In conclusion, this game is perhaps the best 2D platform game ever created for the PC. I could not find any issues with the game, other than wishing that it had more levels. Luckily, there are 6 other Commander Keen games to quench the thirst of fans. Although this game is now fairly old, it is still very fun and relevant. It runs fine on most modern Windows machines, but you might find it necessary to run it through the DOSBox emulator. If you have the time, download this game and give it a try!