By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on October 3, 2014

On this episode of the Crimson Chin Time machine we are magically being whisked back to 1990, to witness the birth of a game series that singlehandedly boosted the worldwide sales of pogo-sticks. What? Yes, it has. No, of course no research has been done to verify this. What do you mean I made it up?! Now you’re just being obtuse. No, don’t say another word. I mean it! Listen, I think it would be best if you just leave. Yes, leave! No, don’t cry. Ok, bye then…

I’m so sorry you had to witness that, ladies and gentlemen. That ought to teach me to take my medicine on time. Where were we? Oh yes…Pogo sticks! Well boys and girls, get ready to revisit… Commander Keen!

In the Commander Keen series we witness the adventures of Billy Blaze. Billy is an eight-year-old boy genius who has constructed a spaceship in his backyard from old soup cans and other household objects, called The Bean-with-Bacon Megarocket. When his parents are out and the babysitter falls asleep, he dons his brother's Packers helmet and becomes Commander Keen, Defender of Earth.

Originally launched in 1990, Commander Keen would eventually span 7 games and provide us gamers with countless hours of platforming fun. The first three games (Marooned on Mars, The Earth Explodes and Keen Must Die!) formed the ‘Invasion of the Vorticons’ trilogy, and saw our favorite helmeted hero battling the evil Vorticon forces, on Mars as well as on earth.

After defeating the Vorticons and singlehandedly saving the human race (no mean feat for an 8 year old), it’s time for ‘Commander Keen: Keen Dreams’. Billy refuses to eat his vegetables one night, and is sent off to bed without supper. After being fast asleep for a while, he wakes up in a strange vegetable kingdom under the rule of the evil and infamous potato king Boobus Tuber. Boobus has captured more children, so it’s up to our crusading commander to free them. All the enemies in this game are…yes, you’ve guessed it…vegetables. Keen has to fight his way through levels with names like Parsnip Pass or Brussels Sprout Bay. In this episode, Keen doesn’t have his trusty pogo stick and instead of his ray gun, he wields a pistol that turns enemies into flowers, albeit only temporary.

Keen Dreams is followed by the duology ‘Goodbye Galaxy’, which is comprised of ‘Secret of the Oracle’ and ‘The Armageddon Machine’, and sees the series returning to its original premise. The earth is going to be destroyed by nasty aliens (is there another kind?) and Keen is the boy to stop them. The levels in this duology are massive in comparison to previous games, and the game mechanics were also upgraded, which made for a smoother game play then before.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, even Commander Keen. But not before he had one final challenge in the form of ‘Aliens ate my baby sitter!’ Billy’s babysitter Molly has been kidnapped by the nefarious Bloogs, so once more Billy dawns on his brother’s football helmet, grabs his pogo-steed and ray gun, and crosses the galaxy to save this damsel in distress. My personal favorite in the series, Aliens Ate My Baby Sitter! features fantastic level design and (from time to time) excruciatingly frustrating challenges while making your way through Bloog strongholds on the planet Fribbulus Xax. Nevertheless, it was fun to play then, and still is to this day (trust me on this, I know…)

So there you have it, a rundown of what very well might have been my first addiction ever! While there is another Commander Keen game for the Game Boy Color (2001), I choose to ignore this fact. I say this mainly because it’s not part of the original series, and frankly, because it wasn’t that good. These seven games however, do make up the official Commander Keen series and therefore deserve to be played over and over again, which has become indefinitely easier since their re-release on Steam in 2007…

So steal your brother’s helmet, buy a pogo stick, build a ray gun and a rocket ship and be as Keen as you can be!

id Software
1990 - 1991