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Commander Keen

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: David A. Palmer Productions
Media: Cart/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Commander Keen are crisp and, while the animations of the various enemies are simple, there's enough of them to go around. Each set of levels has its own indigenous lifeforms, and it's always interesting to see what you're thrown up against next. Each world has its own distinctive visual style as well, and while the colours are simple, the graphics are very effective. A lot of things that seem like they should be platforms, in the background or not, usually are, which is a nice touch--although it makes it all the more confusing when they're not.

The sound--well, everything that can be said about GBC sound has been said. I found myself tuning it out as I played; it's not absolutely awful, but it's nothing you're going to particularly remember. Bleeps and bloops abound, with chiptune music. I didn't expect much here, and my expectations were met solidly.


While it may not have great music, Commander Keen does have a lot of action. It's a lot of difficult action, and the younger gamer may become frustrated with some of the amazingly difficult action sequences, but for those who persevere there's a lot of fun to be had with this game.

There's a storyline somewhere--rescue the three crystals from the three worlds to save the galaxy, or something--but the game itself consists of your standard platformy fare. It's somewhere between Metroid and Super Mario Bros.--while upgrading your abilities isn't part of the game, you have to find keycards that open up doors to let you pass, which usually entails some exploration and using of teleporters. Along the way you'll jump and pogo your way through reams of enemies and lots of little candy thingies you can pick up for extra points.

You have at your disposal the aforementioned pogo stick and a gun. The gun doesn't actually kill much of anything--it's used to stun the enemies, at which point you can pogo onto them to finally get rid of 'em. It's a neat mechanic, requiring quite a bit of strategy in some levels to find out just how to aim the pogo stick so you'll hit the bad guy.

There are a million jumps in this game, and some of them are amazingly challenging--but more about that in the difficulty section. There are three core worlds, each with a number of levels, and as you beat each one you open up the next. The game will also give you a password so that you can continue playing where you left off, which is nice; I would have preferred a battery backup, but such is life.

Not a lot more can be said about Commander Keen's gameplay: it's precisely what you've come to expect from a platformer. Unlike most of the genre, though, the game is tough without being impossibly so, and is complex enough to keep the older gamer coming back for more.


This is not a game for the little kiddies, I'm afraid. Even on the easiest difficulty level, there are a number of jumps that are absolutely frustrating to make, requiring many tries before you get the timing perfectly right. The enemies are always in your way as well, making life hell. Major battles are never terribly difficult, but they're certainly trying of patience, at least the first few times. The game sports three difficulty levels: the first gives you 9 continues with 9 lives each; the second gives you 7 with 7; the third gives you 5 with 5. The enemies also act more intelligently as the difficulty level goes higher. I recommend [and I don't remember the last time I did this!] starting on the lowest difficulty level: learning the game is priority. Once you've gotten a few levels down, you can try the higher ones, but be prepared to be frustrated.

Game Mechanics:

One button shoots, the other jumps. Down and jump activates and deactivates the pogo stick. That's just about it. You can't shoot down unless you're jumping, which is a necessary skill for some of the 'low-flying' enemies. The control pad is spot-on for this game, and I never felt like I was sliding around unduly. The timing seemed a bit off occasionally on the pogo jumps, and I felt like I had a few unfair instances of passing through platforms, but for the most part, the game seemed to be relatively bug-free. I like the overworld maps, even though they're just window dressing. The game has a password feature, which is nice, but a battery backup would have been nicer.

Commander Keen is hard. Real hard. If you can handle difficult platformers, though, there's a lot of fun to be had with this little cart. The adventure is big, there's a lot to do, and the game's good enough to keep you coming back for more, trying to optimize your score and minimize your deaths. Just don't think that because you could beat Super Mario Land you're going to be any good at Commander Keen. It's a solid little adventure for your GBC, and one any hardcore platformer fan should definitely check out.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Windows Heroes Chronicles: Masters of the Elements GameBoy Color/Pocket Dragon Warrior III

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