Dr. Doom’s Revenge review

With the new Spider-Man movie in the theaters now, I’ve decided to take a look at one of the earliest Spider-Man games ever made for the PC. And since the new movie is part of the MCU, I think is fitting that I review one of the few Spider-Man titles for computer more integrated into the Marvel Universe that I know of. I’m talking about Dr. Doom’s Revenge.

The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America in Dr. Doom’s Revenge (definitely a contender for the biggest game title award) is an action game developed by Paragon Software Corporation and published by Medalist International. It was originally released in 1989 for the Commodore 64, DOS and ZX Spectrum and it was re-released the following year for the Commodore Amiga, Amstrad CPC and Atari ST.

But before we take a look at the game, let’s check the cover, shall we?

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Cap: “Gee, take a look at this guy, will ya?”

The cover looks just like a comic book cover, with our villain looming over our heroes. Very fitting for a game that features classic superhero imagery and artwork. I suppose you couldn’t ask for more.

But it’s time to boot this webslinger:

The title screen, despite being colorful, is kind of ugly, artwork-wise. It has a nice music theme though. About the backstory, the game comes with a comic made by Marvel itself, explaining why our heroes are facing Dr. Doom. But about the comic itself, maybe I should someone else properly review it:

(Video courtesy of Atop the Fourth Wall)

Thanks Linkara! And don’t worry, I’ll handle the game.

The game starts right after the comic ends, with Spider-Man and Captain America splitting up to cover more ground, so the game alternates between both. It starts with a comic panel featuring Captain America and then changes to a side-view in which you control the character against a robot. Then after defeating said robot, it goes back to the panel to continue the story and then back again to the side-view where you need to avoid some traps. And then it goes to another panel, now featuring Spider-Man. And that’s practically the entire game, with both heroes facing enemies and avoiding traps with comic panels serving as sort of cutscenes, telling the story as it happens.

But it’s during the action sequences that the game turns ugly. From terrible controls, to awful animation and pitiful sound effects. This is not a fun game to play!

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I didn’t knew that Danny Trejo was part of the MCU!

The side-view depicts all the action and characters, while the bottom depicts pictures of said characters along with their names and health bars. Spider-Man, however, gets a second bar reflecting the level of his web-fluid. And during the stages where you have to avoid traps, a “Super Hero Challenge” image appears at the bottom, next to our character’s health bar.

The graphics aren’t anything special, with very ugly (but colorful) sprites during the action scenes and the artwork in the comic panels range from ugly to acceptable. At least some of the backgrounds during the action stages are somewhat nice and detailed.

There are only three music themes throughout the game: at the title screen, at the game-over screen and at the ending screen, after defeating Dr. Doom. There’s no more music during the rest of the game. And the sound effects are as basic as possible with a lot of screeching noises.

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Arch-nemesis?! Red Skull isn’t going to like that.

But perhaps the worst parts of the game are the controls and the animation. The animation is almost non-existent, with the characters moving extremely slowly. And as far as the controls go, I actually recommend the keyboard over a joystick or gamepad. The controls are limited to an action button and arrows and it’s easier to use the numeric keypad over the keyboard arrows. You have to press the action combined with a direction in order to attack your enemies and the distance between your character and your enemies determines which attack you’ll use. So you have to be far from the enemies for your character to use their signature attacks (Captain America throwing his shield and Spider-Man using his webs). There aren’t any special or particularly strong attacks, but some of the latter enemies do have special attacks that can drain your health bar.

But what makes the game particularly hard, it’s the fact you only have one life and no way to recharge your health bar (and neither Spidey’s webfluid). Also there are some traps that are insta-kill and if one of the characters dies, it’s automatically game-over. Even in the easiest difficulty setting! And then it’s back to the beginning.

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“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does everything a spider can”

Depending on your skill (or luck), the game isn’t very big, but a tremendous amount of patience is required to finish it. And after finishing it once, there’s virtually no reason play it again. Despite the fact that it features several villains from both characters’ rogues gallery.

So, the only good things I can say about the game is that it has a good title theme and some of the backgrounds are well detailed, but the gameplay is just dreadful. The comic that comes with the game is also quite good but still, I can’t recommend this game, not even to Marvel fans.

I haven’t played the other versions, but the Amiga version seems to have better animation though. If you want to give it a shot, you can play it right here in your own browser.

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“When Captain America throws his might shield”

And if you want to kick Dr. Doom’s ass with Spider-Man and/or Captain America, there are several other games out there, each one better than this one.

So, what’s your favorite Marvel game and/or hero? Comment below and let me know. I think I’ll go the cinema and check out Spider-Man Homecoming. Well, see you around and keep on swinging and playing.

Daughter of Serpents/The Scroll review

If you read the title, you must be wondering: am I reviewing two games at once? Not exactly. Actually I’m reviewing two versions of the same game: a floppy disk version (Daughter of Serpents) and a CD-ROM version (The Scroll), which contains extra scenes and alters the gameplay significantly from the floppy version.

Daughter of Serpents is a graphic adventure developed by Eldritch Games and published by Millennium Interactive. It was originally released in 1992 for DOS and re-released in 1995 as The Scroll by Nova Spring and Psygnosis in CD-ROM format.

Eldritch Games was a small company based in the UK, that began making role-playing tabletop and board games based on the Cthulhu Mythos. But later, they decided to move to videogames and in 1989 released The Hound of Shadow, a text-adventure that was well received by gamers and critics alike.

But back to Daughter of Serpents/The Scroll, let’s look at the covers, shall we?

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No, I assure you, this isn’t Cleopatra.

As you can see, it features an Egyptian-style queen surrounded by Ancient Egyptian imagery, but featuring prominently serpents, including two at her feet. Although the game isn’t set in Ancient Egypt, it still gives a mysterious look about it.

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OK, who brought the snake to the Egypt exhibition?

This one’s more simple, but still as effective. It shows some hieroglyphs surrounded by a snake.

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Now this one has a more ominous look, with the smoke rising and the figures on the side. While with the other two covers, one might get the impression of the game being set in Ancient Egypt, this cover has a more archaeological aspect to it, like you’re about to discover Tutankhamun’s tomb.

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

Sorry for only showing The Scroll intro here, but I had some issues with the floppy version, and besides, both versions have very similar intros. As you can see, a boat arrives at Alexandria, Egypt in 1925 and one of the passengers, when exiting the boat, is killed by an Arab, who’s then shot by the police, but then, the Arab turns into a man-serpent hybrid just before dying. And it’s with this mystery that the game starts, hooking the player’s attention.

But before starting the game, Daughter of Serpents gives you the innovative option to choose between 9 established characters or create your own. This character creation option hearkens back to the company’s past as a RPG developer and was also featured in The Hound of Shadow.

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In creating your character, you can choose his/her gender, nationality (UK or US) and profession. In it, you can choose between nine: Egyptologist, Traveler, Sleuth, Private Eye, Mystic or Occultist. Then you have to spend your remaining points in several skills, including skills outside your chosen profession. To get a better understanding of the character creation, I recommend reading The Alchemist of Istanbul, a pen and paper RPG which also serves as an introduction to the game’s story and came included with the game itself.

So how does the different characters impact the story and the gameplay, if it’s an adventure game? Well, according to the chosen profession, you can play 3 different adventures, although the basic story remains the same and the different skills change the dialogue significantly. It increases the replay value drastically by encouraging you to try different variations of professions and skills.

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Exploring the museum.

I just wish the rest of the game was equally impressive. The game has a first person perspective with still images, featuring average quality graphics and minimal animation. The gameplay consists in a point and click interface with your mouse icon changing between several functions. While the mouse interface can be more or less intuitive (except when giving objects to other characters, which requires some pixel-hunting), the inventory system is very cumbersome, as you simply put objects freely in the inventory screen and it’s quite easy for a big object to obscure a smaller one. Not to mention, that to operate a specific object, you need to move it to a different screen (the floor screen) and then use it there (unless it’s to interact with another object and/or character).

In the inventory screen, you can find at the start of the game, a map (for traveling) and two books: a guide explaining all the Ancient Egypt mythology relevant to the game’s story (couldn’t this be in the manual?) and a option called Essentials, which is basically the game’s option screen. Yes, to access the game’s options (including the save and load options), you need to click your left-mouse button three times in very specific places. This is very counter-intuitive and time wasting for a graphic adventure! The other book is a diary describing your progress (couldn’t this be the options screen?).

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Why, hello there, gorgeous!

But at least the story, characters and dialogues aren’t bad. The story has some Lovecraftian elements seamlessly intertwined with the mythology, although I considered it more supernatural suspense than horror, but still quite enjoyable. The game doesn’t have many characters to interact with but it has a lot of dialogue which is displayed in speech bubbles like in a comic, with certain words in red for dialogue options.

Of all the three adventures, the Occultist/Mystic one seems the most satisfying to play and explores more of the story, while the Egyptologist/Traveler one seems the smallest and the least enjoyable to play. The same goes for the endings. But whatever adventure you’re playing, the game isn’t hard for experienced players and the gameplay is very linear, especially towards the end.

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Exploring the catacombs.

The music is adequate and provides proper atmosphere but the sound effects are a bit lacking. Also, there isn’t a proper tension during the final part of the game, which is something that a game based on the Cthulhu Mythos should provide. You know, the tension, isolation and vulnerability that are common Lovecraftian themes.

But in The Scroll, some big changes were made. It isn’t a remake by any means, but more of a remastered version in which the animation, sound and music are vastly improved. It also contains voice acting throughout the game (with some speech bubbles for dialogue options), which is quite good for the time, but the dialogue remains more or less the same.

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Messing with the wrong Out……….. *starts foaming from mouth*

It also expands the locations, including a bazaar that wasn’t in the floppy version and some new characters. But the biggest change is the lack of a character creation option. Instead you choose between two established characters: an English male Egyptologist or an American male Mystic. Yes, now you only have two adventures to play and although they’re expanded from the previous version, it severely limits the replay value. And the Egyptologist part is still very short in comparison with the Mystic part.

The emission of the character creation option also denotes another thing: in Daughter of Serpents, you could create a female character and although it didn’t have any impact in gameplay or story, there weren’t many games with female protagonists back in the 90s and the fact that The Scroll only has male protagonists doesn’t help. It should have been one male and the other female.

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Is that Teela’s cobra hood?

So in general, although both versions have a good story and atmosphere with some very interesting ideas (especially the character creation) that elevates it somewhat above the rest, its execution is less than stellar. Like I said before, the inventory system is a mess and the gameplay is very easy and linear. The lack of a character creation in The Scroll turns it into another average adventure game. I can’t really recommend it, but you might want to give Daughter of Serpents a shot. If so, then click here to play in your own browser.

Well, do you like games based on the Cthulhu Mythos? If so tell me which are your favorites in the comments below. I’ll see you guys around and till then………………..PH’NGLUI MGLW’NAFH CTHULHU R’LYEH WGAH’NAGL FHTAGN

Tetris Retrospective

Today I’ve decided to do something different. And if you read the title, I’m sure you’ve, at least, heard about Tetris. If not, welcome to planet Earth and I apologize about all the craziness, but I’m sure you’ll love to hear about this game. So join us at taking a look at a very popular game (that defined the puzzle genre), its history and its most famous versions and ports.

Tetris was created in June 1984 in Soviet Russia, when Alexey Pajitnov, a 28-year-old computer engineer working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, decided to program a puzzle game to test the capabilities of the Electronika 60 computer. Based on the puzzles he played as a child, Pajitnov programmed shapes formed from combinations of 4 blocks, which he named tetrominoes. And combining that word with tennis, he created Tetris:

1st version of Tetris. (Video courtesy of the Sergei Frolov)

As you can see, the gameplay is extremely easy to understand. You only need to combine all the different shapes as they fall until a horizontal row is filled. Then said row disappears, clearing that particular line, up to a total of 4 consecutive rows. After a certain number of cleared rows, the blocks start to fall faster and faster, increasing the difficulty until the entire playing area is full, prompting a game-over.

Pajitnov showed the game to his colleagues at the Academy, who became easily addicted to it and two of them, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov (who was 16 at the time) helped Pajitnov to port the game to DOS and later distribute it through BBS in 1995.

This is the DOS prototype found on the Tetris Gold compilation by Spectrum Holobyte.

After being smuggled to Hungary, it spread across Europe like a virus until it fell to the hands of British software publisher Andromeda, who after failing to secure the rights from Pajitnov due the Cold War politics at the time, decided to illegally sell its rights to Mirrorsoft and Spectrum Holobyte, who then released the first commercial versions of the game for several computers, featuring Russian imagery and music.

This is the 1st commercial DOS Tetris game by Spectrum Holobyte.

But back in Russia, following the initial success of the game, Pajitnov was forced to give the rights of Tetris to Elektronorgtechnica (Elorg), a state-run organization, for 10 years. But Elorg’s director at the time, Alexander Alexinko, found out that Andromeda was selling Tetris rights (which they had no legal claim to) to almost everybody, including Atari, Sega and a certain Dutch publisher called Henk Rogers.

Tetris arcade version by Atari. (Video courtesy of 90’s Arcade Games)

Henk Rogers’ participation was key in finally securing the rights. After watching a version of the game in the Las Vegas’ Computer Electronic Show in 1988, Rogers saw its potential and broke a deal with Nintendo, but unfortunately, Tengen (a subsidiary of Atari) already made a version of Tetris for the NES:

Tetris for the NES by Tengen (Video courtesy of EMN Company)

Rogers then travelled to Russia to properly secure the rights from Elorg and Pajitnov. But he wasn’t alone. Robert Stein from Andromeda and Kevin Maxwell from Mirrorsoft also travelled to Russia for the rights to Tetris.

What happened later was the stuff of legends (so much so, that Hollywood wants to make a movie trilogy based on it), from the fact that Rogers travelled with a tourist visa instead of a business visa (which could have put him in a very tight spot) to even an appeal from Mirrorsoft to Mikhail Gorbachev to mediate all the legal chaos. But Rogers, using his charm and with Pajitnov’s help, finally secured the rights for Nintendo. Although the battle for the rights would continue to rage on through the following years.

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Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers in Moscow, 1989

Nintendo then, with the rights properly secured, mass-produced Tetris for their new portable console, the Game Boy! And they had the masterstroke to bundle Tetris with each copy of the Game Boy, insuring Tetris’ place in videogame history.

Tetris for Game Boy (Video courtesy of 316whatupz)

And after releasing their own version for the NES, Nintendo then forced Atari and Sega to recall their own copies from the market, claiming sole ownership of Tetris for consoles. Which made the Tengen NES and the Sega Mega Drive versions of Tetris so rare, they’re considered extremely valuable among collectors nowadays.

Tetris for the Mega Drive (Video courtesy of Oberon Gaming)

But it was the Game Boy version released in 1989 that became the most famous version of Tetris, due to its portability combined its addictive nature and simplicity, that even people that never thought about playing videogames, could easily play and enjoy it anywhere! Also, an arrangement of a Russian traditional song, Korobeiniki, became so associated with Tetris, that people still call it the “Tetris theme”. In fact, it became so popular that Andrew Lloyd Webber (you know, the guy behind the Cats and The Phantom of the Opera Broadway musicals) even recorded a dance remix with Nigel Wright under the name of Doctor Spin:

Yes, this is your brain on Tetris

But our story doesn’t end here. In 1996, the rights of Tetris reverted back to Pajitnov, who then with Rogers, funded the Tetris Company and trademark not only the name, but every aspect of the game, regulating every license and prosecuting every unlicensed version and clone. Pajitnov and Rogers also created other puzzle games, but never recreated the success they had with Tetris. But they still produce new versions with new features up to this day.

Tetris basically reshaped all the puzzle genre and even the videogame industry itself. Its gameplay is extremely simplistic and yet, extremely addictive. Its accessibility however is what makes Tetris so enjoyable. Seeing someone with disabilities that can’t play typical videogames, enjoying a simple game like Tetris, is a sight to behold. And it opened the Western world a bit more towards Russian culture, so I think I’m not exaggerating when I say Tetris is a true icon of Humanity.

Important Links:

So, what did you think of my retrospective of Tetris? I hope I made it proper justice. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please leave it in the comments below. Next time, is back to basics. Till then, keep on stacking those blocks.

J.B. Harold Murder Club review

Sometimes there are games out there that seem simple enough and hardly make more than a blip in the radar. But sometimes they get noticed by other reasons outside the game itself or even develop a cult following, or even sometimes they’re successful in one country but hardly register in another country. Not to mention how much the game was influenced by and how much it influenced other games afterwards. Today we’re going to take a look at one such game: J.B. Harold Murder Club.

J.B. Harold Murder Club is an adventure/mystery game originally developed and published by Japanese company Riverhill Soft for the PC-88, PC-98, Sharp X1 and the FM-7 computers in 1986. It was released again in 1988 for the MSX and Sharp X68000 and in 1989 for the NES. It saw its first remake for the Turbografx-CD in 1990 and translated and brought to the US the following year for the same console, while the original version was released in the US for DOS that same year. The remake was again released (in Japan only) for the FM-Towns in 1992 and for Windows in 1996. A second remake was made for the Nintendo DS in 2008 under the title Keiji J.B. Harold no Jikenbo: Satsujin Club.

Only the DOS and Turbografx-CD versions were ever translated and released here in the West and although the Turbografx-CD is the most famous version, the game was originally released for the PC-88, which is a personal computer, which makes the DOS version eligible for review here.

But first, let’s take a look at the cover, shall we?

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No, this isn’t a Casablanca adaptation, although that would be cool

The cover definitely has a very noir feel to it, with the gun and the detective smoking in the background. A bit generic nowadays, but not a bad one for a mystery title. And because of all the other covers being variations of this one, there’s no real need to show them.

But it’s time to boot this gumshoe:

The intro is simple and gets to the point: a wealthy businessman named Bill Robbins was found stabbed to the death and it’s your job as a police detective to find the culprit and bring him or her to justice. Although they aren’t bad, I wish the intro screen showed more than some woman’s legs. The intro theme is surprisingly good and pumps you up for the game.

The game starts in your office where your secretary, Catherine, encourages you to give your best in solving the case. And from there you can go out to investigate by interviewing the witnesses and the victim’s friends and relatives. And I hope you’re still pumped from the intro theme because that’s the only piece of music you’ll hear until the end. That’s right, there’s no music throughout the entire game, only at the intro and ending.

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The gameplay consists of choosing a command from a list situated at the right of the screen, with the text appearing at the bottom. From the command list, you can chose your destination (when travelling) and other options when interviewing people or searching for clues, with the main screen showing the places and people through still images.

You’ll have to constantly return to your office, either to request warrants from the prosecutor, interrogate suspects and present clues to the crime lab, but also it’s the only place in-game where you can save and load games and check your progress.

With still images, several lists of commands to choose from and no music whatsoever, the gameplay quickly becomes very monotonous, especially since you need to trigger specific dialogues and events, which then prompts a lot of backtracking and return to the same locations or people for new dialogues and clues. You can’t even get search or arrest warrants until you get a specific clue or dialogue that might be or not related to a specific suspect.

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Time to get cracking. Those pillows look suspicious

Also, there’s so many information to discover that unless you have a superb memory, I recommend taking notes about everything and everyone, so as to not get lost in the middle of the investigation.

And that’s not the worst of it. First a little spoiler warning:

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Near the end, you might get a good idea of who the killer is, but he/she won’t confess until all other suspects confess their own crimes and/or motivations. Only after gathering and fully investigating all the evidence and clues and getting confessions from all the other suspects, does the killer finally confesses the crime.

OK, spoilers over! Back to the review.

Although this version of the game was released in 1991, it has the EGA graphics and sounds of an late 80s DOS game (because that’s when the game was made), although the art style is very westernized, just like the rest of the game. If I didn’t know, I would swear this was a western game, based only on the graphics and story. And because of the still images, it has virtually no animations whatsoever.

And the mystery itself is actually well written, albeit quite cliché. In fact, it uses most of the basic mystery tropes, including the fact that the victim was an asshole, thus increasing the number of suspects with motivations to kill him. But the final twist is actually quite good.

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“Just the facts, ma’am”

So, apart from the mystery itself, this game is quite monotonous to play, with a lot of repetition and backtracking. But I won’t deny it has good dialogue and the most of the characters are interesting. So if you have lots of patience and love mystery titles, you might give it a shot.

The Turbografx-CD version has better graphics (including still photos), a great intro with good animation, voice-over, some extra screens and music throughout the game, although it still has the same boring gameplay. But now with the music, it’s a bit less monotonous. I have no idea about the Nintendo DS remake, though.

The Turbografx-CD version had more success than the DOS version, not only because of the above, but also due to a little controversy: at the beginning of the game, there’s mention of an unsolved rape case. Now, that doesn’t seem a big deal, but since console games were originally targeted to children and teens and because there wasn’t any mature warning in the game’s box, you can see why it raised some eyebrows. IMO, the rape case was an attempt to make the game look more noir and gritty, but it’s possible that the developers might have second thoughts about it, because it’s hardly mentioned again throughout the game.

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“And I mean all of your steps”

Still, even with this controversy, the game was quickly eclipsed by other mystery titles, like the Sherlock Holmes series. However, it had a great success in its native Japan, because not only it had 2 remakes, but also four sequels. It also developed some cult following here in the West, enough to release an iOS version of the second game in the series, Manhattan Requiem.

The J.B. series were also responsible for influencing the visual novel genre, which has been quite popular in the East for many years and has recently becoming popular here too in the West. So, despite being mostly forgotten by now and aged very poorly, one can not deny the influence that Murder Club had in some modern titles, especially in dialogues and character interaction.

If you’re interested in trying it out, you can play it here in your own browser.

What are your favorite mystery games? Tell me by commenting below. Next time, I’m going to do something a bit different with a game everyone knows, and I mean everyone! Till then, keep on playing.

Commander Keen Episode I review

One of the early ways to distribute computer software before the advent of the Internet was through shareware. Shareware, like the name implies, is basically the sharing, copying and free distribution of software between its users, with little restrictions placed upon it. It was a great way for small software companies to present and distribute their products. Not to be confused with demos!

Demos were little programs with most of its features non-existent while shareware software either had ads encouraging its users to register it or locked features that could be unlocked by entering a license key, which was given to the user upon registration.

While shareware initially appeared in the early 80s, shareware games appeared in the early 90s by the hand of companies like Apogee, Id Software, Ambrosia and Epic MegaGames. Unlike demos, shareware games had a lot more content and gameplay that was either limited or divided in episodes, in which the first episode was always free to the public, to encourage gamers to buy the other episodes.

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Example of registration screen in a shareware title

To get a free shareware game (or episode) back then, you could either download them through BBS (public servers that were a precursor to the World Wide Web), obtain them through cover-disks that came bundled with software magazines or ask a friend for a copy.

This distribution model became so popular that introduced some of the most important games in videogame history, like Doom or the Duke Nukem series. But today we’re going to take a look at the game responsible for the creation of legendary studio Id Software. I’m talking about Commander Keen.

Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons is a platform game developed by Ideas from the Deep (before becoming Id Software) and published by Apogee Software. Its first episode, Marooned in Mars, was released for DOS in 1990 and it’s the one I’ll be reviewing today.

But before taking a look at it, let’s talk about its history first: Commander Keen came to be when famous game designer, John Carmack, came up with a way to program graphics with smooth scrolling in any direction, which could be used to create computer games capable of rivalling 8-bit console games.

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From left to right: John Carmack, Kevin Cloud, Adrian Carmack (in the back), John Romero, Tom Hall and Jay Wilbur.

Carmack showed this to Tom Hall, who then had the idea of recreating the first level of Super Mario Bros. 3 with Carmack. Then the pair showed their work to another famous designer, John “Beautiful Hair” Romero, who (along with Jay Wilbur and Lane Loathe) suggested creating a full demo of Super Mario Bros. 3 in order to pitch Nintendo for a possible PC port. But Nintendo, while praising their efforts, refused the pitch because they wanted their games to remain exclusive to their consoles (except for Mario edutainment titles, but that’s a story for another day).

Meanwhile, Romero was in contact with Scott Miller from Apogee in an unrelated matter and after Nintendo’s rebuttal, decided to send Miller the Mario demo, saying that Ideas from the Deep (the mini-studio founded by Romero, Hall and Carmack) could perfectly create an original game using that engine and Miller was so impressed by the demo that he gave them a stipend to develop the game before Christmas of 1990 and to divide it in 3 parts in order to accommodate Apogee’s shareware model. And the rest is history.

Because shareware games weren’t distributed in game boxes, there wasn’t any cover art of the game back then. However since 1998, Apogee has been distributing Commander Keen online and came up with this artwork to serve as cover:

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Commander Keen, defender of Earth

It’s not bad. Very reminiscent of old sci-fi posters, which the game takes a lot of inspiration from.

But I’ve been wasting everyone’s time so far. So here’s the intro and the first level of the game:

As one can see, because the game wasn’t shipped with a manual, all the information, such as instructions and backstory, is found in the game itself.

You play as Billy Blaze, an 8 year-old child prodigy, who designed his own starship and dons his older brother’s football helmet to become COMMANDER KEEN – DEFENDER OF EARTH!

One night, while his parents are away and his babysitter is asleep, Billy takes his spaceship to explore Mars, but soon after, the evil Vorticons steal four important pieces of his ship, stranding Billy. Now Billy has to explore Mars and recover his ship’s parts and return home before his parents arrive.

Immediately from the start, you get access to a overworld map, where you can control Billy and access levels in a somewhat non-linear fashion. Although the overworld map isn’t very big, you can enter 15 levels (plus an extra secret level), which get increasingly bigger and harder. The levels are divided in 2 types: the cities and the shrines. The cities are the main levels and are represented on the map as big buildings. You only have to finish those that have the ship parts in order to finish the game. The shrines are represented as small, blue buildings and although they’re smaller levels, they’re not necessarily easier. The shrines are optional, but they do have items that give points and others that make the gameplay easier.

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Stranded on Mars with a broken ship…

In these levels, you control Billy from left to right and jump in several platforms to avoid enemies and other hazards. You can also use Billy’s raygun to fight the enemies, but it’s void of charges at the beginning and you have to collect ammo for it. You can also collect other items, like lollipops, soda cans (that look like Pepsi), books, pizza slices and teddy bears for points, of which you get an extra life for every 20,000 points.

But what you really need to collect, apart from the ship parts, are the keycards to open doors and the pogo stick. The pogo stick, which can be found in one of the early shrines, is probably the most useful tool in your possession, which makes possible for Billy to reach higher platforms and secret areas where more items are available for extra points (and lives).

The levels are all pretty well designed, especially some cities, which contain big mazes full of traps and enemies. The game is also very colorful and the sprites, albeit somewhat small, are well detailed. The enemies’ animation is also quite simple but smooth, and Billy himself is well animated.

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The sound effects, while simple, are adequate and serve their purpose well. Too bad that the game lacks music, because graphically is just begging for it! Still, there’s so many sound effects, that you won’t miss it terribly. But I won’t deny it would be nice to have music.

But the best part of the game for me, besides level design, are the controls. Whether you’re playing with the keyboard or with a gamepad, the controls are tight and responsive. If you fall to your death, it’s your own fault, not the controls’.

With 16 total levels, the game has a proper length to it (unless you play only the obligatory levels), but with the lack of difficulty levels, the game feels very easy, especially if you’re used to platformers. Except for the secret level, which is actually hard.

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The most important item in the game

Marooned in Mars pales in comparison with the Mario and Sonic series, but it’s still a solid platformer with great controls and overall good level design. It had so much success, it gave the means for Carmack and Romero to properly fund Id Software and later create Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, which created the first-person shooter genre. So, if it wasn’t for Commander Keen, the FPS genre as we know it, wouldn’t probably exist. For that reason alone, Commander Keen more than deserves a spot in videogame history.

Now you must be asking, why did I only review the first episode instead of the entire trilogy? Well, for 2 reasons: first, I think Marooned in Mars has a game length more or less equal to other shareware games at the time and second, the other episodes introduced new features, despite being made at the same time. Don’t worry, I’ll review the other episodes in due time.

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Damn slippy ice!

And because the first episode was released freely, you can find it almost everywhere. But in case you don’t know where to look, you can download it here at the 3D Realms page or play it here in your own browser. Or if you’re looking for the entire trilogy, you can buy it here on Steam, along with its sequel Goodbye, Galaxy. Also you download fan-made mods and levels here.

So, do you like PC platformers? Which one is your favorite? Leave your comments below. Next time, we’ll take a look at a very odd game IMO. Till then, put on your favorite football helmet and keep on playing!