Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Classic DOS Games: Commander Keen Episode One: Marooned on Mars

Oh yeah, now we're talking.

This game (and its entire series) are available as a pack on Steam for $4.99 outside of a sale.  That's right, 5 classic DOS games for $5.  Go get it now.  It's ok, I'll wait.

Wondering how it runs on newer versions of Windows?  Well, thanks to DOSBox, it runs just fine.  Also, thanks to DOSBox, you can go in and tweak their configs to enable various graphical enhancements.  Or not, if you want everything to look like it did back in the day.

Don't let the size of the image above fool you.  I upscaled it to 640x480 so it'd take up more space.  The game runs in 320x240.

Since I've only played the first game so far (after getting the pack), this post will just be about it.  Plus, that way, I can write more posts about the other four games.

The full title is indeed Commander Keen in "Invasion of the Vorticons" Episode One: Marooned on Mars.  Anyway, this game sets us off on the story.  Billy Blaze, boy genius, builds a spaceship out of various things he finds around his house, and travels to Mars.  While he's out exploring, the Vorticons steal four critical components of his ship and hide them around the planet, so now he has to go find them so he can get home before his parents get home.

The game is a nonlinear sidescrolling platformer.  The overworld map lets you choose the stage you want to go into.  Sometimes one of the stages is required to continue, but mostly you can pick and choose.  In each stage, you'll have to jump around and find your way to the exit.  Along the way, be sure to pick up as many of the items lying around as you can.  Most of them just give you varying amounts of points (which get you extra lives every once in a while), but there's also keys you need to get through the level and of course the ship parts.  Also useful are the raygun, which lets you "stun" enemies, and the pogo stick, which when you get it out lets you jump higher.

There are five different enemies.  The first ones you see are small green guys with one eye, but they're actually friendly.  They can block your jumps and bump you into hazards though, so watch out.  The big green guys are the ones you need to worry about early on, as they can kill you and will randomly speed up.  Fortunately your raygun will make short work of them.  There are also Vorticons guarding your ship parts, they jump around a lot and take multiple hits to kill.  There are two varieties of robots, one of which simply pushes you around, and the other will shoot you and kill you (and melt an ice block if you get stuck in one).  The final boss actually can't be killed directly with the raygun, so you'll have to find some other way to kill him.

The controls are pretty simple.  and move Keen, Ctrl jumps, Alt toggles the pogo stick if you have it, and Ctrl + Alt fires the raygun if you have it.  You can change these to your liking (or use a gamepad), but sadly you can't make the raygun its own button, it's always Jump + Pogo.

The game isn't too difficult to be honest.  It can be frustrating at times when you miss jumps or misestimate your jump distance and sail past the platform you wanted to land on, but for the most part you don't have to worry about dying.  The pogo stick is indispensable for getting to some high places, but I don't think it's required to beat the game.  Regardless, you can get it immediately after the first stage if you go into the right area.  The bulk of the difficulty comes from having to explore each stage and figure out how to get through it, and the fact that if you take a single hit, you die.  You can use that to reset a stage and get more rayguns and point items though.

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