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Have You Played... Commander Keen?

Pre-apocalyptid

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

The year: 1994. Me: a teenage goth who had never seen anything more amazing than the chainsaws and demons hellscape of Doom.

Imagine, then, my reaction when I found that the people who made Doom hadn't been forging dark arts made of infernal code since they first discovered computers. They had made a series of games about a kid who builds a space rocket in his back garden and then bounces around on a pogo stick collecting soda. His name is Commander Keen.

Commander Keen was different to Doom in every way. It was cute rather than aggressive and violent, and it belonged to a long lineage of vaguely abstract character-led platformers rather than pushing into bold new territories. Sure, Doom wasn't the first of its kind but it felt like a shot of something powerful, dangerous and unprecedented.

At least that's how I saw it.

I came to Commander Keen after buying Doom, in a quest to play everything that my new favourite developers had ever made. I didn't finish a single one of the four games in the series, always finding myself lost and confused in a level mid-way through the adventure. But it wasn't for lack of trying.

Looking back, I'm amazed that I wasn't immediately repulsed by the childishness of the setting and the crude bleeps and bloops that my Soundblaster started to fart out whenever I used that bloody pogo stick. But I wasn't. Commander Keen was OK with me.

So much so that I still want to finish them all one day, truth be told. They're frustratingly floaty and the level design is sometimes drab, but there's something in them – some spark of greatness.

All that said, I thought it was great that Keen showed up in Doom 2, somewhat worse for wear. Even if I enjoyed collecting soda on Mars, I was still edgy as heck.

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