Commander Keen for DOS

Commander Keen

Commander Keen

Commander Keen is an iconic platform game for DOS, originally released in 1990 by iD software and published through Apogee. It is credited as the first platform game to feature smooth scrolling and animation like that on the popular consoles of the time. It was thought before hand that the PC was not capable of animating things quickly, seemingly a legacy of the capabilities of older PCs.

early iD software logo

early iD software logo

I find it interesting that it took so long before anyone thought it was possible on the PCs of the time. EGA had been introduced in 1984 and VGA in 1987, so the technology graphically had existed for quite a while before hand. Processing power had similarly increased with the 286 and 386 processors. We had our VGA capable 386sx 20Mhz close to the start of 1990 and it was more than capable of playing the fast action platformers that came out, perhaps with the exception of the later ones (such as Jazz Jackrabbit). The machines had clearly been capable for quite some time.

long long ago...

long long ago…

In any case Commander Keen was a big change in PC games because no-one had really made games of its kind before. Today I played Commander Keen 4 (known as the first episode of Goodbye Galaxy). I had not played any of the Keen games previously so this was a new experience for me.

The map screen

The map screen

The graphics in game are a great example of EGA graphics at its best. It’s a bit odd they didn’t use VGA for the graphics, but the artwork for the game does not suffer for it. Everything is beautifully colourful and well animated. Keen himself is coloured well and doesn’t look like he’s sunburned like many characters do when drawn in EGA. Enemies and backgrounds are easy to look at and identify. Being one of the later Commander Keen games everything has clearly been refined quite well.

Leap of faith

Leap of faith

Sound and music is the another big highlight of the game. The Adlib music is some of the best I’ve heard, and I’ve found myself humming the tunes later as I worked on other projects. Sound effects are available through PC speaker or Adlib, I used the Adlib effects and found they were quite good and added to the general charm of the game.

Gems as keys

Gems as keys

The game controls are very precise and platforming is not so much easy, but does what you expect it to. There is the pogo stick which is an interesting addition and allows you to jump much higher, but with less control so it doesn’t feel over done. The difficulty is reasonable yet not frustrating. I found it was quite fun, and I could make progress easily enough.



Commander Keen is basically one of the best classic platform games for the PC. The game is great for children as there is basically no violence (ironic considering iD’s later titles) and it is stupidly fun.  It is available for download on steam and on iD softwares website, and for the cost I’d certainly recommend it if you don’t already have it.


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